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Principals award matrics 20/20 for resilience and tenacity

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King David High School Victory Park, Andrew Baker

At King David High School Victory Park, we celebrate the outstanding achievement of our entire matric class of 2020 in the IEB (Independent Examinations Board) final examinations. They have all surpassed our expectations in a year filled with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

We salute their tenacity and determination to achieve such significant results. This remarkable group of students all achieved a personal best, and the steep upward trajectory in their marks from Grade 11 finals through to the preliminary examinations and into their finals is testament to their attitude and work ethic.

At the same time, we recognise the academic excellence of our top performers. No fewer than 10 candidates achieved averages exceeding 90%, and six students were recognised on the prestigious IEB listings of commendable and outstanding achievement. It’s certainly no mean feat of accomplishment for 96% of the grade to achieve averages of 60% and over. Mazaltov to the entire group, and kol hakavod to all their teachers.

Herzlia, Marc Falconer

We celebrate our 2020 matric group and its achievements – the best ever by a Herzlia matric cohort.

There were 97 matric scholars and a 100% pass rate, with every candidate who entered the National Senior Certificate being awarded a Bachelor Degree pass (university exemption).

There were 416 individual subject distinctions, with an average of 4.3 distinctions per candidate. All 15 pupils on the educational support programme passed with a Bachelor Degree pass, with not one subject failure.

In any year, these results would have been exceptional, but in the context of the global pandemic and the extraordinary challenges this brought, the results of the 2020 group are astonishing.

Every pupil, irrespective of distinctions, deserves to be commended for their resilience, grit, focus, and dedication in a year characterised by change, loss, grief, but also by adaptability, determination, innovation, and camaraderie.

It’s important to note that during 2020, the dedication, adaptability, and unquestioned investment by each of the teachers was far beyond the norm.

It’s also important to recognise the extraordinary work of the educational support department and the counsellors who supported so many students (and their parents), not just academically but in every aspect of their last challenging year at school.

Parents have also played a vital role in supporting, encouraging, and nurturing their children at this highly stressed time.

While it’s fitting to celebrate outstanding results, these statistics don’t, however, tell the whole story. For many pupils who are part of our inclusive school, their matric results need to be understood in their specific context. We are often more proud of these difficult-to-discern triumphs than the more obvious achievements.

Education is about results as well as the values, skills, habits, and relationships that our pupils take out into the world after they leave school.

Mazaltov to our matric group of 2020!

Torah Academy Boys High School, Rabbi Motti Hadar

I take my hat off to the matrics of 2020!

Last year was the opposite of the typical and what we think of as “ideal”. Yet somehow, among the chaos, uncertainty, and ever-changing landscape of education, our matric students inspired me every day with their grit, determination, flexibility, and commitment.

In spite of all the setbacks, the matrics of Torah Academy Boys High School excelled, reaching their goals, exceeding our expectations, and making us truly proud!

With a 100% pass rate, multiple distinctions, and marks into the 90s, they have truly outdone themselves. All while not compromising on their full curriculum of limudei kodesh, Jewish Studies.

Matrics, far more important than your results – which will stand you in good stead – are the lessons you have learnt this past year. To maintain focus when chaos surrounds you, to be flexible and adaptive to change, to learn new things, to learn old things in new ways, to remain positive in the face of difficulty, and to strive for your goals and do your ultimate best no matter the circumstances.

If matric is the first step towards a successful future, the matrics of 2020 have not just stepped into a bright tomorrow, they have all taken an admirable leap forward.

Their tenacity, courage, determination, creativity, and resolve this past year has inspired me.

Hirsch Lyons, Rabbi Steven Krawitz

Matriculants in a normal year experience pressure and anxiety. Matric during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was exponentially more demanding. It’s in this context that the matric year and all schools’ results of 2020 need to be appreciated, and all our students and staff recognised for their superhuman efforts.

Hirsch Lyons High Schools moved to online classes before the end of March, and didn’t return until after prelims in late September for a few lessons and oral moderations. The majority of all syllabi were taught over Zoom, as were most assessments. Teachers went far beyond the call of duty to ensure that all aspects of their subject were understood.

When the matric results finally came out, Hirsch Lyons celebrated the unbelievable results of our outstanding students. There were a total of 58 distinctions from 15 students, an average of 3.8 distinctions per student. More than half of all results were distinctions, and 81% of all results were above 70%. All Hirsch Lyons students can progress to tertiary study.

