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ORT SA educates for life

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“Our primary function should be to focus on getting businesses online and familiar with the digital world,” said Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, pointing out that digital transformation has been fast-tracked by COVID-19.

Dwolatzky delivered the keynote speech to the recent ORT SA biennial general meeting (BGM) 2020, which was hosted successfully online for the first time.

Themed “Honouring our legacy, reshaping the future”, the BGM focused on ORT SA’s success in rising to the challenge of moving from traditional classroom teaching to online methods. Dan Green, World ORT chief executive, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, and Israeli ambassador Lior Keinan, also addressed attendees.

“The current situation in the world and the coronavirus pandemic has to lead us into unprecedented times,” said Dwolatzky, who has recently joined the ORT SA NEC Board, talking about the current and future workplace. “Not only have we been thrust into a new way of learning and teaching, we have also had to adopt a new way of thinking in our daily lives and everyday business routines. Coronavirus forced companies to allow their employees to work remotely from home or be shut down. While most companies went the route of #WFH, some companies were unable to do so and after many years of providing a service or product, have shut down.”

ORT SA’s commendable achievements were acknowledged by the ORT SA NEC committee and supportive World ORT members.

“I have been inspired by this community for making it through this year, which truly shows the greatness of the human spirit,” said Goldstein. “The work that ORT and ORT Jet does is so important by giving people skills, knowledge, and insight to improve themselves. This is true empowerment. Helping others to reach their full potential and contribute to the economy – this comes from education. It has been an honour to be associated with this organisation,” Goldstein said.

World ORT’s Green and Rabbi Craig Kacev, the general director of the South African Board of Jewish Education (SABJE), announced the permanent affiliation of the SABJE to World ORT.

“ORT has over the past years been a faithful and dedicated partner of Jewish education,” Kacev said. “King David, Herzlia, and the other Jewish schools have benefitted from the organisation’s guidance in technology education, teacher training, and outreach and upliftment initiatives to fellow South Africans.

“The move to a permanent affiliation is an honour,” said Kacev, “one which the SABJE will ensure is nurtured for the mutual benefit and synergy of the SABJE and ORT.”

Said Green, “Two of the pillars of World ORT today are tikkun olam – repairing the world – which I’m sure you are all familiar with and tikkun am, which is essentially the creative and significant flourishing of the Jewish people. I can’t think of a better example where these two philosophies reside together with such tremendous results than in ORT SA.”

Talking about World ORT’s vision of educating for life, Green said, “If someone has been blessed with more, then they have the privilege and responsibility of helping someone who has less. The point is to help them to become independent, to giving them life skills. We all know about teaching a man or woman to fish. The most important thing is to give someone dignity, to give someone the ability and opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Ariellah Rosenberg, the chief executive of ORT SA, was commended by Green for her tremendous leadership, courage, and dedication to the vision of World ORT.

“COVID-19 and lockdown implications worldwide have demonstrated the opportunities for disruption in education and schooling. It’s the perfect timing to formalise the affiliation of the SABJE to World ORT. World ORT is known for its cutting-edge technology in education and worldwide network of schools. I therefore envisage collaboration and interventions that promote 21st century skills, project-based learning that develops analytical and investigative skills and, most importantly, the connection with people to enhance the social and emotional intelligence of our youth,” said Rosenberg.

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Habonim honours Anstey, a ‘superman without a cape’

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The outgoing manhig (leader) of South African Habonim Dror, Errol Anstey, took his departure from the youth movement after 20 years of service in an online Zoom call with nearly 300 current and former members, friends, and family.

“I agreed to take the job for a year or two back in 2000, and never dreamt it would end up being 20 years of challenging but hugely satisfying work,” Anstey said in an emotional speech to his audience from around the world.

In the late 1990s, the movement had dropped in numbers, finances were in a mess, and the well-known Onrust campsite was in bad shape, former shaliach Ronen Segall recalled. “Errol was the obvious choice for someone with deep knowledge of the movement, its workings, and its campsite. In my eyes, Errol became Habonim’s true hero, a superman without a cape but full of capability.”

