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Running with no-one chasing him




It took me a while to comprehend what he was telling me. Because it made no sense to me that anyone would choose to run 100km in one day when there was no-one chasing them. But given that I had been friends with Selwyn Kahlberg for 37 years and in all that time, I had never heard him joke, I knew he meant what he was saying.

Selwyn had decided to run 100km in one day to raise money for a cause.

The upside was that he didn’t ask me to join him.

What made him do this? “All runners want to run further or faster. Faster is getting more challenging so I was stuck with further.” It turns out that in about May, Selwyn set his mind on running 100km. He chose the Malka Ella (Fertility Fund) as a cause as it has a long standing relationship with the running fraternity and the work that it does spoke to him.

The Malka Ella Fund was started in 2001. In these 20 years, it has assisted in more than 550 treatments, including IVF, surrogacies, and adoptions. In fact, more than 260 Jewish babies have been born through its endeavours.

At a time when the community has lost so many souls to COVID-19, what better cause is there than one that assists in bringing some back into this world.

I thought that I couldn’t be prouder. But then he ran it. And I was.

Sunday, 3 October, was the day of the run. Selwyn set off at 05:30 with a few brave runners that would alternate throughout the day. Selwyn’s wife, Robyn, his family, support teams, refreshment stations, drivers, and runners would keep him company, keep him motivated, and keep everyone up to date on his progress.

According to Selwyn, “The hardest part was from kilometre 53 to 58. We were in the back end of Benoni, in the midday heat. I was very sore and basically just shuffling along with a grimace. Cars were speeding past on a narrow road and we even received some abuse. At that stage, it was just about getting to the next kilometre. I had some robust conversations with Hashem at that point. Fortunately, in Malka Ella, I had a very compelling “why” for my run which helped me to keep going.”

There were also many highlights along the way. “I was totally overwhelmed by many unexpected runners and supporters who travelled long distances from home just to support me on the route. The vibe in the last kilometre and coming into the finish was way beyond expectation.”

The commitment and the cause captured the hearts of many. Ahuva Raff and her family happened to pass Selwyn as he completed the day. “I was at this crossroad with my family, when Selwyn and his group of runners were crossing,” she said. “I don’t know Selwyn, but when I was explaining to my kids about his run and why he was running, I felt so emotional, especially with my four children in the back, one just a few weeks old. How someone can run a mile for precious children! This made me realise what an amazing cause it was!”

Selwyn raised more than R100 000 for Malka Ella.

Initiatives have a strange way of being born. And I have little doubt that Sunday saw the birth of an event that will become an annual one.

And whereas I have little intention of running any part of it, I’m fully prepared to check my tyres once again, fill my tank, and head off to Benoni in search of the guy who is running with no-one chasing him.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Beulah Esakov

    Oct 7, 2021 at 4:38 pm

    Selwyn I’m so proud of you! Your heart is in the right place. You make things happen . Well done

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Making us count on Election Day



The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) this week focused on final preparations for the multifaith election observer team that will be taking part in the local government elections this coming Monday, 1 November 2021. The Board initiated this project as part of its education and awareness campaign for the 2009 national and provincial elections, and has run it every election since then. Its purpose is to bring together volunteers from a range of different backgrounds to assist the Independent Electoral Commission by monitoring proceedings at polling stations to ensure that everything is fair and above board as well as offering hands-on logistical assistance where required. Aside from its purely practical benefits, the project is a rousing example of participatory democracy, and the fact that Jewish leadership is heading it up is certainly to the credit of the community as a whole.

From the Board’s point of view, the observer-team initiative further helps us to realise a core aspect of our mission, namely to “work for the betterment of human relations between Jews and all other peoples of South Africa, based on mutual respect, understanding, and goodwill”. It enables people to join their fellow citizens in being an active, contributing part of the democratic process, and over the years, participants have found it to be an inspiring bridge-building experience. The participation of the observer team on polling day also marks the culmination of the Board’s #MakeUsCount pre-election awareness and education campaign, one of the flagship initiatives through which we seek to lead our community in identifying with, contributing to, and participating in our robust democratic culture.

I warmly commend our professional staff, in particular Charisse Zeifert and Alana Baranov, for putting together another very successful #MakeUsCount campaign in spite of the short notice and added pressure of simultaneously having to organise the Board’s national conference. Regarding the elections themselves, I urge you all to turn out on the day and make your cross, regardless of which party you might support.

New era for Jewish Affairs journal

Over the decades, the SAJBD’s core mission of representing the community and protecting its civil rights has been expanded to include preserving and promoting South African Jewish heritage. One of the most important vehicles for this is our archives, which comprise of a comprehensive record of the Jewish presence in southern Africa and are regularly used by academics, genealogists, and journalists. Another is Jewish Affairs, the community’s leading Jewish historical, cultural, and current affairs journal, which has been produced under the auspices of the SAJBD since 1941.

