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Representing our community

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The purpose of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is to act as “the representative voice of the South Africa Jewish community” but what does that mean in practice? Essentially, it’s to be the interface between South African Jewry and the wider society, particularly at government level. Combating antisemitism has been the Board’s primary focus over the past 120 years. However, it’s interesting to note that the immediate reason for the establishment of the Board of Deputies for the Transvaal and Natal in April 1903 was to work with the authorities in resolving legal and bureaucratic difficulties that many would-be Jewish immigrants were experiencing.

From those early years, the work of the SAJBD would expand to encompass a range of activities, not just in the civil-rights sphere, but in the cultural, communal governance, and social welfare fields as well. Throughout the decades, the Board, working through official channels as the recognised spokesbody for South African Jewry, would nevertheless continue in certain circumstances to help facilitate the entry of Jews into the country. This we continue to do to this day. Most recently, we were involved in a difficult case of a rabbi and his family who, through no fault of their own, were unable to return to South Africa because of visa issues concerning one of the young children. Aside from the distress experienced by the family itself, this meant that a community was left without its rabbi. By engaging with the home affairs department, we were thankfully able to resolve the matter. It again underlined the importance of what we do in terms of building sound working relationships with the government and the administration, a vital part of which involves maintaining proper channels of communication. Resolving such difficulties also requires much tenacity and determination, and we are indeed fortunate that our national director, Wendy Kahn, as her amazing track record shows, has such an abundance of these qualities.

Explosion in the CBD

In the aftermath of the shocking gas explosion in central Johannesburg, we have joined our fellow citizens in helping to alleviate the impact of the disaster. Aside from the tragic death of one bystander and dozens of injuries to others, many people in the area have suffered severe losses to their property and livelihoods. On Monday, Reeva Forman again represented our community at an interfaith prayer gathering, and as always, did so with the utmost dignity and compassion. At the time of writing, we are providing food and water and other humanitarian aid to those worst affected. It shows, among other things, that representing the Jewish community, especially in times of crisis, also involves leading the community in contributing to the welfare of the greater society of which it is part.

Events in Israel

As Jews around the world prepare for the fast day of Tisha B’Av, we are reminded of the horrific consequences of Jewish disunity. It’s with this in mind that I have watched events in Israel unfold over the past few days with such a sense of foreboding. I echo the statement made by President Isaac Herzog earlier this week that “the citizens of Israel are thirsty for hope and expect responsibility and leadership. I call on the elected officials to act with courage, and to reach out in order to reach understanding.” Coming from the Zionistic South African Jewish community, with our deep love and connection with Israel, I hope and trust that Israel will stay true to its democratic core and search in earnest for a consensus resolution to this internal disunity.

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

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