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Parshat Beshalach – from the Chief’s desk

This week’s parsha teaches us that it is indeed possible to live a life of Torah ideals, regardless of the circumstances. The parsha begins with the Jewish people leaving Egypt. They get to the edge of the Red Sea and by this stage Pharaoh regrets having begged them to leave after the tenth plague, and he and his army are in hot pursuit to bring them back to Egypt.

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RABBI DR WARREN GOLDSTEIN
 

At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Beshalach, we find one of the most bitter, cynical complaints in history. The parsha begins with the Jewish people leaving Egypt. They get to the edge of the Red Sea and by this stage Pharaoh regrets having begged them to leave after the tenth plague, and he and his army are in hot pursuit to bring them back to Egypt. On the one side they see Pharaoh approaching them and on the other side they see the Red Sea. They are caught, literally, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Their reaction is cynical: hamibli ain kevarim beMitzraim lekachtanu lamut bamidbar, “were there were no graves in Egypt you have brought us to die in the desert?”

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Complaining is a natural human reaction to problems. They are stuck and frightened, Pharaoh is on the one side, the sea is on the other side and they don’t know how it’s going to end. They see no way out. Yet after everything they have seen – the ten plagues and all the miracles – it’s surprising that they would say something so cynical to Moses. Indeed, this was a terrible, bitter and cynical complaint on their part. 

The Torah is a book of truth and implementable ideals

The fact that the Torah records this complaint shows that it’s a book of truth; it’s not a legend or fairy tale, but a recounting of the historical events which took place. If we were writing a happily-ever-after fairy tale, we would describe the ten plagues, how the Jews came out victoriously, happy and confident; how they came to the Red Sea, how they had faith in G-d and how the sea split. But the Torah is not a fairy tale, and so it records even this bitter cynicism because that is what actually happened. Throughout the Torah we find records of our great ancestors’ sins in full detail, because the Torah is a book of truth, not fables.

The Torah is also a book about living with ideals in the real world, with all its difficulties. On the one hand, the Torah is about G-d’s vision for us – the ideals, mitzvos, principles and values with which we are meant to live; on the other hand, we are real people, flesh and blood, and we make mistakes. The challenge is to translate G-d’s lofty ideals into the reality of our lives. This is why Torah law is called Halacha, which comes from the Hebrew word lalechet, “to walk.” It’s about taking those ideals and walking through life with them, making them a part of our life – literally “walking the talk.” G-d gave the Torah so that it will be implemented, and that is why all the “messy” details – the failures and sins of the people – are recorded. These are testimony to the fact that G-d gave us the Torah fully aware of our frailties, vulnerabilities and shortcomings. Despite our human limitations, He gave us the Torah because we are capable of living up to the ideals that He has given us. 

Leading an ideal life in a less-than-ideal world

The parsha records that when they left Egypt, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. They carried Joseph’s coffin throughout their forty-year journey in the desert and buried him once they got to the Land of Israel. When Yaakov died, he had left instructions to be buried in Israel and so when he died his body was moved immediately from Egypt to Israel. Yosef’s instructions were a bit different: he said pakod yifkod etchem, “G-d will remember you,” and when you are eventually redeemed, take me with you and bury me in the Land of Israel. He didn’t ask to be buried immediately in Israel, only when they left Egypt.

The Midrash says that as they travelled in the desert, two things walked in front of them: the Holy Ark which contained the Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved, and Yosef’s coffin. It seems strange to have a coffin alongside the Holy Ark. But the Midrash explains that the reason for this was because Yosef had fulfilled the whole Torah, and so his coffin went alongside the Ark which contained the Tablets. The two went together – the Holy Ark, representing the ideal, and Yosef’s coffin, because Yosef exemplified how the ideal can be practiced and lived by in the real world. 

Sometimes we wonder, can it really be done? We think, maybe it can be done in a perfect, ideal world but not in the imperfect world in which we live. But Yosef reminds us that it is indeed possible. Yosef lived in the real, imperfect and difficult world. He was sold at the age of 17; he had to find his way in the house of Potifar, overcome the temptation of committing adultery with Potifar’s wife and overcome the struggles of being in an Egyptian dungeon. And then, possibly his greatest test was that he went from the dungeon to becoming the viceroy, the second-in-command, of all of Egypt. He then had all the power, fame and fortune and yet he still remained loyal to the values of his father’s house. He lived under extremely challenging circumstances and proved that living with ideals in a less-than-ideal world is possible. 

