READ AS THE AMBASSADOR SPEAKS
Follow our LIVE BLOG of the sold-out event co-hosted by Likud-SA & the Fed at which His Excellency Ambassador Arthur Lenk will be talking on the topic: “Israel and South Africa: Imagining the possibilities!” SAJR users are invited to pose questions on the website to Ambassador Lenk – click headline to follow the action and post your questions.
Live blogging of a speech is, by its very nature, a paraphrasing rather than a verbatim account of what is being said. On first posting it is grammatically imperfect and spelling and typing errors are unavoidable. The purpose of live blogging is to keep the non-present user as up to date as possible. Thereafter, the imperfections are corrected.
With this in mind, the posting at regular timed intervals would pass neither a typing nor a writing examination, but will be posted as close to real-time as is possible. The subsequent sub-editing will bring the copy up to the standard that SAJR users are used to.
Each new posting will be time-stamped and questions and answers will be paraphrased.
Users are welcome to post their own questions to the Ambassador which will be posed from the floor, if time allows, or e-mailed to Mr Lenk to answer afterwards.
TENTH POST: Posted 20h51
QUESTION: Are there actually negotiations going on?
LENK: I think that we are 5 or 7 months into it. That we are hearing nothing is good news. There are tough issues at hand. As an Israeli with 3 daughters I believe we have to try.
Pictured at the event, from left: Avrom Krengel, Arthur Lenk, Leon Reich, Mike Fisher
QUESTION: The way I see it is that we make concessions all the time. Why do you believe they will compromise?
LENK: I am not a spokesman for the Palestinians. But on both sides there are those who have the realisation that we are going to have to live alongside each other. The reality that there is goijg to be two states is a hard one. On our side and theirs…
QUESTION: I get the impression that this whole peace plan is marking time until Obama leaves (office). How does the US situation in the US play into the question of peace.
LENK: I am not prepared to speak on behalf of US. But, interestingly, Obama visited both SA and Israel this year and convinced both the people of SA and Israel that he was friendly. But regarding Israel, the US is not a new relationship. The US have been the closest ally of Israel for the past 40 years. If I had to choose a best friend for Israel, it would be America. Wouldn’t you?
NINTH POST: Posted 20h39
QUESTION: Population of Israel is very diverse in culture but is the only democratic country in region. Do you think Israel will ever have to choose between being a Jewish State and a democratic state.
LENK: I really hope not. It has never been our desire to rule over other people. I don’t know that compromise is close – but I think it has been there in Israel forever.
QUESTION: It is heartening to hear that Israel has many friends in SA. But not our government. DIRCO. T&I. Electioneering.
LENK: I can only speak to one side of it. You as South Africans have to speak. I think that my brothers and sisters here in SA are skilled at showing why SA Jewry is important. My job here is as a diplomat representing a foreign country. I think there are enough people in Christian and Jewish SA who realise that SA has much to gain from better relations with Israel.
QUESTION: I cannot see the Israeli Govt uprooting 600,000 citizens.
LENK: I don’t know what the plans are that are being talked about – and if I did, I wouldn’t say. But it is common knowledge that land swops are part of the discussions. I believe that societies gain by having Jewish neighbours.
EIGHTH POST: Posted 20h30
QUESTION: Lieberman’s lack of knowledge of SA?
LENK: He’s my boss, but, okay. There is full and constructive engagement between the two countries. I think it is
QUESTION: Predecessor had difficulty with Parliament’s Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
LENK: haven’t met them yet. Will soon. Met them in Israel before he came out. Lenk says he sees his role as meeting with everyone. “It is my job and my responsibility to meet with people who don’t agree with me.” It’s nice to know SA Jewry has my back.
QUESTION: How can Israel engage with Palestinians when they want all of Israel.
LENK: Good question. There is a split in values of Fatah and Hamas. I agree with you on Hamas, not regarding Fatah. They are not Zionists. They should be Palestinian patriots. They should negotiate, go back to their people and discuss pragmatically that they are going to have to live alongside each other. I hope that both our leaders and Palestinian leaders are fighting hard for peace.
Can we find peace? I don’t know. But we have to try. As we did with Egypt, Jordan.
SEVENTH POST: Posted 20h20
Israel is engaging with SA as are the SA Jewish community.
We have to get out and tell that story. [“Like Ant sitting here live blogging”]
It is am honour to be among you tnight.
SIXTH POST: Posted 20h17
Israel is a start-up nation. Because Facebook says so. Because Google says so, Apple, Intel, Microsoft. Because the high tech innovators outside of the west Coast are in Israel.
What can Israel get from SA?
The idea that unsolvable problems can be solved is an SA lesson. Israelis need to hear that. Palestinians need to hear it, the Iranians.
But in SA you needed to get married. We and the Palestinians need to get divorced. But we need to talk. And we need to talk more. And more. This is the policy of the State of Israel. Bibi said so again today.
The truth is that to the north of Israel we have the awfulness of a leader killing and gassing his own people. We are pleased for the people of Syria that their seems to be a resolution to the gas.
