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Sevitz structured out in UOS shake-up

Popular UOS Executive Director Darren Sevitz (pic), is leaving after 14 years’ service. This has been done “in order to maximise efficiencies and improve levels of service delivery to the community”, UOS Chairman Jonathan Levitt told Jewish Report Online today. The UOS, said Levitt, “has embarked on a strategic restructure” & as part of this restructure the UOS decided to replace Darren’s position with 2 new positions”. Levitt praised Sevitz for serving “with dedication”. Asked if he had anything to add to the UOS’ statement today, Sevitz declined to comment. Read the full story…

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ANT KATZ

The first inclination that anything was amiss beyond rumours at the UOS, was at 21:09 last Thursday on the Kashrut-SA Facebook page, on which Sevitz has built a huge audience, when he posted the following statement: “After having had the privilege and honour to serve as the executive director of the UOS for more than 14 years, I will be leaving the organisation at the end of November.”

  He told SAJR on Friday that “because there was a lot of chatter” on the Facebook page, he felt he had to say something.

“I would like to thank the organisation, its member shuls and our special SA Jewish community for the wonderful years of partnership and support,” he wrote. “I wish the UOS the greatest success with its future endeavours on behalf of the SA Jewish community.”

At the request of Jewish Report on Friday, UOS Chairman Jonathan Levitt prepared a statement over the weekend which SAJR has just received.

Sevitz said on Friday that he had appreciate the sentiments expressed in the online support because it made him realise the extent to which he had affected people’s lives positively.

Statement from the UOS exco

In order to maximise efficiencies and improve levels of service delivery to the community, the UOS has embarked on a strategic restructure, which was led by an independent expert consultant.

Levitt Jonathan UOSAs part of this restructure the executive council and management team decided to replace the position of executive director with two new positions: head of finance and group services, as well as head of kashrut.


PICTURED RIGHT: UOS Chairman Jonathan Levitt


Darren Sevitz has served with dedication as executive director for the past 14 years and although he was offered a senior position in the new structure, he decided instead to leave the organisation in order to pursue new opportunities.

The UOS executive council and management team acknowledge Darren’s years of loyal service as well as the many wonderful contributions he has made to the success of the organisation during his tenure.

We wish him great success in his new endeavours.

Plans are in place to manage the organisation in the transition until the new positions have been filled by candidates of excellence.

We are confident that the restructure will significantly enhance the operational capabilities of the UOS and its service to the South African Jewish community.

The statement is signed by Jonathan Levitt, chairman of the UOS, “on behalf of the Executive Committee”.

No comment, says Sevitz

Asked today if he had anything to add to the UOS statement, Sevitz declined to comment.

Sevitz Sackstein composite HOMEFAMOUSLY FUNNY: Sevitz’s sharp wit was often challenged on Kashrut-SA by the equally slippery-tongued Howard Sackstein. The two men developed a strong online repartee


During a recent interview Sevitz told SAJR that the Kashrut-SA Facebook Group had grown to over 3 500 members and continued to grow daily. On an average day, said Sevitz at the time, he would field anything from 20 to 50 questions – excluding around 10 private messages per day.

Sevitz pointed out, however, that the Facebook Group was seasonal. “When it comes to Pesach – and December when people are in unfamiliar territory,” he said, there was a huge uptick in numbers. Also, when new products are launched, the Facebook page sees more activity.

He has always prided himself on answering questions in less than five minutes. “If it takes more time I am either in a meeting or I had to research the answer”, he says.

Shortly before Shabbos, Darren posted on Kashrut-SA again: “Thank you for all the positive comments and good wishes. I am overwhelmed by the response and goodwill. I am excited about my prospects for the future, and look forward to the opportunities and challenges which await me. I reiterate my comments about the UOS – I wish them well, and the best of success in their future endeavours on behalf of the community.”

We part as friends and colleagues and I look forward to hearing great things from the UOS in the months and years to come.

There are currently over 160 postings on the Kashrut-SA Facebook Page relating to Darren’s original announcement. Added to that, someone opened a “Bring Back Darren Sevitz” Facebook Page on Friday morning.

“The reality is that I am not coming back,” says Darren, and so he messaged the person who opened the page, someone whom he only knows casually, to please close it down, which was done on Friday – but not before it had accumulated close to one thousand members.