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his commentary Oznayim LaTorah, discusses how the two aronot – the Ark and the coffin – went next to each other, to show the people that Torah is doable. They mustn’t think it is something for the heavens and that it cannot be achieved here on earth. Yosef is the proof of that and that is why his coffin goes in front of the people, next to the Ark: to inspire the people and show them that it is possible to live the ideals of Torah, whatever the circumstances.

Living with faith through all circumstances 

But there could be another reason, another message, behind why Yosef’s coffin had to accompany them. The people in the desert were not just struggling with keeping the mitzvos. They were struggling with faith in G-d. Already when they left Egypt their faith was tested. They saw the Egyptians on the one side, the sea on the other and they thought, where is G-d? He has abandoned us. Their complaining and cynicism reflected a crisis of faith. The message behind why Yosef’s coffin had to accompany the people is that Yosef exemplified trust and faith in G-d even under difficult circumstances. It’s one thing to have faith and trust in G-d when things are going well; it’s another thing entirely when things are difficult. When you are seventeen years old and your own brothers turn against you and sell you into slavery and you land up in a foreign land where you can’t speak the language, and then just when you think things are going well you end up in a dungeon – we can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him.  And yet he pulled through, with his faith intact.

Our faith is often tested in challenging times. Part of our faith is to believe that G-d is in control and that whatever happens, gam zu letovah – this too is for the good, even if we don’t always understand things and things don’t always turn out the way we want them to.

The fact that Yosef came through all his trials with his faith intact is seen very clearly when he reveals himself to his brothers and they are broken about what they had done to him, and he says to them, don’t worry, you intended for the bad, but G-d intended for the good; He sent me here to save this whole region from famine. We see that Yosef eventually figured out why everything had to happen. He understood why he had to go through all this pain and suffering – to save everyone from the famine. And again, after their father’s death, the brothers worried that Yosef would bear a grudge against them and Yosef says don’t worry, I can see G-d’s hand in this. Yosef knew all along that G-d is in control. And that is why he said to them pakod yifkod “G-d will remember you one day.” He was so confident that G-d would redeem them that he said don’t worry about burying me in Israel, I know I will get there eventually because G-d will redeem you from Egypt, and when he does, take my body with you. Yosef’s life exemplified faith and trust in G-d. 

G-d’s master plan

The remarkable irony is this: Yosef thought he understood G-d’s plan, but he actually didn’t. The Gemara explains that Yosef was buried in Shechem, the very place where he waskidnapped and sold by his brothers; he was taken from Shechem and he was buried in Shechem, showing the completion of G-d’s plan, spanning a few hundred years. Yosef thought he understood G-d’s plan, but G-d’s plans don’t always work out in a matter of a few years. They can sometimes take decades and even centuries and longer. He thought G-d had sent him to Egypt because there was going to be a famine and he had to save the whole region from starvation. But in fact, G-d brought the famine so that Yaakov and his whole family would come down to Egypt. G-d wanted the whole family in Egypt so that we, as a people, would be born into the slavery of Egypt and then be liberated by G-d and witness the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea; He wanted us to be created as a nation through our freedom given by Him with miracles. For that to happen, we had to be in Egypt and so G-d brought a famine. Yosef thought he understood that he was there to save them from the famine, but actually the famine was there to get them all down to Egypt, then to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, and eventually to the Promised Land. Thus G-d’s plan began and ended in Shechem; when they eventually re-enter the Land of Israel and Yosef is buried in Shechem, the circle is complete.

G-d’s plan works on a much larger scale than we can even begin to imagine. That’s why our trust and faith in G-d is often tested – we see only a fraction of the picture, a blurred glimpse. G-d sees the full picture. To us, it’s like looking at the back of a tapestry – it’s a knotty mess. But when viewed from the front, the beautiful picture can be seen. The message of Yosef’s coffin travelling with the people was to say, remember, here was a man who lived with trust and faith in G-d even through terrible suffering. His life represents Hashem’s incredible plan, that G-d is watching everything, even though His plan is sometimes brought to fruition not in a matter of weeks or months or even years, but decades and centuries and sometimes even longer. 