Last week, Jewish Affairs embarked on an exciting new era in its 80-year history with the launch of its new stand-alone website: I encourage readers to browse through this site, which provides free access to all material published since 2009, and consider signing on (likewise without charge) to the mailing list to receive regular updates on the latest posts.

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

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Malema not such a tweet about Jewish survival



I fully intended to be outraged at an Economic Freedom Fighters tweet that quoted Julius Malema. He was speaking at an election event that was live tweeted by his party. “No one will force anyone to vaccinate. I’m vaccinated because I believe in science, and [the] trials for COVID-19 were run on white people, and that was unusual. Even Jews are vaccinated, and those people don’t play with their lives.”

Perhaps it’s rude to refer to anyone as “those people”, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. And as one of those very people, I do find it hard to find fault with his statement. Because Jews don’t, as a rule, play with our lives.

It’s not to say that Jews can’t be warriors, soldiers, and members of the Community Security Organisation who bravely leopard crawl across the soccer fields of Jewish school campuses. It’s not to say that we can’t compete in well-co-ordinated trail runs through the mountains outside Plettenberg Bay when the moment demands it of us. Or, throw caution to the wind and run without a full reflector vest moments before sunrise.

It doesn’t mean that some of us have been known to walk to shul without our orthotics and even to miss repeated sessions with our biokineticist as if we hadn’t a tight hamstring in the world. Or (G-d forbid) neglect to take our Crestor (to lower bad cholesterol), knowing full well that given our genetics, it could result in it bordering on or dangerously slightly above the recommended level. (G-d forbid).

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that we value life, and that we don’t play around with it. Whereas Malema might not have considered the extent of his comments, and probably didn’t stop to wonder why it’s the case, Jews might well be more sensitive to survival than others who haven’t been persecuted for centuries. The reality is that Jews have spent generations trying to prevent people from annihilating us simply because they could.

The consequence of our history shouldn’t be understated. In a conversation that I had some years ago with music legend Johnny Clegg, he recounted a story from his childhood in Zimbabwe. He told me there were six children in his class, which didn’t go unnoticed by a teacher at Hebrew school. She told them in no uncertain terms that each of them represented and bore the responsibility of a million Jews that had perished in the Holocaust. Each would have to metaphorically carry them on their shoulders. This was too much for Clegg, who decided then and there not to have a Barmitzvah.

The other consequence is the anxiety that Jews live with. Partly interbreeding and partly survivor genetics, we are tuned to nuance, to a shift in tone, and to medical issues. We see our survival not just in terms of our own ability to live another day, but in terms of the understanding that we hold the key to Jews surviving as Jews in a world that might not always want us. But always needs us.

The tweet might have been clumsy. It might not have been politically correct. It might not have what we expect or want from a politician. But it was pretty darn accurate.

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Don’t vote, don’t complain



The conversation would go something along these lines. “Mrs Feldman,” they would say, on seeing my late grandmother, “You are looking too wonderful!” A pregnant pause would follow as she contemplated the horror of what had been said. “Really?” she would finally answer, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, “You should only know how terrible I feel.”

And then, just to prove her point. Or to make them suffer, she would tell them. Complaint by complaint. Ailment by ailment, punctuated with a detailed description of her matching medication. At a family function, my grandmother would find desserts “too sweet” and the band too loud. She was never happy with where she had been seated, and there was always someone who didn’t greet her appropriately.

She wouldn’t have it any other way. Because complaining made her happy.

Whereas our generation might not complain about the same things, we’re hardly different. Social media is a complainer’s dream, where at a whim and at any time, we have the ability to slate, moan, and denigrate anything or anyone we choose. The “Hello Peters”, Google Reviews, and Facebook groups all provide fertile environments for anyone having a bad experience or simply a bad day. Because like it or not, complaining makes us happy.

It does, however, have its limits. And there are conditions attached to our ability and right to complain. We might, for instance, not be happy with the state of our roads, or the water pipes or electricity, but we forfeit the right to complain about them if we choose not to vote in the forthcoming municipal elections. No one will stop us, and maybe no one will even know, but electing not to participate in the choosing of representatives for our neighbourhoods and cities renders our complaining voices silent on a moral level.

The refrain of, “There’s no one to vote for” isn’t only inaccurate, it’s also lazy. The options might not be perfect, but each presents an opportunity for change and improvement.

The decision not to vote is a vote for the status quo. Which means that it’s affirmation that things are just as they should be. It means that the roads are pristine, that our water sparkles and is reliable, and that our lights switch on with the predictability and consistency of high school Charidy callers. It means that everything is just as it should be. Because, why else would anyone choose not to choose?

In conversations with the leaders of the Democratic Alliance, Action SA, and the African Christian Democratic Party, each told me the same thing: this election is all about service delivery. It’s about selecting the party and person who has the highest chance of getting the job done.

It might be true that there’s no perfect party and no perfect candidate, but then it might be worth choosing the one that’s the least imperfect of them all. Failure to do that will result the loss of the right to complain about all the things we love to complain about.

Which would make our grandmothers very unhappy.

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