But what makes us at Hirsch Lyons so proud of our graduates is not only the number of distinctions they achieved, but also the distinction of personality that they embody. They are proud Torah Jews, who have refined middos, character traits, a dedication to the Jewish nation, and the desire to improve the society within which they live.

At Hirsch Lyons, we believe we are like an airport runway, preparing airplanes for take-off, giving students the necessary Torah and academic knowledge, skills, and character refinement for life. We are proud of the students, and wish them and all the matriculants of 2020 every brocha of success as they continue the next part of the journey of their life.

Yeshiva College, Rob Long

At Yeshiva College, we are exceptionally proud of our matric class of 2020. Not only has it produced outstanding matric results, the class has also grown into fine young men and women who we believe will make a profound and positive mark on society.

The class of 2020’s achievement of 100% pass rate and 100% university entrance is indicative of its hard work, dedication, and resilience during what has been a challenging year.

Paramount to the success of our students is the special relationship between our dedicated staff and motivated students. The grade average across 17 subjects of 76% demonstrates that our students are motivated to do well in a school culture that promotes excellence.

Our academic staff has high expectations for our students, and our teachers encourage and support them to achieve their potential. The grade distinction average of 3.5 distinctions per student, and the fact that we had six students in the top 1% in English, Life Orientation, and Life Sciences is indicative of the level of excellence for which teachers and students strive.

Matric is the culmination of 12 years of school in which each year builds on the year before it. We thus acknowledge all our teachers who have taught our students over the past 12 years. We wish the class of 2020 all the best as they embark on their studies and future endeavours in Israel and around the world.

Torah Academy Girls High School, Morah Rebecca Sarchi

As Chabad chassidim, we strive to live by the saying l’chatchila ariber. Simply explained, if you cannot crawl under an obstacle, try to leap over it. The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe said, “Leap over it in the first place. Just go for it!”

That’s exactly what the matrics of 2020 from Torah Academy Girls High School did. With each obstacle they encountered, they jumped, and each time they jumped higher and higher. Seemingly no obstacle was too big to deter them from achieving their goals.

They lived and learned in spite of COVID-19. Each of them aimed high, worked hard, and played hard. They took nothing for granted, and appreciated every online lesson, extra lesson, and every single teacher.

They invested endless hours into revising and practising past papers. With exams behind them, and uncertainty the new mantra of the world, they started planning the next steps in their life journey.

We all know that a diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure. So to each of my matrics, I say your sparkle lights up the world. Your value is tremendous, and your matric achievements are excellent and humbling.

Keep shining and striving and make this world a brighter and better place. You can do it – remember l’chatchila ariber.

King David High School Linksfield, Lorraine Srage

King David High School Linksfield 2020 matriculants have brought credit to themselves, their families, the school, and the community at large.

We know that writing matric during the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t an easy time for them and their families, but the buzzword of 2020, “pivot”, and all it entails belongs to this group of students.

They understood the sacrifices that keeping themselves and their families safe entailed, and they graciously gave up sports matches, musicals, matric dances, and 18th birthday parties, and joined the responsible adult world a year before it was absolutely necessary. I commend the courageous way in which the matrics pivoted and focused on getting through the year as best as they could.

Even more so, all of these sacrifices are evident in our outstanding matric results that King David High School Linksfield has achieved.

All 149 students passed, with all except one receiving a university entrance. A total of 504 distinctions were obtained, that is 3.4 distinctions per student. Seventeen percent of students achieved a “full house” of seven distinctions or more. Twenty-three students were placed in the top 1% in the country in certain subjects. One student was placed on the IEB Outstanding Achievements List (within the top 5% in six subjects or more and 80% or more in Life Orientation) and two students were placed on the IEB Commendable Achievements List (within the top 5% in five subjects and 80% or more for Life Orientation). What’s particularly outstanding is that all of our students in the educational support programme obtained a university entrance.

However, our success isn’t just measured in distinctions, it’s measured in the meeting of potential, in fulfilled dreams.

We measure success also in the students who didn’t believe that they could pass matric, and did; the students who didn’t believe that they could obtain a university entrance, and did; the students who didn’t even believe that matric was a vague possibility for them, but who did it.