The people travelling in the desert – ordinary people, flesh and blood – made all kinds of human mistakes and had many failures. And yet the Torah was given to them. G-d gave us the Torah knowing that we are mortals, because he wants us to live up to the greatest ideals. He wanted the people in that generation to live up to those ideals and the life story of Yosef is what inspired them to do so. Yosef showed that it can be done, that one can live a life of mitzvos and do the right thing and fulfil G-d’s will despite the circumstances. He showed what it means to have real trust and faith in Hashem, even when things don’t turn out the way we want. His life showed that there is a broader picture, a grander scale of history, that G-d is watching every detail and that He loves us and cares about us. 

Let that be our inspiration to make the lofty ideals
of the Torah a real part of our day-to-day lives.

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Teen vaccinate, or not teen vaccinate? Not a question, say doctors

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As the news broke that South Africa would allow children aged 12 and up to get vaccinated with a first Pfizer shot, some parents were thrilled but others expressed fear, uncertainty, even anger.

“As the daughter of a polio survivor and the mother of an asthmatic child, I feel strongly that we need to get vaccinated, not just for ourselves, but for others,” says Vanessa Levenstein, a copywriter at Fine Music Radio in Cape Town. “My son, Sammy, is 14 and my daughter, Safra, is 17, and this past Shabbat, we all said how grateful we were that the vaccine was now available to them. I feel we are privileged to have it.”

Her husband, Jonathan Musikanth, an attorney, agrees. “We look forward to giving our children some sort of normality again,” he says. Levenstein adds, “We’re living in a society with huge social inequalities: someone living in a crowded Manenberg flat cannot self-isolate if they get infected. The only way to stop the spread is through the vaccine roll-out. ‘If I’m not for myself, who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I?’ The words of Hillel still ring true.’”

The SA Jewish Report asked parents on Facebook what they thought, and a mother responded, “The judgement and anger towards people who don’t want to be vaccinated is extreme and frightening.” For this reason, she asked to be quoted anonymously.

“My children are healthy and have been exposed to COVID-19 and didn’t have any symptoms,” she said. “I don’t feel that I need to vaccinate them against something that I feel isn’t dangerous to them. They didn’t have any symptoms, so I don’t feel I need to protect them from dying. The fact is that nobody in the world knows the long-term effects of this vaccine. I’m not willing to risk it.

“It’s all well and good saying we should do it for herd immunity, but I won’t allow my children to get vaccinated to protect others when they don’t need the protection themselves,” she said. “Also, I don’t feel that 12 year olds are old enough to make a decision about this. My kids would agree.”

Asked how she felt about her children navigating a post-COVID-19 world unvaccinated, she said it was “a huge concern”.

“I’m concerned that their freedom will be taken away because of this. However, is that a good enough reason to go against what I wholeheartedly believe to be the truth about the vaccine?” she asked. “I don’t believe that by not vaccinating kids, I’m putting anyone else’s life in danger.”

Johannesburg pulmonologist and parent Dr Anton Meyberg told the SA Jewish Report, “This is definitely a scary and emotive time in our lives as parents. It’s one thing to vaccinate ourselves, the adults, but now we are being asked to trust science with our own children. Whereas we know that children definitely don’t get as sick as adults, they definitely can still get sick [from COVID-19]. And some get severe multisystem inflammatory syndrome while others can suffer from ‘long COVID’.

“There are so many myths and misconceptions about vaccination and they need to be dispelled,” he says. “As a doctor on the frontline, it’s a ‘no brainer’ to me that my daughter and children over the age of 12 should be vaccinated. As parents, we have the responsibility of safekeeping and caring for our children, and vaccinating them allows us to do this. No doubt by vaccinating our teens, we’re protecting their parents and grandparents, but we’re also making sure that schools can remain open and our children can lead almost normal lives.

“The most documented side effect in children after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, mainly in boys 16 to 30 years of age, is myocarditis [inflammation of the heart muscle],” Meyberg says. “Males aged 12 to 17 are more likely to develop myocarditis within three months of catching COVID-19 at a rate of 450 per million infections. This compares with 67 per million after the vaccine. The condition is self-limiting and easily treatable, and it’s crucial to avoid exercise for up to a week post vaccination in order to decrease the chances of its occurrence. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop this pandemic. The question shouldn’t be if you’ll vaccinate, but rather when.”

Jeffrey Dorfman, associate professor in medical virology at Stellenbosch University, says “the arguments for vaccinating children are very strong in countries such as South Africa and the United States where there’s still a lot of COVID-19 transmission and the potential for more waves. Children may be at lower risk of severe COVID-19 disease than adults, but not zero. In the United States, more than 63 000 children have been hospitalised since August 2020, and more than 500 have died. More than 4 000 have been diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which is dangerous.