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63 Comments

63 Comments

  1. Chaya

    Nov 10, 2014 at 10:23 am

    ‘\”Senior Posision\” my foot – i here it was at half the pay!’

  2. Mark Esterhuizen

    Nov 10, 2014 at 10:31 am

    ‘I am shocked! I work for a large corp and have regularly worked with Darren for years – both on the business side and kasher side.

    What’s the point in changing 1 guy who does such a good job – for 2 who may do worse? 

  3. Ann Levit

    Nov 10, 2014 at 10:41 am

    ‘We want Darren! What’s not broken, don’t fix!’

  4. Howard Kassel

    Nov 10, 2014 at 10:59 am

    ‘We will miss Darren very much. he was outstanding at this job, and not only in kashrut related matters. He brought the UOS out of the dark ages and made it into the personal, relevant organisation it is today.’

  5. Heather

    Nov 10, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    ‘Sounds like you Mr Levitt may require some restructuring yourself. No matter what this is not how to treat people with long service and GREAT service. Sounds to me you did not like dealing with his independent efficiency. When something is not broke don’t try and fix it. Perhaps a greater explanation about 2 for 1 would be in order! ‘

  6. Lance

    Nov 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    ‘It appears to be more smoke and mirrors and it reeks of a cover up and behind the doors going ons. Why can we not be treated with respect and told the truth?’

  7. Gobsmacked!

    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    ‘One must commend Darren for the class and humility he has shown through what must be a terrible time for him and his family.

    Based on the truly cynical and nonsensical statement that was put out by the UOS, one has no option but to feel that there is more here than meets the eye.

    Perhaps the way forward (even if it does not save Darren’s job) is for a commission of enquiry to be appointed (perhaps by the SAJBD) to get to the bottom of why this happened and whether the process that was followed is sincerely in the community’s interest.

  8. Hayley Coleman

    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    ‘#BringBackDarren’

  9. Max Melamed

    Nov 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    ‘@ Mark Esterhuizen

    It’s quite simple really, two subservient employees are more useful than one free thinking independent employee.

  10. Lorraine Zive

    Nov 10, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    ‘It was an unbelievable shock to see that Darren is no longer going to be at the other end of the computer and very promptly too.

    Why is it, when someone is well like, a mensch and a pleasure to deal with, do we constantly find that they are made redundant.  I feel very sorry for Darren, he worked so hard and now this is what has happened, not the first time either.

    I can actually understand why their is so much anti-Semitism going around because it comes from within.

    Totally disgusted.

    ​’

  11. appaled

    Nov 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    ‘This is such rubbish. There is for sure more going on than we are told. Maybe Mr Levitt should look closer at the real useless staff that are employed at the UOS and Beth Din and rather restructure there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Disgracefuland appaling’

  12. Sue

    Nov 10, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    ‘This reeks of dishonesty… Darren is the face of the UOS ….too much for whom?’

  13. DAVID

    Nov 10, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    ‘THIS IS’NT RIGHT. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER PUT A COMMENT ON A WEBSITE OR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGE. THAT’S HOW ANGRY I AM. I SORT OF THOUGHT I MAY HAVE SEEN THIS COMING WHEN DARREN SEEMED TO HAVE LESS AUTHORITY FROM ABOUT A YEAR AGO – AND WE HAVE SEEN THE LOWERING OF SERVICE STANDARD. 

    THIS REALLY, REALLY IS’N’T RIGHT. DARREN IS ALWAYS A MENTCH SO I AM NOT SURPRISED HE WONT COMMENT. BUT THAT IN ITSELF SAYS TO ME HE IS NOT GOING VOLUNTARILY. BUT HE STAYS SHTUM AND GETS ON WITH THE JOB FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS AS IF THEY WERE ANY OTHER DAY.

    THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN ‘

  14. hopeful

    Nov 10, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    ‘I know many people who have served long and hard at the beth din. I hope this \”restructuring\” does not filter through the entire.uos. I have a feeling mr levit is the.spokesman for a higher power’

  15. Dror Michal (Israel)

    Nov 10, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    ‘I visit South Afrika a lot and I tell my friends all over the world that it has the best run orthodox authority in all Jewish world. If Mr SEvitz made this over 14 years, then this is a disgrace. Such a young man. I am going to come and shake you hand befor you leave soon.’