Winston Churchill said, “Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal: it’s the courage to continue that counts.” And continue we did. With courage. The matrics inspired me. The matrics are my success.

Our students were able to reap the benefits of a privileged education, and my sincere wish is that they will all make their mark as well as make a difference.

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SA government and politicians show bias as Israel conflict escalates

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As Israel faced a steady bombardment of deadly rockets fired by terrorist groups in Gaza this week, the South African government, politicians, and activists condemned the Jewish state, ignoring the myriad complexities of the violence.

And as Hamas escalated its barrage of rockets targeting innocent civilians, to which Israel retaliated, there has been no condemnation of Hamas from either the South African government or any of its politicians.

Israel’s right to defend itself and diffuse tensions in a bid to save the lives of all its citizens including Jews, Muslims, and Christians, hasn’t been acknowledged by the government in its condemnation of the Jewish state.

Siding wholly with the Palestinians, the government earlier this week expressed its “deep concern at the continued clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque wherein Israeli soldiers attacked Palestinian worshippers while praying at the holy site”.

The Economic Freedom Fighters said it noted “the genocide” committed by Israel against the Palestinian people during Ramadan, saying “We condemn with contempt the violence perpetrated by the apartheid Israeli state on unarmed Palestinian people.” It called on the government to close down the South African embassy in Israel and recall all its representatives there.

No mention has been made about Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque stockpiling rocks, fireworks, and stone slabs around the site in preparation for violence and attacking Israeli police.

Focusing all its attention on the land dispute and potential eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, the government ignored a multitude of issues that have contributed to the rising wave of violence since April.

The department of international relations and cooperation (DIRCO) issued a statement saying, “The South African government strongly condemns the attacks and planned evictions of Palestinians from annexed East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli settlements.

“It’s perplexing that during these unprecedented times, as the international community addresses the global challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel is exploiting the situation to advance its de facto annexation of Palestinian land. These acts aren’t only illegal but also risk undermining the viability of a negotiated two-state solution and will have negative consequences on the entire peace process.”

In response to this, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) called on the government, all political parties, and the media to show “even-handedness” and acknowledge the complexity of the situation.

In a joint statement, SAJBD National Chairperson Wendy Kahn and SAZF Chairperson Rowan Polovin, said, “In their determination to condemn Israel come what may, the government has reversed cause and effect. The reality – and not for the first time – is that the initial clashes were deliberately orchestrated by the Palestinian leadership and have now culminated in a lethal barrage of missile fire on Jerusalem and other heavily populated cities.

“Rockets are indiscriminate. They imperil the lives of all who live in the Holy City, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim. In spite of this, the South African government has chosen to single out Israel for exclusive condemnation, disregarding completely the more than 1 200 deadly rockets fired thus far against Israeli civilians.

“The double standards don’t stop there. Whereas countries throughout the world sent condolences to Israel following the tragic loss of 45 lives in Meron, South Africa has yet to follow suit even two weeks later. However, within 24 hours, it was able to issue a statement condemning Israel.

“If the government, and indeed all political parties, wish to be part of ending this latest tragic outburst of violence, they must show genuine even-handedness. Those who unquestioningly endorse the claims and actions of one side while completely ignoring those of the other do nothing to resolve the conflict. In fact, they only make a bad situation worse.”

They went on to say that demonising Israel, as was the case with certain statements, was “irresponsible, inflammatory, and dangerous”.

The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan, told the SA Jewish Report that no country in the world would tolerate this level of terror.

He has called on the international community and South Africa to condemn the rocket fire and Palestinian terrorism targeting Israeli citizens in the “strongest manner”, as well as to support Israel’s right to self-defence.

Keinan said that these events were part of a “wave of terror” that was being led by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and were the result of “reckless and irresponsible incitement to violence”.

Concerning earlier violence, he said, “Israel sought to achieve calm in Jerusalem. We took every measure to prevent conflict or violence and to allow freedom of worship. These measures include postponing the Supreme Court hearing regarding Sheikh Jarrah, blocking Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, changing the route of the flag march, and then cancelling the event. Moreover, Israel acted in a measured manner in response to the rockets and incendiary balloons that had been launched from the Gaza Strip to prevent any escalation during this sensitive period.”

He said responsibility for the situation rested completely with Palestinian terrorist organisations and “on the unrestrained incitement by the Palestinian Authority”.