“Additionally, the vaccines in use prevent many COVID-19 infections – not 100%, as we all know about breakthrough infections, but even for the Delta variant, vaccination prevents about 70% of infections based upon current studies,” he says. “That’s enough to matter to the people around children who are vaccinated, and may be enough to stop or reduce school outbreaks. Vaccination will certainly reduce the risk of a child bringing a COVID-19 infection home to vulnerable adults. It’s certainly not unheard of for children to bring an infection home from school resulting in the death of a caregiver, and this is tragic and preventable.

“Additionally, I know of cases of children who were asymptomatically infected and had to move away from vulnerable grandparents,” he says. “It was scary for the people involved. The children had no symptoms and were tested only because they had a COVID-19 positive contact. Were the contact not known, they would have continued to live with the grandparents, who would have been at risk. Even children who have had COVID-19 can have it again, and a large study from Kentucky in the United States shows that vaccination further reduces the risk of COVID-19 re-infection. We aren’t going to get on top of COVID-19 unless we use the tools at our disposal. As a society, we can’t afford serious lockdowns and have to use less disruptive tools. Vaccines should be high on everyone’s list.”

A third mother expressed mixed feelings about vaccinating her teenage sons. However, after reading a letter by Johannesburg family physician Dr Sheri Fanaroff, she has decided to go ahead with it. In the letter, Fanaroff laid out all the questions and concerns to show that “the risk of getting COVID-19 infection far outweighs the risk of vaccination in teenagers. I can say without hesitation that I will be relieved to have my own teenagers at the front of the queue to get vaccinated this week so that they can return to a more normal lifestyle.”

She explained amongst other points that “vaccination reduces the risk of teenagers dying: the virus was the fourth leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24 and the sixth leading cause for those aged five to 14”.

Fanaroff also explained that “vaccination reduces the risk of severe infections, hospitalisation, and the need for oxygen and intensive care in teenagers. Recent figures from the US show that the hospitalisation rate among unvaccinated adolescents was ten times higher than that among fully vaccinated adolescents.

“There’s no biological reason or proof that a COVID-19 vaccine can interfere with the progression of puberty. There’s also no biological mechanism whereby hormones associated with puberty can have an impact on immune responses to COVID-19 vaccines. There’s no evidence that the vaccine has any impact on fertility.”

During the health department briefing on Friday, 15 October, acting Director General of Health Dr Nicholas Crisp stated that based on the Children’s Act that allows children aged 12 to 17 to consent to medical treatment, children in this age group don’t require their parents’ consent to have a COVID-19 vaccine. Teens can register and consent to being vaccinated without permission.

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Hijacked mom warns motorists after being taken hostage

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A Sandton mother of two was last week taken on a joyride from hell after being hijacked at gunpoint by two attackers at her local shopping mall in broad daylight.

Nicky Sher is always vigilant when it comes to her safety. Last Tuesday, 12 October, however, she was caught completely off guard when her assailants took her hostage as they made their getaway from the Morning Glen Shopping Centre in Gallo Manor.

“It was one of my worst nightmares come true,” she told the SA Jewish Report this week.

“It’s a different story being hijacked and left stranded without your car, that’s horrific enough, but being forcibly taken in the car takes it to another level.”

Sher arrived at the centre at about 12:20 to do a quick shop at the centre’s Pick n Pay and Mica Hardware. She parked outside the hardware store, and remembers thinking that there weren’t the usual number of eager car guards offering to help her when she emerged with her trolley a short while later. In fact, she didn’t see any.

“I thought that I could have done with the help as I had a heavy load of parcels which needed to be put into the boot of my car,” she said.

She also didn’t see any security guards on patrol, something that went through her mind fleetingly.

After offloading her trolley, she was about to climb into the driver’s seat of her seven-year-old white Mercedes Benz CLA 200, when the two men “came out of nowhere”. They somehow forced her into the passenger side of the vehicle as one man took the driver’s seat while the other one sat behind with a gun pointed towards her.

“I started screaming for help. I screamed and screamed,” she said, but the men fled the centre at high speed with no regard for whatever was in their way, bumping into things.

“I saw a flash of a car guard and another man who I believe reported his suspicions to centre management.”

In the blink of an eye, a petrified Sher found herself trapped inside her own car with two crazed men who threated to shoot her if she continued to scream. The driver made a sharp right onto Bowling Avenue, driving at high speed.