In a short space of time, Anstey led a significant turnaround for Habonim along with the team of shlichim and Habonim leadership. His fundraising, finance, and administration skills shone, and over his term as manhig an estimated R20 million has been raised and invested in the Onrust campsite to make it one of the most sought-after and valuable campsites in South Africa.

“This has enabled the movement not only to maintain the site to a high level, but the revenue has helped finance many of the movement’s activities,” Anstey proudly told his audience.

The traditional role of the manhig since the founding of SA Habonim Dror was always to be the “adult in the room” to act as a guide and mentor to the movement’s young leadership. Former mazkira klalit (general secretary) of Habonim from 2005, Micaela Browde, paid tribute to Anstey saying, “You were really a stalwart for us, you fought for us, you had our backs, you made sure we were supported, guided, and you did so with strength, humility, and humour.”

Anstey described some of the challenges during his stint including differences of opinion and sometimes open confrontation with mainstream Jewish community leadership when Habonim was critical of some of Israel’s actions. “It wasn’t easy to be a lone voice for progressive, liberal thinking as South Africa’s community became predominantly conservative,” he said with his usual frankness.

Another mazkir klali, Daniel Sussman from 2019, described Anstey’s catch phrase as “do everything, all the time, never sleep”. This succinctly summed up for him the endless number of projects and activities which Anstey led over the past two decades on behalf of Habonim.

Stanley Bergman, originally from Port Elizabeth and now in New York, the national treasurer for Habonim in 1968, paid tribute to Anstey’s enormous efforts to support several generations of Habonim members. He praised him for his ability to connect with graduates from the movement around the world and develop a donor community to support the Habonim Foundation which he initiated.

Anstey spoke of the erratic provision of Habonim shlichim from Israel over the years, and how he had additionally become a shaliach himself, which meant mentoring the leadership and members of the movement. He emphasised that he had “the privilege of working with the cream of South African Jewish youth” and said “there was nothing more fulfilling than working with inspired youth”. Their activism had motivated him to run successfully for public office in 2011 as a member of the Democratic Alliance.

During the Zoom session, many participants showered praise on Anstey’s term as manhig including Isaac Herzog, the chairperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who acknowledged the “outstanding contribution” that he had made to Habonim over so many years.

Former mazkir klali in the early 1980s, Stephen Pincus, expressed his appreciation for Anstey’s earlier roles as camp organiser at one of the largest Onrust camps ever, and later in spearheading the 50th anniversary celebrations of the movement.

“It was clear from those early years that Errol had that obvious aptitude for organisation along with a commitment to the movement,” he said. “Little did we know that we unleashed a formidable force which reverberated in the movement for more than 40 years.”

Anstey told the audience that his two children, Saul and Talia, had followed in his footsteps, having attended 12 Onrust camps and later became his “eyes on the ground” regarding movement dynamics. He also noted that it was probably an unprecedented situation that they had actually left the movement before their father did.

Anstey warmly welcomed the new incoming manhig, Wayne Sussman, in his usual modest style saying how satisfying it was for him to hand over the mantle to “someone who will be better than me and will take Habonim to new heights”.

Sussman responded in the session with his usual passionate style, describing the six previous manhigim who preceded him as “giants on whose shoulders we stand”. He lamented the fact that the Habonim leadership was on a Zoom call and not at the annual Onrust camp, and how challenging it was going to be in 2021 without the lessons learned and experiences from machaneh.

“Our first task will be to assist the 2021 bogrim led by the new mazkir, Aaron Sher, to capture some of the magic which will be lost, but I’m confident we can do it,” said Sussman.

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JNF Blue Box enters the digital age

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When is a Jewish National Fund (JNF) Blue Box not a blue box? Never. Even though the physical box now has a digital donation option, it’s still the age-old Blue Box.

