SA Jews list reasons to stay put in SA
“I love the endless blue sky and mild day-to-day weather. I love the warmth, inventiveness, and resilience of the people.”
These are some of the reasons that Joburg-based voice and Alexander Technique coach Caryn Katz gives for wanting to stay in South Africa.
Though it might appear that a mass exodus has swept the country, there are many in the Jewish community who, like Katz, are holding their ground, and they have good reason, they say. The SA Jewish Report caught up with some of them.
Yehuda Lazarus, the founder of non-profit organisation Fingertips of Africa, said he continued to believe that this country had a lot to offer and much untapped potential.
He gave the example of a woman who recently received a 10kg packet of maize meal from Fingertips of Africa. “We watched as she poured half of the packet into a container for her neighbour. It’s this kind of compassion and beauty in South Africa’s people which makes me want to stay.”
Lazarus said South Africa’s “beautiful” communities had those who had something to give in terms of finances and skills; and those who were in dire need.
“I see myself and Fingertips of Africa as a bridge between these two sides. The challenges in our country are an opportunity to find our purpose in making a difference. I love being able to give, and I love that I can do that in this country. I’m proudly South African.”
Dr Adam Levin, a postdoctoral research fellow for the African Centre for the Study of the United States at the University of the Witwatersrand, agreed with Lazarus that South Africa’s people have immense beauty and grit. “Past challenges have demonstrated that this country’s people confront problems and look for working solutions,” he said. “In spite of its issues, South Africa’s people confront issues in ways that other countries don’t. Also, there’s a strong sense of community here; the kind that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. That’s why I’m staying.”
Democratic Alliance councillor in Joburg, Joanne Horwitz, agrees that community is the reason she’s proudly South African. As a councillor, she has seen the worst but also the very best of residents. “I regularly see really shady goings on in the city,” she said, “but I’m aware of many people who are committed to serving their community to the best of their ability. As such, I harbour a deep well of hope that good will overcome.”
Horwitz experiences South Africans as kind, resourceful, well-meaning, caring, and monumentally “gritty”.
The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, Horwitz said, pointing out that she had spent six years in London, and though it was a memorable experience, coming home to Johannesburg was one of the best decisions she made.
She said she was convinced she wouldn’t be able to find the same quality of life she enjoys here anywhere else in the world.
Horwitz is adamant that we need a shift in perspective. “These same challenges provide opportunity for potential entrepreneurs,” she said.
Her opinion is shared by Dan Stillerman, the founder of Excel Academy, who agrees that South Africans should embrace the challenges faced by the country as opportunities to explore business initiatives.
“I recently sat down to lunch with Rabbi [Shmuel] Moffson and a group of residents. We got to discussing South Africa and the reasons we would want to stay based on points the rabbi had raised,” Stillerman said.
The first was community. “The support of the local Jewish community is really a privilege. To echo the words of the Chevrah Kadisha’s slogan, ‘No Jew gets left behind’. There’s simply no Jewish community in the world quite like the Johannesburg Jewish community.”
The second reason relates to loneliness. “In some countries like the United States, loneliness has been described as an epidemic,” he said. “There are two factors involved: lack of community participation; and technology, which though it’s supposed to bring people together, is having the opposite effect.” Stillerman said the support of South Africa’s communities, especially the Jewish community, had buffered him from this kind of loneliness.
Then, there’s the outdoors. “South Africa has ample opportunity to spend time outdoors. Growing up, I was always outdoors – going to game reserves, playing sports outdoors,” Stillerman said. “Our country also has a relatively large number of daylight hours compared to London, for example.”
He praised South Africa for its big houses and gardens. “In cities like London and New York, even Tel Aviv, apartments can be relatively small.”
Another aspect of the South African lifestyle which is taken for granted is the availability of exceptional domestic help. “We have access to great people,” Stillerman said. “I grew up with a domestic worker who was like a second mother to me. I couldn’t imagine raising a family without the friendly, motherly help from domestic workers.”
Stillerman believes we’re at a unique place in South African history where we have the opportunity to make a difference, have an impact, and stretch ourselves as entrepreneurs.
Katz said she couldn’t give her reasons for staying without highlighting the sentimental, subtle nuances of “home”, which make South Africa unique in the world. “I love my garden. I love that my children sit with their grandparents every Friday night. I love our sense of humour, and ability to make fun of ourselves. I love walking in The Wilds every Sunday. I love how we greet each other, and that manners are important. I love the Jewish community – the wealth of available offerings; the on-the-spot support; the diversity; the commonality; the art; the ‘mommies’.”
As far as it’s possible for her to be interested in politics, she’s interested in the machinations of what’s happening here. “I couldn’t imagine giving a damn anywhere else in the world,” she said.
Quoting human rights lawyer and thought leader, Lwando Xaso, she said, “To hate South Africa is to hate a part of myself. To love South Africa is to love a part of myself. To believe in South Africa is to believe in myself, and what is possible.”