  16. Nicole

    Nov 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    ‘Sounds like constructive dismissal!  Darren is amazing and why would a restructure result in two junior positions? Just proves Darren does the job of at least two people! Pity some people can’t be as honest and transparent as Darren or have his integrity!’

  17. michael

    Nov 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    ‘looks like a mini dictatorship. were they too scared that Sevitz was becoming popular and actually doing some useful work?’

  18. Sam

    Nov 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    ‘That what happens when the beit din has a monopoly in the market. Firstly over charging, lying, no gratitude. I guess that how a business needs to run to keep the dictators on the top. Disgusting! ‘

  19. Anonymous

    Nov 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    ‘It’s refreshing to see that the community is not entirely blind sighted…  Pity that it’s only a handful of comments. Yes there is far more to this story, although its pretty straight forward – Darren was driven out in a full blown back-stabbing coup de tat. Power hungry megalomaniacs. With Darren has left the last shred of dignity in that organisation.Hmmm all well and good to get 40 000 Jews keeping Shabbos… but what ever happened to true Derech Hashem? Disgrace. ‘

  20. David B

    Nov 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    ‘Not suprising.

    Isn’t this the same office that gave that ridiculous psak (ruling) not to do kindness to the Breslov Chassidim who clearly were destitute and not-all-quite-there – leaving them hungry and shelterless, on Erev Pesach of all times?

  21. fed up

    Nov 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    ‘Actually this goes beyond Mr Levitt. The Kashrut Dept at the moment are in the hands of a puppeteer who is keeping himself far out of the picture for now. Let it just be said that as it is always, good done outwardly and publicly can very often be covering up much more malicious doings. People must keep to what they know best and succeed at and stop trying to fix and redo things that are not in their scope of expertise and knowledge. ‘

  22. David Ambrows

    Nov 10, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    ‘what a shame. Anyone getting rid of Darren must be u kosher. ‘

  23. Lindi

    Nov 11, 2014 at 5:30 am

    ‘A VERY sad day for the Jewish Community! Good Luck Darren, you will be missed!’

  24. Hylton and Rhoda Rosowsky

    Nov 11, 2014 at 5:53 am

    ‘The Federation of Synagogues, later the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, was a nameless, faceless and impersonal organization, largely irrelevant to the lives of everyday South African Jews, shrouded in mystery and secrecy.
    \n
    \nThe appointment of Darren Sevitz in the early 2000’s changed all of that. With a quiet yet powerful determination, he brought the UOS to the fore, making it meaningful, relevant and most importantly, personal.
    \n
    \nWe recall fondly how he spoke in our shul with a knowledge and passion not to be matched.
    \n
    \nWe fear that this inexplicable decision has catapulted the Federation backwards at least 20 years.
    \n
    \nWe bless Darren with the blessing  of a Shabbat morning:
    \n
    \nMay he who blessed our forefathers Abraham Isaac and Jacob, may he bless Darren and his family and all others who dedicate Synagogues for prayer, those who give lamps for illumination and wine for Kiddush and Havdalah (i.e. communal professionals) and all who are involved faithfully in the needs of the community – may the Holy One,
    \n
    \nBlessed is He, pay their reward and remove from them every affliction, heal their entire body and forgive their every iniquity and send blessing and success to all their handiwork, along with all Israel, their brethren.
    \n
    \nDarren will be sorely missed; the void will be dearly felt.
    \n
    \nHylton and Rhoda Rosowsky’

  25. Barry Cohen

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:01 am

    ‘I sincerely hope nobody injures themselves by jumping to conclusions. Darren has proven to be a very capable boy and can handle himself. ‘

  26. peter

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:41 am

    ‘Maybe we should ask if this beit din is kosher in its dealings? Looks more like a business with power hungry rulers, rather than an organisation that serves the community righteously.’

  27. Saul

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:45 am

    ‘#Mafia’

  28. Mike

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:47 am

    ‘Makes sense if you running a business…’

  29. Denis Solomons

    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:17 am

    ‘Was Sevitz pushed or shoved ! ?’