This box has for decades symbolised the JNF and the commitment of Jewish people around the world to rebuild Israel.

And for decades, it has been filled to the brim with pennies, cents, nickels, dimes, lira, and francs – coins of every denomination dropped in, one could almost say, religiously every Friday evening before Shabbat candle lighting.

Now it’s no longer limited to physical coins and a metal box. The new Blue Box with a digital donation option via SnapScan will be launched in time for Channukah to keep the tradition of the Blue Box alive for the next 120 years.

The first real Blue Box was, oddly enough, Theodor Herzl’s hat. At the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, he used his hat to solicit donations from delegates as a means of purchasing land to establish a Jewish homeland.

Soon after, a Polish bank clerk proposed that a collection box bearing the words “National Fund” be placed in every Jewish home to raise money for land purchases. Production began in Vienna. The boxes were initially produced in a blue material and thus became known as Blue Boxes.

Over the past 120 years, funds collected via the Blue Box from around the world have assisted the JNF to realise its aim of developing land in Israel: building roads and water reservoirs, establishing parks, and preparing the soil for agriculture and settlement. Beyond fundraising, the Blue Box is also an important educational tool for spreading the Zionist message and renewing the historic bond between the Jewish people and EretzYisrael.

Stories about the Blue Box have become legendary. In the United States around Tu B’Shvat, teams of children brandishing JNF Blue Boxes would travel from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the New York City subway system. They would move from train car to train car with these ubiquitous boxes in hand, soliciting contributions from passengers and stopping only when they sensed or saw the approach of policemen.

In South Africa, members of the JNF would visit Jewish homes every Sunday to collect and then empty Blue Boxes, diligently counting the hundreds or thousands of coins inside them. In addition to being proudly displayed in almost every South African Jewish home, Blue Boxes were also present in schools, shuls, Jewish-owned businesses, medical waiting rooms, even hairdressing salons.

In times past when life wasn’t so frenetic and women could spend afternoons playing rummy and socialising, the money raised and won during the games was often dropped into the Blue Box, adding to the largesse and reputation of that particular hostess.

Today the iconic Blue Box (or pushke) remains the link between the Jewish people and the land, and to many, perhaps even to the majority of the Jewish world, it’s a symbol of Jewish continuity. They can also be quite valuable: a few antique Blue Boxes were auctioned by Sotheby’s recently, realising more than $3 000 (R46 006) each.

However, in the age of credit cards, cryptocurrency, and e-wallets, fundraising via a coin-based Blue Box risks becoming an anachronism.

So, the JNF has relaunched the Blue Box and linked it to the SnapScan mobile-payments app. A QR code will be found on all new Blue Boxes purchased from the JNF. People with old boxes can bring them in to have the QR code imprinted for no extra charge.

It’s modern technology indeed, but inextricably linked to a century-old tradition of keeping Israel alive in every Jewish heart.

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Back to Work

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So many in our community have lost jobs since the onset of lockdown. We are publishing their details to help them find work. This is the last group for this year. We will resume in 2021.

Name: Fran Lurie

Experience: Sales Consultant

Education: Matric

More information: I have worked in the exhibition industry for 20 years, and because of COVID-19 this was the first industry to go. I was retrenched and now seek new employment. I am driven, enthusiastic and ready to take on a new venture.

Current location: Johannesburg

Willing to relocate: No

Email address: franlurie@telkomsa.net

Name: Nicole Williams

Email address: nmoskovitch@gmail.com

Experience: National Key Accounts Manager/PA/Secretary

Education: Matric (Herzlia); Travel and Tourism diploma (Travel and Tourism Academy)

More information: I’d like to work for a company which will allow me to grow professionally and as an individual. I’m eager to work in a team structure and am happy to travel. I enjoy new challenges, and having a proactive mindset has helped me achieve success. I’m creative, energetic, and pay attention to detail. I’m committed, loyal, enthusiastic, and give 101% in everything I do.

Current location: Cape Town

Willing to relocate: No

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