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Recognising Roald Dahl – warts and all

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Voices

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth, a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.

This is according to Roald Dahl, who I imagine would suggest that the corollary is also true in that no matter how beautiful you seem on the outside, if there is ugliness in your thoughts, you will look hideous.

Roald Dahl was ugly.

Earlier in the week, Dahl’s family apologised for the antisemitic views and statements expressed during his lifetime. It’s hard to imagine that the man who brought so much joy into the world was at the same time a vocal and virulent antisemite.

“The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements. Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us, and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations. We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”

And what words they were. In a famous interview with the New Statesman in 1983 soon after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, he was recorded as saying, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

In essence, Dahl was suggesting that Jews were responsible for the Holocaust because we are annoying. Why else would a “stinker” like Hitler pick on us? Even the use of the word “stinker” reduces Hitler to the level of an unruly and naughty child, rather than the mass murderer that he was. Clearly the magnitude of the genocide wasn’t something that Dahl was too bothered by.

In the age of “cancel culture”, Dahl’s comments and prejudice should be simply handled. By all accounts of the 2020 view of history, Dahl himself should be cancelled, and his books removed or banned. What makes this approach problematic is that his writing is so darn good and engaging that we have chosen to ignore his racism so that we can continue to enjoy his work.

But we don’t need to do that. Rather, we can acknowledge that his views are abhorrent and we can condemn his prejudice in the most vocal terms. We can do so while acknowledging that he is a genius, and that his writing is a gift. All this can be true at the same time.

It’s commendable that the Dahl family has addressed his antisemitism in a public manner, and that it has taken ownership of his behaviour. It’s important that it has not ignored it, but has acknowledged the failings of a man in whose shadow it now lives. It’s important that we do the same. Perhaps, somewhat ironically, we could look to Dahl himself, heed his words when he says, “I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.”

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Voices

COVID 19 – the battle continues

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With the third wave of COVID-19 infections well and truly upon us, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) last week convened a national COVID-19 call with medical experts and representatives of major communal bodies from around the country. Discussion centred on the handling of schools, shuls, and communal functions. While we will continue to do all that we can at the collective level to guide our community at this worrying time, we reiterate the crucial need for every individual to take personal responsibility by strictly observing all COVID-19-related protocols and thereby minimising risk to themselves and those around them.

Last week, COVID-19 deprived our community of another of its most distinguished and devoted leaders, Victor Gordon. One of the guiding lights of Pretoria Jewry and a man of many talents, Gordon served South African Jewry in a range of capacities. Among other positions, he was president of the SAJBD Pretoria council for eight years, in which capacity he also sat on the SAJBD national executive council. He was also an invaluable member of the Zionist Federation media team, where his considerable writing skills were put to excellent use in the many articles and letters in defence of Israel that appeared over more than a decade. We extend our sincerest condolences to our Pretoria colleagues and in particular to the Gordon family during this very sad time.

Calling antisemites to account

Unreflecting bias against Israel is problematic in and of itself, but it brings with it the added risk of such rhetoric crossing the line into Jews as a whole being denigrated and defamed. Such was the case with an interview programme on Power FM broadcast during the recent Gaza conflict, in which several callers were allowed to make a range of malevolent comments on the theme of global Jewish domination (including explicitly invoking the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion) without at any point being challenged by the host. Our initial approach to the station was to request that someone who could respond to these stereotypically antisemitic canards appear on the same show, and in that regard, we offered to facilitate an interview with a suitable overseas expert.

In spite of being offered a reasonable, non-confrontational way of addressing the problem it had caused, Power FM chose to drag its heels as well as to try to impose objectionable conditions on the manner in which the interview would be conducted. The conciliatory approach having failed, the SAJBD then decided to escalate the matter by taking it to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA). In our letter of complaint, we explained the fundamentally racist and defamatory nature of what had been said on the show, as well as stressing the signal failure of the host to contradict it. (Indeed, the latter’s response when being challenged by another caller on a later show was to deny that anything wrong had been said.) The BCCSA has acknowledged receipt of our complaint, and advised that it will revert as soon as it has received Power FM’s response.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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Voices

Like Zurich – without the chocolates

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One of the vivid memories that I have about the period in my life spent on planes was taking off from Zurich Airport on the way to Munich early one November morning. It was a dark, cold, and wet morning. No one looked happy, and very few seemed filled with the joy of living, which might have been expected considering that it was Switzerland, where a smile is no one’s resting face. It was so dank that when we boarded the flight, it was impossible to tell if the water on the window was rain or cloud moisture.