  30. zalman

    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

    ‘south africa prides itself with good middos….it took rav yisroel salanter a lifetime…some leaders think they are born angels..sorry uos,time to get real…this would have never happened in the real telz yeshiva’

  31. Make me wonder

    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

    ‘This confirms all my suspicions and thoughts regarding the UOS and the BETH DIN, CORRUPT, CORRUPT, CORRUPT!!!! If Jonathan Levitt can sleep at night then he has no morals. the Chief Rabbi is only worried about making a name for himself with Sinai indaba and the Shabbos project maybe he should take the time to actually listen to his community and act like a community Rabbi and NOT a politician. The Beth Din is corrupt (personal experience) and now it seems so is the UOS! And then they encourage people to keep kosher…… why should we when things are so expensive and the community lines the pockets of the UOS etc. FED UP & ANGRY’

  32. Horrified

    Nov 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

    ‘Reading through the above comments here and the activity on Facebook, especially the \”Bring Back Darren Sevitz\” page, which mysteriously disappeared, one senses that there is distrust building towards the BD, the UOS and The Chief Rabbi.

    It also seems that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding where power lies (as it were) within the UOS and BD. This being the case, it is probably a good time to debate and get answers to the following questions:

    1. Should the Chief Rabbi also control the UOS and BD?

    2. Are there checks and balances in place to ensure that nobody can build a fiefdom to the detriment of the community?

    3. Is the Chief Rabbi and the BD accountable to the community? If so, what are the parameters of this accountability?

    4. What is the Chief Rabbi’s job description and boundaries? In this vein, a matter of concern, which needs to be brought up and debated was the \”Jesse Duarte situation\”. In this regard, it must be pointed out that Jesse Duarte’s statements and position on the Israel-Gaza conflict were indefensible. Nevertheless, were the manner in which the Chief Rabbi handled it and the statement he issued correct? Was there adequate consultation with the SAJBD before this statement was issued? Was the community placed in jeopardy? Was there any truth to the allegation that was made by the Ahmed Katrada Foundation that the Chief Rabbi had threatened the ANC or alternatively, what exactly was said that could have led to such an allegation? Is this type of issue within the realm of the Chief Rabbinate or should it be under the SAJBD? In these issues, should the Chief Rabbi be subordinated to the SAJBD and be a available as a resource for them?

    5. Should there be a term limit for the Chief Rabbi?

    The time has come for a big indaba!’

  33. Samuel Shalom

    Nov 11, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Getting to the core of the issue: Who are Sevitz’s rabbis and what is this dispute really all about?

    The sense of outrage is palpable, but the commenters and posters so far have not focused in on the core dynamics. This is at bottom about the murky world of RABBINICAL  POLITICS. One knows who the UOS’s rabbinic backers are, the Beth Din with Rabbi Kurtstag at the helm surrounded by various underling rabbis including the Beth Din dayanim (rabbinic judges who VERY powerful people) as well as the many employees that are connected to Chabad and to the Rabbi Goldfein/Yeshiva Gedola crowd, including the Chief Rabbi who inside the UOS/Beth Din walls is just another high-profile puppet.

    So the question now is, who is or are Sevitz’s rabbis? Is Sevitz a follower of any of the rabbis on the Beth Din since they all basically head communities with congregants and followers, OR as may be likely Sevitz is connected to rabbis or a group OUTSIDE of the UOS/Beth Din orbit, such as Ohr Samayach, Aish, the Kollel, Yeshiva College, or some religious power center that is not beholden to the UOS/Beth Din axis? The answer to this question would go a long way to understand why Sevitz was pushed out!

    Here are a number of possible scenarios, if anyone knows which is true or fits best, please enlighten us!

    If Sevitz is a follower of ANY of the Beth Din rabbis and has crossed swords with them, then he has lost his key allies and has nothing to stand on and has to fall on his sword, as he has now done. You cannot fight your own rabbi and hope to win. It is near impossible.

    If Sevitz is a follower of another religious group that is not beholden to the UOS/Beth Din rabbis such as Ohr Somayach, Yeshiva Maharsha, Yeshiva College, Aish HaTorah, Kollel, or any other rabbi independent of the UOS/Beth Din axis, then it is no surprise that he has been pushed out because by his popularity and efficiency he was building a \”Trojan Horse\” power-base within the UOS and it’s no surprise he has been thrown out or thrown under the bus as they say. Rabbis and their organizations are VERY territorial and sensitive to any threats of takeovers or displacement by other rival rabbis and rabbinic groups and religious organizations and movement, or there agents and followers they do not control.