“No country will allow rockets to be fired on its children, women, and men. Israel will take any action necessary to protect its citizens. It’s the right and the duty of every state.”

Meanwhile, small protests were held by pro-Palestinian groups at the Israel Trade Offices in Sandton, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, all of which blamed Israel for being solely responsible for the violence.

Interestingly, in an open letter to DIRCO Minister Naledi Pandor, the South African BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Coalition said it was “extremely disappointed” by DIRCO’s statement about the conflict, calling for more action by the government.

The Democratic Alliance said Israel must “employ maximum restraint in the use of force” adding “violence from both sides must cease in the interest of peace, saving lives, and protecting the human rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian people”.

Dr Corne Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus said, “The ANC government has never tried to hide its hostility towards Israel, and has now once again chosen the terrorist side in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s time for the ANC to honour Israel’s sovereignty.

“It’s lamentable that the South African government is always so quick to side with Israel’s opponents and condemn the country,” he said.

In Cape Town, a protest organised by Africa4Palestine (formerly BDS SA), brought a number of anti-Israel groups together. But only about 200 members of the public gathered to condemn Israel, many of them children.

Speaking in front of parliament, the late Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela called for the closure of the South African embassy in Israel. “We are clearly asking South Africa not to downgrade its embassy in Israel, but to close it down!” he shouted to cheers from the crowd. “We also want to deny [Israeli international carrier] El Al from coming into South Africa!” he said to more cheers of support.

He called for South Africans to “boycott products from apartheid Israel. The only thing we expect from our government is to place sanctions on apartheid Israel!” He then called on the crowd to join him on 18 July in Pretoria (the date marked to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s legacy) outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria. “We want to see it shut down and for the ambassador to leave. We won’t compromise,” Mandela said.

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Rise in anti-Israel sentiment leads to calls for vigilance

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The Community Security Organisation (CSO) has witnessed a marked increase in anti-Israel rhetoric as well as expressions of hate directed at Jews online following violence in Israel, and has appealed to the community to be extra vigilant and report all incidents.

Jevon Greenblatt, the director of CSO Johannesburg, told the SA Jewish Report on 12 May that tension in Israel had escalated dramatically over the past few days, with levels of open conflict growing exponentially over the past 48 hours.

“It’s not uncommon for anti-Israel anger around a situation like this to spill over into diaspora Jewish communities,” he said.

“Since Monday, we have seen a significant increase in concerning online rhetoric and numerous protest action called for over the coming days across South Africa.

“We are seeing a huge campaign by the anti-Israel lobby to dehumanise Israel with massive distortions about what’s really happening on the ground.”

Political leaders, social-media influencers, and celebrities are lending their voices to the pro-Palestinian lobby.

“This creates the perfect environment for a potential lone-wolf actor to carry out an attack. Whenever something like this takes place, our concern is that the anger created can be misdirected against the local community.”

He said that while CSO staff and volunteers were working hard to ensure the continued safety and security of the community, it was a “collective effort”.

“Vigilance is crucial. We should always make sure our facilities are as secure as possible, and we should always be doing the best we can to strengthen our security.

“It’s at times like this that we are reminded always to implement the best safety protocols because the threat is always out there.

“It requires the active participation of all community members. We ask you to maintain heightened awareness and report any emergency, potential threats, suspicious activity, or antisemitism related to the Jewish community or Jewish facilities to the CSO on 086 18 000 18 (or 086 18 911 18 in Cape Town).”

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Guarding Jerusalem from the “end of the end” of Israel

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The Golan is the true gatekeeper of Jerusalem, particularly in mitigating against the Iranian threat across the border, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Major (Res) Yaakov Selevan said during a talk to commemorate Yom Yerushalayim this week.

“People who live in the Golan claim that it’s the most naturally beautiful region in Israel. But they aren’t living here for the views; they are here because there is something for which they’re willing to die – the redemption of the heart of the Jewish people.”

Selevan, a Jerusalem born-and-bred military official who now works as a tour guide and public speaker, was hosted for the webinar by Mizrachi SA and the South African Zionist Federation, in collaboration with other partners.

Although Selevan grew up with “the Western Wall as my backyard”, he now lives with his wife and three daughters in the Golan. Over the years, he has come to realise how deeply intertwined the fates of these two Israeli regions are.