As we began to taxi, the captain welcomed us on board and gave us some details about the short flight. The weather in Munich was apparently much the same, but the flying conditions would be good. Because, as he explained, “it’s a beautiful day a few metres up”. Shortly after, we took off and he was right. It took seconds for the cabin to fill with sunshine. Suddenly everything looked colourful and bright, and I’m certain that even some of the Swiss might have smiled. On the ground, in the grey and the dark, it would have been impossible to imagine what a magnificent day awaited us.

This week, South Africa felt like Zurich. Without the chocolates, banks, the Alps, and electricity. And water. And watches. And trams, and snow. It was similar in that it felt dark and grey, and it was impossible to know what was causing the water on the windows. Was it COVID-19 or the infrastructure failure or vaccine delay? Was it the fact that we can’t socialise and that we don’t laugh nearly as much as we need to, or that it’s hard to imagine the sun shining again.

I bumped into a friend when I was walking on Shabbat. After he asked me how I was, he gave me his theory as to why it’s particularly bad at the moment. He said that bad things have always happened. People have always died before their time, and things have always gone wrong. But normally, there is more balance. After a difficult week, we can get together with friends, have a drink and laugh. Now it feels like all that we have are funerals. I wanted to disagree with him. I wanted to tell him how blessed we are as a community, how fortunate we are to have all that we have in this country, and how wonderful South Africans are. I wouldn’t have been wrong. But to say it would have been empty.

It also doesn’t help to repeat that it’s “darkest before the dawn”, that “this too shall pass”, and that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”. And that “every cloud has a silver lining”. All might be true, but none are helpful.

What helps me at a time like this is to find a role to play. We each have a “job”, and a way that we can assist in helping others get through this time. Purpose is a life saver. And it has saved my life even before it helped others. It also helps me to think of that November morning in Zurich when it was hard to imagine the sunshine. Until we took off and within seconds, we saw what a magnificent day was waiting for us. Just where we couldn’t see it.

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Voices

ORT Jet – helping small Jewish businesses and changing people’s lives

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ORT Jet was founded by key stakeholders in the community in 2005 to support Jewish businesses, and since then, the shift in the business world has been startling. Over the years, ORT Jet has worked with a large network of mentors, facilitators, and staff to assist businesses in need in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.

“ORT Jet attracts Jewish business people who need help to grow existing businesses. Others are struggling to make their businesses profitable, and need a combination of training and mentorship to help solve issues. ORT Jet also receives many entrepreneurs wanting to take a business idea further. The invaluable mentorship, training, and resources they receive has been paramount to the success of thousands of businesses over the years,” says ORT SA Chief Executive Ariellah Rosenberg.

ORT Jet has three sets of specialised panels consisting of experienced business mentors. The first is business’ first “port of call” where the state of the business is analysed. Every three to six months, the catch-up panel assesses its progress, and allocates a new mentor if necessary. During the business’ journey with ORT Jet, it may meet the creative thinking panel, which will shift thinking and help the business to look at the world differently.

An extra panel was formed during the global pandemic called the business rescue panel. It gave advice to businesses in financial distress by directing them to the Gesher Fund and providing them with information to stay afloat.

“My mentor is incredible. I’ve sat with him twice already in the past week, and I feel like I have another partner in the business. He’s deeply interested in what we do, and assists with things like management strategy, auditors, legal matters, even networking, says ORT Jet beneficiary Darryl Epstein.

“We recently ran our fifth business induction for the year. We attracted a variety of businesses, start-ups, and people with wonderful business ideas. Today, one needs to look at what the world needs and adapt accordingly. Change brings opportunities, and those with creative and open mind-sets will thrive,” says ORT Jet HOD Helene Itzkin.

The ORT Jet impact on the community is evident. Through its webinars, people are trained from all over the world. For extra value add, participants receive useful resources after each webinar and the opportunity to engage with the speakers. “The Canva webinar with Mike Said was absolutely fabulous,” says training participant Debby Bear. “Thank you to ORT Jet for giving us opportunities.”

ORT Jet continuously collaborates with industry experts to keep the training relevant and packed with skills.

To access the ORT Jet training calendar, visit the ORT Jet website at www.ortjet.org.za. All webinar recordings are available on the JETflix YouTube channel. Subscribe at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgK1Y634pfTfquMrNd5SjQw

To join the ORT Jet programme, email admin@ortjet.org.za. The next induction for new sign-ups will be held on 30 June from 14:00 to 15:00 on Zoom. Follow ORT Jet on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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