    If Sevitz is simply a \”non-political\” person (something that is hard to believe for someone who has been the face of the UOS and its affiliate Beth Din for so long) then as a straight forward employee who has just moved up the corporate ladder and made a name for himself now as a \”CEO\”, it is no wonder and it’s to be expected that he has been challenged by jealous rivals who do not wish to see him \”get too big for his boots\” so they booted him out, or gave him a golden handshake and told him \”voetsak\” in a nice way.

    Perhaps it is a combination of all the above, but without clear information who Sevitz’s own rabbis are and who his own Halachic guide/s are in this essentially rabbinic-organization power struggle, then it is like to try to figure out who is \”boxing\” when only one side is known i.e. the Beth Din/UOS rabbis who obviously gave the blessings and \”hechsher\” to have Sevitz defenestrated for their own good reasons and presumably they have their own justifications.

    But what about Sevitz’s rabbinic backers, where are they, if he has them, who are they and what do they say and if they are part of the total equation Sevitz’s rabbis must speak up because they are the ONLY ones who can come to his \”rescue\” and make his case versus the Beth Din rabbis. Thus, what are the issues involved that the Beth Din/UOS would make such a drastic move that even hurts it, as surely they would have anticipated, yet they still went ahead and got rid of Sevitz? So it’s something serious as people can sense and that is why there is such a strong reaction that cannot be suppressed.

    For the record, these kind of disputes involving the Beth Din/UOS in some way are not new. In past decades the old Adas Yeshurun community who had as their rabbi the late old Rabbi Zaltzser openly broke away from the Beth Din and set up their own Hechsherim and Shechita telling the government at the time that the Beth Din did not speak for them. That was eventually patched up when the Beth Din agreed to have a dual-track hechsher (kosher supervision) system of regular Kosher and \”Mehadrin\” kosher for the very frum crowd. Then there was the time when the Kollel first got going and they were very outspoken against what they viewed as the lax approach to kashrut of the old Beth Din, and there was much public recrimination back and forth that went on for years and still exists if one gets to know the very religious community in Johannesburg who are always looking for ways to be more and more kosher…

    The question therefore is, what is the real problem and what are the real issues, and who are the real personalities and especially rabbis involved here? Otherwise all the speculation will go nowhere unless people are willing to come forth and have the guts to post this information online such as on this thread and others that will inevitably follow.

  34. Manfred (CT)

    Nov 11, 2014 at 10:31 am

    ‘The UOS of Cape Town is separate and distinct from the UOS of Johannesburg. The above relates only to the UOS of Johannesburg. Cape Town has no involvement in this whatsoever.’

  35. Chad

    Nov 11, 2014 at 10:53 am

    ‘Heard Darren on radio Chai this morning. Never met the man, but now I want to. This is the kinda guy you want in your network.

    Expect a call from me bud, I’m taking you out for a drink.’

  36. Rabbi

    Nov 11, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    ‘At the recent rabbinical conference, the Chief Rabbi and Rosh Beth Din told us they had taken over the UOS, but promised that there would be no retrenchments. They emphasised that nothing would change.

    And now this?

    (Sorry I can’t list my name)’

  37. Barry Cohen

    Nov 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    ‘Samuel Shalom. If only it was that simple!!!’

  38. Harold

    Nov 11, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    ‘Who are the members of this Executive Committee?’

  39. Isaac

    Nov 11, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    ‘I must commend the UOS executive for their tremendous spin doctoring. If ever the ANC or ESKOM or SANRAL need an official spokesperson, I can highly recommend Team Levitt & Goldstein.’

  40. Mark

    Nov 11, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    ‘Definition of a Consultant: Somebody you pay to do your dirty work, while you stay out of the picture and keep your hands clean.

    Definition of UOS Leadership: People who hire consultants.’

  41. Craig

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    ‘OK so let me understand this move to efficiency and improved service delivery:

    You get rid of the guy who brought you efficiency.

    You get rid of the guy who made you famous for service delivery.

    You create two new junior positions.

    And you offer him a \”senior\” position.

    Riiiight.’

  42. Merle Gever

    Nov 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    ‘Why? What’s wrong with you people?

    Power corrupts;absolute power corrupts absolutely!’

