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Challenging, robust debate at Cape Conference

Conference theme was “Safe Spaces” - on SAJBD acting as truly representative forum allowing for broad a range of views to be expressed. This aim was certainly achieved.
by MARY KLUK | Oct 13, 2013

We have come to expect robust, challenging and diverse debate at the biennial Cape Board conferences, and the latest such gathering, held over the weekend, more than lived up to those expectations.

As indicated by its theme of “Safe Spaces”, it was about the Board acting as a truly representative forum allowing for as broad a range of views as possible to be expressed, and this aim was certainly achieved.

One of the panels featured four members of Cape Town Jewry who felt disconnected from the mainstream community, whether because of the views they held, issues relating to their personal identity or a combination of the two.

Their views were from across the right to the left of the spectrum regarding Israel and Zionism, while identity issues included different sexual orientation and coming from a mixed marriage home.

Representatives of four leading Cape Town organisations, namely Chabad, Limmud, the Nahum Goldmann Fellows and Herzlia Schools, next responded to the views expressed by the panellists, after which members of the floor participated in a lively question and answer session.

What was particularly encouraging to witness was that while there was plenty of disagreement among the various participants, this never descended into personal abuse. People spoke their minds without feeling threatened and could differ with one another without being prescriptive or judgemental.

I warmly congratulate Li Boiskin, who stepped down after serving two terms as chairman of the Cape Council, on her many achievements over the past four years. The new Cape Council was also elected, with three new members being elected by the community at large through a postal ballot and the remaining 12 by the delegates. In all, the Cape Council has invested much time and effort in fostering a robust democratic culture within its constituency and is reaping the fruits of this.

The conference was given the best possible start by keynote speaker Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University in New York. His address, which focused on how to ensure Jewish continuity in a world where personal, subjective choice at the individual level has come to supplant traditional group identities, was inspiring on every level.

Among the compelling insights he offered was that in order for young Jews today to exercise the option to remain affiliated to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood, they had to both know their own story and take ownership of it. For this, a good Jewish education was obviously important, but even more crucial was what they were taught and experienced in the home environment.

Drawing on the heritage of the past certainly helped to build a sense of pride, identity and understanding about what it meant to be Jewish, but this alone was no guarantee of Jewish survival in the future. Each new generation also needs to forge its own dynamic, engaged connection to Judaism, however broadly one defines it, in the here and now. 

The Shabbos Project

This weekend will see the coming to fruition of the Shabbos Project, which encourages as many members of our community as possible to come together in keeping this Shabbat in all its rich symbolism and meticulous attention to detail that has marked its observance by our people for so many centuries.

It is this kind of living, inspired, connected Judaism that I believe Richard Joel was referring to, and I can only join our religious leadership, headed by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, in likewise encouraging our community to make themselves a part of it. 

  • This "Above Board" column originally appeared as a paid-for item in the SA Jewish Report on 11 October 



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