To the south we have Egypt. Clearly, what they call the Arab spring has a long way to go, says Lenk.
Then there is Iran. From an Israeli perspective there is nothing better than Iran being brought back to normalcy. It’s a question of strategy vs. tactics. Israel wants the P5+1 to push Iran hard.
FIFTH POST: Posted 20h08
There is R1-bil a year in bilateral trade. Bilateral tourism is huge. SA Media has taken a very great interest in the ambassador.
The two big take-aways Lenk has found:
- We need to put Israel’s narrative out these
- We need to talk about the issues we have in common
What we need to do in SA is to tell our story about how we want to live in Peace and prosperity with our neighbours.
Lenk says he spoke at UJ and quoted from SA policy – everything SA says it wants to do – creating jobs, exporting produce due to opposite seasonality, water, agriculture, innovation, high tech – things that SA says it has need for, Israel has the ability and expertise to assist.
All over SA emerging farmers are benefiting from Israeli technology.
FOURTH POST: Posted 20h01
Ambassador gets roar of applause.
Ever the joker, Lenk told guests he hoped they will get their R30’s worth.
Been here for three and a half months and he and his family are overwhelmed by the welcome from the community. The legendary relationship between SA Jewry and Israel is clearly correct.
Lenk says he sees so much potential for the relationship between Israel and SA. The dynamic excitement he has experienced in SA 20-years since democracy – the only other community excitement like this in the world is in Israel.
The cw was that SA would be a tough assignment. Lenk says that is wrong. This is not a bad post. It is a challenging posting, says Lenk, but a privilege.
The SA Christian admiration for Israel is amazing. When he was invited to Moria for a major ZCC event stunned him. He was treated as THE VIP.
THIRD POST: Posted 19h51
Avrom Krengel welcomes all – he says that although the new ambassador and deputy have literally criss-crossed the country and engaged the community and the country and it seems they have been here longer.
As we have seen over the past two weeks the relationship between SA and Israel can flare up at a moments’ notice. But, says Krengel, he believes the new ambassador can do great things.
Thanks Likud-SA for setting up the event.
SECOND POST: Posted 19h47
The room is filling fast – with everyone from community dignitaries to the Yid in the street – it seems that Likud-SA’s savvy marketing and the interest of the community, not least in the topic of the day, has really struck a nerve. The Ambassador has arrived and just suggested to me that we set up a live on-site question and answer session on SAJR Online.
Avrom Krengel has also arrived and Mike Fisher, chair of Likud-SA Gauteng is welcoming guests.
FIRST POST: Posted 19h40
The ambassador was expected to begin speaking shortly before 8pm but, between Jewish time and Beyachad security – and the fact that the sold-out event had to be moved to a bigger venue, given the, I think we can expect a slightly later start.
Media interest is high with 5 different media houses attending.
LENK PRESENTS CREDENTIALS AND VEGGIES TO ZUMA Read how cleverly the ambassador made his point on the day that the Israeli flag flew over the Presidential Guesthouse last month
LENK SHINES THROUGH AGGRESSION ON SABC Watch how gingerly the ambassador handled an over-aggressive SABC interviewer last week
Yochanan’s gamble: the controversial move that saved Judaism
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, known as the father of rabbinic Judaism, saved Judaism from complete and utter destruction during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, his methods weren’t without controversy. He was crafty, practical, and pragmatic, and history has questioned his behaviour ever since.
Limmud@Home on 22 August 2021 featured Marc Katz, the author and rabbi at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey, United States, who discussed Ben Zakkai’s controversial gamble that saved Judaism, and the lessons that can be learned from it.
The zealots, a group of religious fanatics in Jerusalem, wanted to fight the Romans. When the sages refused to engage in battle, the zealots burned wheat, deliberately causing starvation to make the people desperate and have no other option but to fight.
“Show me a method so that I will be able to leave the city, and it’s possible that through this, there will be some small salvation,” Ben Zakkai told Abba Sikkara, the leader of the zealots.
Heeding Sikkara’s advice, Ben Zakkai pretended to be dead. In a coffin, he could possibly travel outside the city to seek a solution with the Romans.
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua successfully carried Ben Zakkai past the guards, who were of the faction of the zealots, by telling them that they were burying the coffin outside the city.
When Ben Zakkai reached the Roman camp, he spoke to Roman leader Vespasian. Ben Zakkai helped Vespasian cure his swollen feet. Vespasian offered something in return, and Ben Zakkai asked for certain Jewish lives to be spared and doctors to heal Rabbi Tzadok.
Why didn’t he ask the Romans to spare Jerusalem? He maintained that Vespasian might not do that much for him, and there wouldn’t be even this small amount of salvation. Therefore, he made only a modest request in the hope that he would receive at least that much.
Katz said several lessons could be learned from this story.
He drew a comparison to US President Abraham Lincoln at the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s, who freed slaves.
