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Refusenik book scores Prime Minister Award

SYDNEY – A book chronicling the landmark campaign by Australia, and notably the Jewish community, to help free Jews from the Soviet Union so they could emigrate to Israel and other destinations, has won a major literary prize.

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SUZANNE BELLING

Co-authored by Sam Lipski and Professor Suzanne Rutland, Let My People Go: The Untold Story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959-89, launched last year, has been jointly awarded the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in Australian History.

The book shares the Prime Minister’s award in the Australian History category with historian Geoffrey Blainey’s The Story of Australia’s People.

Judges stated Lipski and Rutland “have produced a path-breaking book about the struggles of the Soviet ‘refuseniks’. Replete with new information, [it] draws on a vast array of primary and secondary sources.

“These include ASIO files, Rutland’s painstaking research on Australia and Soviet Jewry, as well as unfettered access to the massive archive about the campaign for Soviet Jewry of Lipski’s friend Isi Leibler, who is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and activist for Soviet Jews.”

Lipski, chief executive of the Pratt Foundation and a former editor-in-chief of The Australian Jewish News, described news of the award as “an overwhelming moment – to hear that I and co-author Suzanne Rutland had shared the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Australian History with Geoffrey Blainey, the doyen of Australian historians”.

At the awards presentation, Lipski reflected the book was an appropriate recipient of a PM’s Award “because every Australian prime minister for 30 years, notably Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, had had to deal with the Soviet Jewry issue”.

Rutland, an associate professor and chairman of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney, learnt she had won, while attending a meeting of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in Romania. – Australian Jewish News

 

Lord Sacks warns of dangers of ‘politics of anger’

LONDON – Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, has warned of the dangers of the “politics of anger” following the election of Donald Trump as United States President and the Brexit vote.

In an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph, he instead urged a new politics of hope built on “capitalism with a human face”.

Rabbi Sacks said this year’s events were “not politics as usual. The American Presidential election, the Brexit vote and the rise of extremism in the politics of the West are warnings of something larger, and the sooner we realise it, the better.

“What we are witnessing is the birth of a new politics of anger. It is potentially very dangerous indeed.”

He warned that anger was “a mood, not a strategy, and it can make things worse not better. Anger never solves problems, it merely inflames them. The danger down the road, as it has been throughout history, is the demand for authoritarian leadership, which is the beginning of the end of the free society.”

He said the first step was to recognise “how bad” things were, with many people failing to benefit from economic growth.

A politics of hope was, he said, “within our reach. But to create it we will have to find ways of strengthening families and communities, building a culture of collective responsibility and insisting on an economics of the common good. This is no longer a matter of party politics. It is about the very viability of the freedom for which the West fought for so long and hard.” – Jewish Chronicle, London

 

On the road to solving biggest healthcare problem

 

JERUSALEM – It’s one of healthcare’s biggest ironies: going to a hospital for life-saving treatment can actually cost you your life. More than one million people in America each year get sick from infections they contract in hospitals, resulting in about 100 000 deaths. Fighting these infections costs the healthcare system about $30 billion every year.

The main reason, says Efrat Raichman, is poor hand hygiene of the hospital staff.

In response, Raichman has developed Hyginex, a new hi-tech system to keep hospital workers’ hands clean. If everyone from nurses and doctors to orderlies and candy-stripers – even food handlers in the cafeteria – are required to use it, hospital administrators can help ensure the highest sanitary standards.

At its core, Hyginex is an online software solution that communicates with a bracelet resembling a sports watch. Worn by every shift worker, the bracelet is equipped with gyroscopes and other movement sensors and emits a gentle red LED light to remind personnel to wash their hands between patients – or however frequently the system is programmed to provide alerts.

Hyginex aims to improve hand-washing compliance and quality without requiring any special training.