  43. Samuel Shalom

    Nov 11, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    JUST  THE  FACTS  PLEASE! NO  LOSHEN  HORA.
    \n
    \n@Barry Cohen 11 Nov said \”Samuel Shalom. If only it was that simple!!!\”
    \n
    \nSo please let us know what you know. The \”scenarios\” I posited were just stabs in the dark of what is going on, so please let us know. Thanks!
    \n
    \n@Rabbi 11 Nov said: \”At the recent rabbinical conference, the Chief Rabbi and Rosh Beth Din told us they had taken over the UOS, but promised that there would be no retrenchments. They emphasised that nothing would  change. And now this? (Sorry I can’t list my name)\”
    \n
    \nNo need to post your name, the Internet allows for anonymity, use any pseudonym or pen name you like, as long as there is no slander or defamation involved. The Jewish public has a right to know what their leaders are up to!
    \n
    \nCrucially your comment does reveal something important though, that as you write: \”the Chief Rabbi and Rosh Beth Din told us they had taken over the UOS\” that should really read the other way around that \”the Rosh Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi (in that order) told us they had taken over the UOS\” because at the end of the day, Rabbi Kurtstag a powerful man who is almost 80 and who is the Rosh Beth Din (\”head of the beth din’) rules over and over-rules Chief Rabbi Goldstein who is half his age, in his 40s.
    \n
    \nRabbi Kurtstag as Rosh Beth Din has all the rabbinic power, while Rabbi Goldstein has the \”PR\” pull and the ability to harness the masses. Rabbi Goldstein does not make and would not make such a daring move without it coming, and certainly not without the full backing from a higher source like Rabbi Kurtstag.
    \n
    \nSo the question is then what is Rabbi Kurtstag doing? Does he have any real and valid complaints against Sevitz? If so what are they and if they are valid, then he should let the public know and show that he has what to stand on. But if Rabbi Kurtstag does not have valid complaints against Sevitz, and all it is is a crude power play and politics to cut out a popular and competent figure like Sevitz who everyone agrees was doing an excellent job as CEO of the UOS, so as they say \”what’s his problem?\” or \”what’s his case?\” and why does \”he have a beef\” with Sevitz? Is it just to pull out Sevitz to make way for the total rule of the Chief Rabbi? Or what?
    \n
    \nOne suspects that the new Shabbos Project probably has something to do with it because at this point the Chief Rabbi has managed to cash in on a source of new financing for the UOS via the inflow from the Shabbos Project getting big bucks from local and especially from mysterious outside sources that to date have yet to made public.
    \n
    \nA key question behind everything is who financed the Shabbos Project to give the Rabbi Goldstein so much new-found power to act like this? After having an overnight staff in Johannesburg of about 40 people plus funds for massive PR, strategic planning, for what was a huge global effort COST  A  LOT  OF  MONEY, people, programs and media do not work for free. So who are the new \”powers that be\” the new financiers and backers of the Chief Rabbi and just HOW MUCH MONEY WAS SPENT on the total Shabbos Project, both within South Africa and globally? Does anyone know, surely there must be a group that can tell us and be held accountable for something on this scale. So far no one knows since everyone is just enjoying the hype, but it is time to answer the tough questions to know who is paying the piper and hence is now also calling the tune?!
    \n
    \nInterestingly outside of South Africa the Aish HaTorah organization has given the Chief Rabbi its full backing, and [SORRY, SAM, YOU CAN’T SAY THAT IF YOU CAN’T PROVE YOUR ID AND/OR THE ALLEGATION   -ED] and Sevitz is now no longer indispensable. What were the behind-the-scenes discussions all about? The revenue will come not just from SA Kashrut supervision that Sevitz made his life’s passion, but now there is obviously an inflow of support from the work of the suddenly hugely successful Shabbos Project that​ has created a huge staff with funding. So the question is, was there pressure from [SORRY, SAM,\nDITTO   -ED], for example, the Aish HaTorah crowd, that wanted Sevitz out of the way to make way for one of their own or someone less inclined to question and stand up to [SORRY, SAM, DITTO   -ED]? In time the truth will come out, hopefully soon.
    \n
    \nThe only way this situation will ever be clarified is if people, like posters on this thread, will have the guts to come forth and give reasons if they have behind the scenes information. YOU  DO  NOT  HAVE  TO  USE  YOUR  REAL  NAME  AS  LONG  AS  YOU  REMEMBER  NOT  TO  SLANDER  OR  MALIGN  ANYONE.  JUST  THE  FACTS,  JUST  THE  FACTS  WILL  DO!! The days of doing things out of the public view are forever gone now, because we live in the age of the Internet where such things are not hidden anymore. This is actually very good since it creates TRANSPARENCY and requires ACCOUNTABILITY especially when this effects the broader community who should have  say in matters that effect there lives directly! So please come forth and post your comments, choose a \”pen name\” or no name at all and just put out into the online public sphere what you know and help prevent an injustice and staunch the public’s obvious outcry.