“One of the things he’s famous for is that he surrounded himself with people who disagreed with him in order to build the best coalition and understand that he didn’t have all the right views in a time of discord,” said Katz. “So, many of his secretaries – like his treasury secretary, his war secretary – were people who were actually his political rivals but he brought them in because it was really important for him to listen to them. It was pragmatic because he knew the social capital he was going to gain from it. It was also hopeful because he wasn’t so caught in his ways that he couldn’t hear them out or heed their warnings. That is exactly what Ben Zakkai is doing. Not only is he creating this plot of land where he is going to save Judaism, but he is the kind of guy who tends to think about politics in the way he governs.”
Another lesson is to try to seek compromises, just like Ben Zakkai did with Sikkara.
A further lesson is to have love and kindness, not regret and hatred. Katz discussed what happened when Ben Zakkai was leaving Jerusalem with Yehoshua, and they witnessed the destruction of the Temple. “Don’t be bitter, my son, for we have another form of atonement which is as great, and this is [an] act of love and kindness [gemilut hasadim],” Ben Zakkai told Yehoshua.
An additional lesson is not to be afraid of people. If they kill you, you won’t be dead for eternity as there is life after death. But the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, lives and endures forever and all-time, and if he kills you, you are dead for eternity.
“Yochanan doesn’t know if he is going to heaven or hell,” said Katz. “I truly believe that’s because he doesn’t know whether he made the right call or not – he doesn’t know if the pragmatic decision he made was better than going for broke and asking for Jerusalem to be saved.”
The dispersal of the Bukharian Jews
The story of the Bukharian Jews, a community with deep roots in Central Asia, is sadly coming to an end, but the community’s legacy lives on in the United States and Israel, where most of the remaining Bukharian Jews now live.
Uzbekistan-born Bukharian Jew, Ruben Shimonov, told of this little known Jewish group which emanates mostly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, countries in the heart of the Asian continent.
Speaking to a virtual audience via Zoom at Limmud@Home last Sunday, 22 August, Shimonov said the different layers of culture, cuisine, music, and language in the region were an amalgamation of all the different cultures of Central Asia, and were also reflected in the small but deeply-rooted community of Bukharian Jews.
The Bukharian Jewish story begins with the Babylonian conquest of the ancient land of Israel, Judea, and subsequent exile of Jews east of the land of Israel to other regions of the Babylonian Empire, namely present-day Iraq and Iran.
The Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC. “Under the Achaemenid Empire, the king was a more benevolent king and he allowed Jews to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash,” said Shimonov. “But many Jews stayed as they now felt safe and secure under this new reign and moved even farther east of this new large Achaemenid Empire. This, folks, was Central Asia.”
Shimonov believes that the Bukharian Jews were more integrated with the local non-Jewish communities in Central Asia than, for example, the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe.
“Even though Bukharian Jews for a large part of their history lived in quarters [maḥalla], there was constant interaction with the dominant societies amongst which they lived,” said Shimonov. “For example, the shashmaqam musical tradition is influenced by Sufi Islam, but many Bukharian Jews became the gatekeepers of this tradition.”
According to Shimonov, there are 250 000 Bukharian Jews in the world. Most of them now live in Israel or the United States, primarily in the New York City borough of Queens.
“In Uzbekistan, there are fewer than a thousand Bukharian Jews left – mainly elderly folk who are staying behind because it’s harder for them to emigrate,” said Shimonov. “Jews in Uzbekistan are highly protected; their safety is preserved. And Jews do go and visit Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, where there is one kosher restaurant and a couple of synagogues. But our story is quickly coming to an end in our place of origin.”
In the Tajikistan city of Khujand, where Bukharian Jews once enjoyed a rich communal life, the last remaining Jew, Jura Abaev, died in January this year. Zablon Simintov, a carpet trader who is the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan, is reportedly safe as the country comes under the control of the Taliban.
Shimonov, who emigrated from Uzbekistan three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, said the main reason for the low numbers today was the struggle of the Bukharian Jews living in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
“State-sanctioned antisemitism and dispossession or marginalisation of Jews was part of that story even though there were more ups than downs. And then, the subsequent new instability of the newly formed independent republics – whenever new countries are formed after the colonial past there is more often than not a lot of political, social, and economic instability,” he said.
“As a democratic minority, we felt that even more. So, the urgency to leave was clear and present. In the decade of the late eighties to mid-nineties, we went from having the majority of our community living in this place where we had lived for centuries to the majority of our community living in a new diaspora. In Uzbekistan, the real impetus to leave was more about everything I mentioned than antisemitism coming from our Muslim neighbours.”
“Our Muslim neighbours were our friends, and we baked bread with them,” Shimonov said. “This is different to Jews coming from the Arab world, where Arab nationalism and Zionism came to a head in a way that the Jews were sadly caught in the crossfire.”
In contemporary times, Uzbekistan-born billionaire Lev Avnerovich Leviev and Israeli Dorrit Moussaieff are two of the Bukharian Jews who have made an impact. Known as the “king of diamonds”, Leviev annually sent large quantities of Passover food to Chabad emissaries in the Commonwealth of Independent States to distribute to Jews in these communities. Moussaieff, the former First Lady of Iceland, promoted Icelandic culture and artistic productions in the international arena.
Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi
More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.
Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.
Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.
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