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Rollercoaster ride to keep from starvation

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Lifestyle/Community

Ronan Keating sang, “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it”, and never before has this been more true than over these past five months. Not an adrenalin junkie myself, I far prefer to be on terra firma than even contemplate bungee jumping, sky diving, or taking a rollercoaster ride.

Yet here we are, unwilling participants on a ride we didn’t sign up for, and our choice is to scream blue murder, or let the ride just take us where it must. When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week lockdown (which turned into five months), I had visions of catching up on Netflix, reading, and enjoying quality family time, but Hashem had other plans. Certainly a very scary ride didn’t feature, although looking back, I’m not sure how I could ever have imagined otherwise.

I have never worked so hard, yet felt so fulfilled. I find it amazing to believe that pre-COVID-19, I thought I knew what busy was. I had no clue. The work we do is hard, yet rewarding. It can kill you, but it also makes you stronger. You lose sleep, but you gain humility and gratitude. You feel stretched to your limit, but you learn so much about resilience.

You see the best and the worst of humanity. You meet incredible people who enrich your life in ways you never thought possible, and you break when you hear about the death of a starving child. What we do is purpose-driven and humbling. I have always maintained that we get far more from giving than our beneficiaries do. How lucky we are to get to take from those who want to give, to give to those who need it most.

When Midnight Oil sang, “How do we sleep when our beds are burning”, it couldn’t have imagined thousands who weren’t only frightened by COVID-19 and being able to feed their starving children, but stressing about how to keep them warm and provide a roof over their heads when the fires came.

We have seen children eating dog food, and babies receiving only water. We have taken flack from our community for not assisting our own, which we most certainly do, and from white squatter camps who feel marginalised.

As much as we wish we could ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry or cold, the reality is that people are dying on our watch, and there is nothing we can do about it. We become emotional when we realise how many millions still need assistance.

To say that we went into overdrive when COVID-19 hit, would be an understatement. Working 15-hour days became the norm, and with no help other than my amazing husband, cleaning, cooking, and laundry became the things I did in the spare time I didn’t have.

Surprisingly, I found it to be far more therapeutic than I would have expected. Our recruitment company certainly took a back seat, and I have relied heavily on my extremely capable business partner and close friend, Leigh Brouze, to hold down the fort.

Personal grooming hasn’t been a priority, and I haven’t had my hair, nails, toes, or eyelashes done in five months. I miss being pampered, and look a sight, which is only a problem when people pop past to drop off things and I find myself apologising for my appearance. Now, I have a few more wrinkles, a little more grey.

Before April, I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup, and certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead in Ugg boots that must have got their name from being so ugly. Now, on the extremely rare occasion that I venture out to get groceries, lipstick isn’t required thanks to our masks, and I honestly forget that I’m in Uggs with no makeup. Truthfully, nobody cares.

Zoom meetings have now become a way of life for us all, and it’s the only time I feel compelled to put on lipstick.

From the start, every day was Monday, as we scrambled to feed hundreds of thousands of people who had no other way of receiving food. Thankfully, Wendy Kahn and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) chose to partner with us in distributing R9 million from an anonymous donor, something we will be eternally grateful for and humbled by.

This enormously generous donation has helped to save millions from dying of starvation. Our community has always been and continues to be incredibly proactive and generous. Without it, we could never have done what we do. We are also truly grateful to the dozens of ex-South Africans who contribute to our appeals. Before March this year, the biggest single donation received was for R211 000, so I feel a great sense of responsibility to have been entrusted with millions.

Initially, being far too busy even to think of seeing people, five months down the line, I would love nothing more than to visit my ageing mom in Port Elizabeth or host a Shabbos dinner. I crave the smells of freshly chopped liver and roasting lamb that symbolises guests on the way, and I miss our table being full of loved ones and laughter.

My family have been unbelievably supportive, not complaining about how our garage has become the official Angel Network headquarters, or how often the bell rings daily. They do, however, miss time spent together and bemoan how inaccessible I often am.

I may not be baking banana bread or keeping the house spotless from all the hair of our three Labradors, but I do know they appreciate the work I do.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the support of the most amazing team of women who form our executive. I could never do what I do without every one of them on my side and in my corner, fighting the good fight, and I salute them all.

Working closely with more than 45 CANS (community action networks) set up by ourselves and the SAJBD, we have provided millions of meals to people across all nine provinces of our country. We have also assisted more than 150 000 citizens with clothing, and hundreds with housing and education. There are no to-do lists, and we hit the ground running from the moment we open our eyes every morning.

The good, the bad, and the ugly may be the name of an epic Western from the 1960s, but we have certainly seen it firsthand. We have encountered the good in people whose paths we may never have crossed without this pandemic, experienced the bad through corruption, and dishonesty and thieving are the ugly.

This too shall pass, painfully, like a kidney stone, but it will pass, and we will all have to look ourselves in the mirror and know that we did whatever we could with what we had.

I will never, ever use the words “freezing” or “starving” again to describe how cold or hungry I am, having looked into the eyes of those who really were experiencing it. “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it”.

  • Glynne Wolman is the founder of The Angel Network.

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Lifestyle/Community

Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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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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Lifestyle/Community

UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Lifestyle/Community

Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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