  44. craig

    Nov 12, 2014 at 5:50 am

    ‘couldnt agree with zalman more,yeshiva gedola of jhb aint nothing close to telz 50 yrs ago or even any mainstream yeshivish place.if this is what they produce….well they could probably make pig kosher…in fact it was probably chief that got them to place a pig head in kosher section at woolworths!!!!’

  45. Anonymous

    Nov 12, 2014 at 6:15 am

    ‘All that is GOLD does not glitter’

  46. Concerned

    Nov 12, 2014 at 7:38 am

    ‘Is the Chief Rabbi accountable to the UOS board, or is it the other way around?’

  47. Darren Sevitz

    Nov 12, 2014 at 10:24 am

    ‘News of my imminent departure from the UOS has been met with much community reaction and comment, specifically on social and other media.

    The vast majority of comments have been positive, wishing me well and thanking me for my years of service.

    However, many comments have been particularly

    negative and disparaging of the organisation and its leadership.

    I distance myself from these comments.

    I have dedicated my professional career and my personal life to the pursuit of Torah and Mitzvot, and while I have outwardly focussed primarily on the mitzvah of kashrut, the others are no less important. 

    As essential as it is to ensure that what we put into our mouths is kosher, so too must we ensure that what

    comes out of our mouths is kosher. And if you want my personal opinion, observance of the latter should be Mehadrin.

    This community is known for its warmth and unity, and I respectfully request that the lashon hara, negative

    speech and divisiveness come to an immediate end.

    As mentioned previously, the UOS and I part as friends and colleagues, and I truly wish them every success for

    the future.

  48. Even More Horrified!

    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:25 am

    ‘Yesher Koach Darren, you are an absolute mentsch!

    I agree that character assassination is off limits.

    Unity however, does not come from stifling legitimate debate. It comes from reaching a broad consensus based on tolerance and vigorous debate.

    A number of important questions have been asked during this saga and these questions NEED to be answered before a legitimate consensus can be reached and we can move on as a unified community.

    I sincerely hope that the UOS, the Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi will take heed of these questions and provide the community with honest and comprehensive answers and that they set up a forum to openly debate these issues.

    Anything less would simply be a show of cynical contempt for the community.’

  49. Choni

    Nov 12, 2014 at 11:30 am

    ‘I’ve kept out of this discussion, but after reading Darren Sevitz’s last comment, I can only put much of the blame on the editor of this site for allowing so much negative comment to be published over this issue which turns out to be of no importance at all.’

  50. Samuel Shalom

    Nov 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    ‘@Darren Sevitz 12 Nov says: \”News of my imminent departure from the UOS has been met with much community reaction and comment, specifically on social and other media.\”

    Indeed, we all wish to thank you and everyone wishes you all the best on your life’s voyage. May HKB\”H bless you and yours in all ways forever. The public consensus agrees that you are a true mentsch and evidently a sincere eved Hashem (servant of God)! May you go safely with Simcha (happiness) from strength to strength in good health with your entire family until 120 years!

    \”The vast majority of comments have been positive, wishing me well and thanking me for my years of service.\”

    True! And note that every one of the comments has been 100% positive about you.

    \”However, many comments have been particularly negative and disparaging of the organisation and its leadership.\”

    Why should that be a surprise? People have brains and are not stupid, so criticism should be welcomed, unless one lives in a totalitarian society.

    \”I distance myself from these comments.\”

    Okay, no one is blaming you. But people need to have their questions answered when a popular and efficient person like yourself experiences something that is surprising and unexpected. People have placed lots of faith in you, and they trust you and connect with you in many strong ways on many levels and they genuinely care for you, realizing that while you are hemmed in politically, yet the public at large is very ill at ease about your sudden and unexpected departure.