“Today the hand hygiene in hospitals is so poor, that when I talk to [the managers] they report that the staff is just doing it about 20 per cent of the time it is required,” says Raichman, the founder and CEO of the company. “They say even a 50 per cent compliance would be great. The system can be programmed to meet any requirement.”

Raichman tells ISRAEL21c that other products with the same goal are on the market. “But we have a patent and they can’t match us. Ours is the only system that can test the compliance of the staff and also test the quality of the hand washing. Simply opening the tap doesn’t mean you’ve washed your hands, or if you stand near the hand sanitiser, that they are sanitised,” she claims.

The Hyginex system incorporates sensors on the bracelet, in the dispensers and in the tap to measure the duration of vigorous hand washing, and then transfers that information to a computer.

In the future, the bracelet will be equipped with an optional watch that can be programmed for other functions including security – so that staff might be able to open or close doors using the bracelet as a remote control device. – ISRAEL21C

Paul Castro, head of Jewish Family Service retires

LOS ANGELES – Paul Castro, the president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS) who has worked at the social service agency for more than 35 years, has announced his retirement, effective December 2017.

The 64-year-old LA native’s story is not that of the typical leader of a Jewish nonprofit – starting with the fact that he is not Jewish. Of Mexican descent and raised Catholic, Castro’s first home was in Watts. He lived there through the violence of the 1965 Watts riots.

The riots were enough to convince his mother and father, a painter on a maintenance crew who earned his high school equivalency certificate when Castro was in college at Cal State Fullerton, to move the family to Whittier. Castro graduated with a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies and earned a law degree from Loyola Law School, though the self-described social activist never took the bar exam.

 “Time passes and you don’t do it,” Castro said during an interview in his Koreatown office.

He began working at JFS in 1980 after he responded to an advertisement. The organisation had been a Jewish counselling agency, before public funding expanded its scope of work, and Castro’s first position with JFS focused on state funding for keeping seniors home instead of in nursing homes, which was right up his alley.

 “In my culture, we don’t send grandparents to nursing homes,” Castro said. – Los Angeles Jewish Journal

 

JVS job fair empowers Jewish, non-Jewish job seekers

TORONTO – The perception that people in the Jewish community don’t struggle with unemployment is simply untrue.

“We see it every day. We have been working on employment in the Jewish community since 1947. Poverty and unemployment in the Jewish community is still going on,” said Irene Vaksman, programme manager at the non-profit employment organisation Jewish Vocational Service of Metropolitan Toronto (JVS Toronto).

Events such as the Bathurst-Finch Community Job Fair, which JVS hosted in partnership with KCWA Family and Social Services, an organisation that largely serves the city’s Korean community, are, therefore, so important to those looking for work.

The fair was held in the new Bathurst-Finch Community Hub, a building that houses a number of community service agencies, including one of JVS Toronto’s offices. It drew more than 100 job seekers, Jewish and non-Jewish.

Fifteen different employers were present, representing companies from a range of fields, including customer service, general labour, IT, office administration and personal support work.

Vaksman said JVS advertised the event both through Jewish and non-Jewish networks, and attendees came from “all walks of life”.

“Many in the Bathurst and Finch community are experiencing a need for employment, including those in the Jewish community,” she said, noting that unemployment can be especially prevalent among young people and newcomers.

“We’re trying to engage employers in the community to ensure that people can build their dignity, make a decent living and support their families… and we’re trying to help people build skills and confidence or reinvent their careers… for example, mothers who’ve been raising family for years and suddenly need to find a job,” Vaksman said.

The fair targeted people in the neighbourhood, but was open to everyone. The purpose was to connect job seekers with potential employers, but also to help build the confidence of those looking for work. – Canadian Jewish News

 

Institutions response to sexual abuse under review

SYDNEY-The Yeshivah Centre, Melbourne, and Yeshiva College in Sydney have been recalled to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse only one week before the nominations close for the new Yeshivah–Beth Rivkah (YBR) board.