Logistically, the Golan has always been a key strategic point, both in its proximity to neighbouring countries and major water sources, including the Sea of Galilee. Politically, its significance is even greater.

Even in the Roman era, when Roman soldiers were unable to penetrate the Jewish resistance in Jerusalem, they elected to try and attack from the periphery and move down. At the time, the Golan was rich in Jewish life with more than 30 synagogues. In the year 67, in spite of the efforts of Jewish revolutionaries, after a number of attempts, the Romans did overtake the ancient city of Gamla in the Golan. “They killed more than 4 000 Jews. Jewish independence fell, and then the Romans started moving down towards the heart of the land – Jerusalem. Three years later, we know, the second temple was destroyed.”

Fast forward thousands of years, when the Golan was redeemed from Syrian control by the IDF in the 1967 war, a number of fascinating ancient Jewish artefacts were found. The most striking of which was an ancient coin from the era of the Jewish revolt against Roman control. Engraved in Hebrew, its inscription reads “for the redemption of Jerusalem, the holy”.

In the modern political landscape, the Golan remains a contested hotspot particularly in relation to Iran and its ongoing incursions into the borderlands of Lebanon and Syria.

Selevan said that for many years, Iran had also used Israel and Jews symbolically as a strategy to forge allegiances across Muslim and Arab states that otherwise would be divided across Sunni and Shiite ethnic lines. These distinctions are derived from a dispute over the line of succession after Muhammed.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, “Iran wanted to ‘export the revolution’, and it realised it had a problem. While they were Shiites, most of the people around them were Sunni.” So, said Selevan, they chose a “common interest – the holy city of Jerusalem. Who controls the old city of Jerusalem? The filthy Zionists.” Moreover, as enemies across the Arab world sought ways to attack Israel, they turned to Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran.

Iran remains a threat to Israel on a number of levels, Selevan said. The first is its nuclear programme; the second its Precision Guided Munitions project, which designs missiles that use GPS to hit specific targets. Third, is its political take over and proxy power in various countries like Lebanon and Yemen. The next key territory which Iran is looking to control in the region is Syria, itself riddled by a civil war that has been appropriated by a myriad of interests.

In Lebanon, Iran controls networks of tunnels and occupied villages where local people are being used as human shields and whose homes are utilised for the storage of missiles and rockets. It hopes to use the chaos in Syria to take over using a similar model.

However, along with military action, Israel has made huge inroads diplomatically to prevent this, Selevan said.

“Iran used us and Jerusalem as a common interest, a common enemy, and a step in the door to the Sunni world. However, in the past few years, with what’s happening just here in Syria, people in the region are seeing what the Iranians are doing and how they’re taking over this region. They realise that they are next in line: Saudi Arabia, even Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, all these countries said, ‘Oh my G-d, all these years, we thought the Jews were the problem. Now we understand the greatest threat is the Shiites. Who can help us against the Shiites? The Jews!’”

Israel has thus turned Iran into the common interest which is “our step in the door of the Muslim world”. The most recent result is the Abraham Accords peace agreements, said Selevan.

Israel has another way in which it continues to forge towards peace – humanitarian aid.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Israel has helped, offering medical services and distributing food, clothing, and other products for basic needs, proving, “you can stop Iran with baby diapers”.

At its core, the motivation for the action is humanitarian, said Selevan. “We did it because we’re Jewish; we cannot stand by when we see people suffering.”

Nevertheless, it also had an impact on political engagement. Terror groups, such as those under Iranian control, are reliant on local populations for support, access to land, and soldiers. As Israel continues to reach out to her neighbours, “there’s a whole generation growing up in Syria knowing that we’re not the devil”.

Although this doesn’t mean there aren’t still many who are against Israel and are manipulating the aid system, nevertheless there are shifts. For Selevan, this is encompassed by a drawing made by a seven-year-old Syrian Muslim girl. Her portrait of the Israel flag, captioned in Arabic, thanks the Israeli who saved her life.

In spite of the huge upswing of attacks on Israel in recent days, Selevan said he was hopeful. His life in the Golan is a contract between him, his country, and his community.

“I’m here at the end of the end of the end of the country because someone needs to be here, because my community is the greatest answer to the Iranian threat. That’s my purpose. That’s my essence.” Holding out a replica of the Jewish-revolt-era coin, Selevan asserted, “Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves: what’s my job in the redemption of Jerusalem?”

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