“I continued to scream, I didn’t know what else to do,” she said, pointing out that in hindsight, she knows it wasn’t wise as the men continued to threaten to shoot her.

A few hundred meters after Kelvin Drive, in the direction of South Road, Morningside, she saw a metro traffic police road block up ahead, and felt hope and relief. “I thought Hashem was watching over me, and I was going to be rescued. I even tried to open the door, which caused the driver to become very agitated,” she said.

Her relief soon turned to disappointment and dismay when the police seemingly did nothing to stop her attackers from hurtling away after they had half-heartedly tried to flag the speeding vehicle down. “That’s when I knew I was on my own. Strangely, I became calm at that moment,” she said, even though her life flashed before her.

“It’s going to sound weird, but all I could think about was Mark Kopelowitz, who was murdered the day before.” (Kopelowitz was killed after walking into an armed robbery taking place at his jewellery store at the Centurion Mall on Monday, 11 October.)

“I thought yesterday it was Mark, today it’s going to be me,” she said. “I tried to calm down because screaming and trying to open the car door hadn’t worked. I begged them to let me out, told them I was a mother, hadn’t seen their faces, and couldn’t identify them.”

She was forced to hand over her handbag with all its belongings inside. They wanted the pin numbers of her credit cards.

“I couldn’t remember one of them, and they said they’d shoot me if I told them the wrong numbers,” she said.

She assumed they’d drive to the nearest ATM and keep her hostage until they had withdrawn as much money as they could. Instead, they hastily stopped the car on the corner of Marlboro Drive and Lilium Street, Marlboro, and told her to get out.

She ran towards the nearest garage and frantically told the owner she had been hijacked.

It was then that she called her husband, Clifford, and her two daughters.

“It’s a family trauma when something like this happens. Everybody is shaken,” she said.

She decided to tell her story as a warning to other motorists to be extra vigilant, especially when approaching one’s vehicle at shopping malls.

She believes they targeted her for her car.

Sher took part in a Zoom security meeting with centre management last week, and relayed her story. She was told that according to CCTV footage, her attackers watched her drive into the centre and had casually followed her to see where she parked. They waited for her on a low wall in the underground parking. They wore peak caps so as not to be recognised by cameras.

“I know I had protection from above because I escaped relatively unscathed and I’m here to tell the tale. But we get so complacent especially at the centres we go to often. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times, get in your car, lock the doors, and drive away quickly without bothering with things like Bluetooth and music.”

She said that since the incident, she has been overwhelmed with support from total strangers, family and friends. “It has been life affirming.”

Shopping malls have become hotspots in Johannesburg, and this isn’t the first time that hijackings have taken place at this centre.

CAP Chief Operating Officer Sean Jammy said this week, “This unfortunate incident underlines the need for competent security to be in place in any environment we frequent. To mitigate the threat and impact of this type of incident, we encourage all community members to practice situational awareness. Ensure that your family can track you via a cell phone platform, and that vehicles have tracking installed. Try and let people know where you are, and what time you should be returning.

“Be aware of risks in your environment. If anything looks suspicious, treat it as a threat and remove yourself from harm’s way. Most importantly, create an alert as early as possible, and train your family and those that care about you to do the same.”

At the time of going to press, the centre management hadn’t responded to questions about increasing security measures.

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Habonim’s return to machaneh ‘a dream come true’

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The Habonim Dror slogan “Don’t call us thy children, call us thy builders”, rang true this week, when the Jewish Zionist youth movement announced that it would hold a machaneh this December, taking the brave step of building something new and vibrant in a post-pandemic world. Machanot were cancelled last year for the first time in decades – a huge blow to movement morale.

In a video titled simply, “We are going home”, Habonim announced on Sunday, 17 October, that after 23 months of waiting, a machaneh will finally be held at its Onrus campsite. It will be called “Lachlom Mechadash” (To Dream Again) because the movement sees it as a dream come true. It will be shorter (from 9 to 20 December), with fewer people, and everyone will need to be vaccinated.

Rosh Machaneh Aaron Sher explained how this dream became a reality. “From the moment our va’ad poel [steering committee] for machaneh was elected this year, we were thinking about how we could make machaneh a reality. After consultation with medical professionals and those who have had summer camps overseas, many permutations of machaneh were drawn up.