The Royal Commission has announced it will hold a public hearing into the current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child-safe standards, including how Yeshivah and Yeshiva respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, in February.

“This hearing is expected to include consideration of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in religious institutions and factors that may have affected the institutional response of religious institutions to child sexual abuse,” the commission said in a statement last week.

“This hearing may also examine the responses of named institutions to relevant case study report(s).”

The Royal Commission has invited individuals and organisations to submit information concerning current policies, procedures and responses by Yeshivah to the abuse cases involving convicted child sexual abusers David Cyprys, David Kramer and Daniel ‘Gug’ Hayman.

“The Yeshivah Centre welcomes the opportunity to present its current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child-safe standards and the steps it has taken following the Royal Commission hearing,” Yeshivah’s interim committee of management said in a letter to the community.- Australian Jewish News

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Centenarian Rose Norwich zooms in on a life of achievement

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They say that age is just a number, but when you turn 100 during a pandemic, there’s every reason to celebrate.

Riviera resident Rose Norwich marked her centennial birthday on 2 January, and while COVID-19 prevented any in-person celebration, the occasion was a special one indeed.

“People have been so kind,” Norwich told the SA Jewish Report. “I didn’t realise I was a such a novelty. Turning a hundred kind of creeps up on you.”

Although unable to see her four children, eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and other relatives, Norwich celebrated her birthday with friends and family in Zoom gatherings.

“My family all live in different places around the world, and we had three separate Zoom sessions: one for my children and grandchildren, another with my siblings, and the others with friends around the world. It was such fun and really wonderful.

“It was almost better, in a way, to have this. Most of them couldn’t have come here, regardless of COVID-19. If anything, this business has taught us a lesson that we need to stay together as families rather than be separated. At times of crisis, we need one another.”

Born in 1921 in Johannesburg, Norwich has notched up endless accomplishments. The second of five children, she completed a degree in architecture at 22, and went on to devote much of her life to Jewish communal organisations.

“I did my degree towards the end of the war, met my husband, and started a family,” she says. “My parents had both been integrally involved in community organisations, so it wasn’t new to me.

“I started at ORT Jet in the sixties. The organisation was going through a bad patch, and Richard Goldstone, Basil Wunsch, and I worked to resurrect it and see it grow. We changed what it did, made it interdenominational, and set up a system that would help all kinds of people achieve all kinds of different things.”

Norwich was subsequently invited to join the Union of Jewish Women, becoming the organisation’s president and joining the South African Jewish Board of Deputies as a result.

“They asked me if I would do an exhibition of South African Jewry for the Beit Hatfutsot Museum in Israel. It was a major project that I did over two years, collecting plenty of photos for use in the exhibition. They say that 60 000 people saw it in Israel, and I visited it with my late husband, Isadore.”

Another major project to which Norwich devoted herself was a master’s dissertation, which she took up at the age of 66, 44 years after completing her first degree.

“I met somebody overseas who showed me pictures of destroyed shuls,” she says. “I knew we had shuls in South Africa which had fallen apart owing to sheer neglect, so I did my dissertation on 43 of the early synagogues of Johannesburg and the Reef.

“It took me four years, trawling through archives and discovering places that had been forgotten. It was remarkable. There are copies of my dissertation at Hebrew University, Beit Hatfutsot, and I gave one to each of my children. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.”

The last surviving member of her immediate family, Norwich spends much of her time alone these days, but has devoted herself to penning her life story.

“My husband passed away 25 years ago,” she says. “I’ve been lonely, but I can’t sit around and do nothing. I may be a little more tired than I used to, but I can still see and hear. I need to keep busy.

“I’ve learned first-hand that when push comes to shove, you need other people in your life. You can’t do it alone. You have to put your foot in the water to get going, be open to all sorts of things, and go out there to see what’s what.”

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Habonim honours Anstey, a ‘superman without a cape’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JNF Blue Box enters the digital age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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