“Some were on the more optimistic side, and some with more conservative thinking,” he says. “Throughout this time, the South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] was holding meetings for the youth movements, the Community Security Organisation [CSO], and other community figures to discuss how machaneh could happen, often attended by [local virology expert] Professor Barry Schoub. A common point was the vaccination of adolescents. It left room for optimism for December. Without these meetings and the support of these communal bodies, December machaneh couldn’t happen.”

With the announcement on Friday, 15 October, that vaccination would open to 12 to 17 year olds in South Africa, “the va’ad poel and our staff were in a panic, but excited. A golden opportunity had fallen into our laps that would allow us to bring machaneh to fruition. It’s almost impossible to describe the happiness we felt.”

Asked about the impact of not having machaneh or in-person events, Sher says, “In a word, devastating. Habonim Dror thrives on in-person interaction. For generations, we have been a space for Jewish youth to come together to have fun, discuss world issues, create change, and become strong leaders. Online activities don’t bring the ‘Habo magic’ that we need to feel.”

Habonim Manhig Wayne Sussman says, “The impact of not having a machaneh last year or any major in-person events has been absolutely devastating. Not just to Habonim, but to all South African youth movements. Camps and in-person events are a core part of the South African Jewish youth experience. They’re one of the things which make our community so great, and it’s absolutely critical that our kids return to camp sooner rather than later.”

Since the announcement, he says, “I have seen a youth movement come alive. I’m seeing renewed vigour, renewed energy, which has been lacking amongst our very brave and committed youth movement leadership for the past 20 months.”

Sher says “a full COVID-19 protocol policy document has been prepared for our machaneh with the help of medical professionals and those who have successfully run summer camps overseas. This will be available as soon as our sign-ups are open so that all parents and madrichim know exactly how we are keeping safe before they sign up.”

Says Sussman, “Of course, we’ll also limit numbers, and we are going to launch this properly and open sign-ups only once we’ve properly engaged with community leadership and the CSO.”

“Vaccination will be required by anyone on the campsite, a negative COVID-19 PCR test will have to be presented on arrival, and general COVID-19 protocols will have to be adhered to,” Sher says. “Anyone who tests positive will have to isolate immediately and will unfortunately be sent home. Those who have been in close contact with them will have to isolate and await a PCR test.”

What will stay the same and what will be different? “Fortunately, with a vaccine blanket over our campsite, a lot of what we love about machaneh can continue,” says Sher. “There will still be ruach [spirit], Havdalah, the beach, and everything we love about machaneh, just with some slight adjustments.” The youngest age groups, Garinim and Shtilim, won’t be able to attend.

“Should there be a fourth wave during December, Habonim Dror is committed to ensuring that we are able to adapt or at worst cancel,” he says. “The safety and health of our campers will always come first. We will make sure that we make the correct decisions in the interest of our community.”

Says Sussman, “Of course, there’s a chance that we might have to pull the plug on this. But as long as that door is open, as long as kids know that if they get vaccinated, if they’re responsible, and if they really want to attend machaneh, we’re going to do what we can to give them best summer.”

Since making the announcement, “We have had an overwhelming response from parents, kids, bogrim, and ex-chaverim all over the world,” says Sher. “People have been reaching out offering support and services. I couldn’t be more thankful to our Habonim and Jewish communities. We’re going home.”

SAZF executive member Anthony Rosmarin says, “December machanot have, for decades, played a vital role in strengthening Jewish identity and building young leaders. Recognising the impact that COVID-19 has had on the ability to host these pivotal annual events, the SAZF created a platform that brought together youth movements, medical and security advisors, and stakeholders to discuss the feasibility of December machanot.

“Given the fluid nature of the ongoing pandemic, this assessment is continually being updated and we recognise that each youth movement must come to its own determination as to whether or not to move forward with camp preparations for 2021. We are committed to providing support and advice on how best to approach this complex decision in a safe and responsible manner.”

The mazkir of Netzer South Africa, Jason Bourne, says “Netzer has decided that it won’t be running a full, in-person summer machaneh this year. Instead, we will be running day camps in Cape Town, Durban, and Joburg. Though vaccinations are being administered and cases are declining, we feel that there are still too many unanswered questions to have a sleep-away camp. As things unfold and more people are vaccinated, we may open a small weekend sleepover element to our day camp experience for older, vaccinated participants only.”

A community leader, speaking anonymously, says “Bnei Akiva would love to have a camp at the end of the year but it’s looking at all the medical and logistical issues. No decision has been made and over the next few days, it will explore it all carefully and come to a conclusion.”

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