    \”I have dedicated my professional career and my personal life to the pursuit of Torah and Mitzvot, and while I have outwardly focussed primarily on the mitzvah of kashrut, the others are no less important.\”

    This just proves that you are a genuine person, tocho kebaro (\”consistent\”) and that you are probably even a true Tzadik (righteous person) who has accomplished a lot for Torah, Yiddishkeit and the Jewish People.

    \”As essential as it is to ensure that what we put into our mouths is kosher,\”

    True!

    \”so too must we ensure that what comes out of our mouths is kosher.\”

    True too, but what is the \”un-kosher\” part here?

    \”And if you want my personal opinion, observance of the latter should be Mehadrin.\”

    True, but it also says \”lo ta’amod al dam rei’echa\”  meaning do not stand idly by while the blood of your friend is shed, and in that one must also be \”Mehadrin\”! The point is obvious, but by way of analogy what if one sees someone who has a chezkat kashrut (assumption of being kosher, pun intended) of being a good Jew, and then that person, while on a mission of doing good for the Jewish people who is in fact a shaliach mitzvah (emissary of doing good deeds) acting as an accepted shaliach tzibbur (emissary of the community) is then enveloped by a strange group and comes out of it diminished and essentially stripped of all his prior \”positions\” and status, so then should outsiders just sit back, and go on with life as normal, or should they ask what is going on, what happened and why was my friend treated like this, should I not go and help him or at least stop the mob from doing even more harm?

    \”This community is known for its warmth and unity,\”

    True! And that is precisely why they are concerned about the fate of a fellow-Jew in their midst.

    \”and I respectfully request that the lashon hara,

    negative speech and divisiveness come to an immediate end.\”

    Since the issue involves the community, the question therefore is not just about the fate of one person, but that of the entire community who wish to know what is going on please. Otherwise as they call them the \”rumor mills\” will just keep on churning along in the absence of truth and clarity.

    \”As mentioned previously, the UOS and I part as friends and colleagues,\”

    As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs enemies?

    \”and I truly wish them every success for the future.\”

    Indeed we all do, but there is this feeling that people are being treated condescendingly and that you were the victim of a putsch and handed a raw deal. Maybe people do not like what they see, and they do not want to be \”led\” in the direction that things are going in. You are a wonderful person and have done amazing things by popular consensus even without being an official rabbi, you have proven that a well-informed and motivated \”CEO\” can get the job done and you are to be commended for your accomplishments and for the good name you have attained for yourself both in this world and no doubt in the World to Come. As Sefaradim say and bless \”Chazak U’Baruch\” and \”Tizku Lemitzvot\” and may HKB\”H shower all His great blessings upon you forever!’

  51. Clarity, is that you?

    Nov 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    ‘Dear Darren
    \nThanks for your statement, for always choosing to take the high road and for being a living testament to all of us ‘normal people’ that mentsch’s, although elusive, are not mythical creatures. That said, this issue is not about you. Sorry, we love you, but it’s not about you at all.
    \nFor what it’s worth, here’s my take and the cause for my concern:
    \nOrganisations are entitled to restructure, hire, fire and operate with a certain amount of independence. The parameters of this independence are determined by a constitution. In this case, major changes were made to the operations of the UOS without the sanction of the stakeholders – the signatories and subscribers to that constitution and the people (shuls) who represent us.
    \nSo what, you ask? Well…
    \nThe UOS governs all Jewish life here in South Africa. The UOS has 3 ‘divisions’ : the Beth Din, without which marriages, brit milah, conversions, divorces, barmies, Baties and Din Torahs couldn’t take place.
    \nThe second ‘division’ is Kashrut – everything from schitah to Pesachdik Coca Cola. This division is also essential to Jewish life.
    \nThe third division is that of the Office of the Chief Rabbi. This division as I understand it was historically a purely symbolic one although it’s currently more of a ‘marketing’ initiative – marketing Judaism to Jews.
    \n2 of those divisions are critical to Jewish survival. One of them isn’t. That’s all I’m going to say on that. You can work out which is which for yourself.
    \n
    \nEarlier this year the Chief Rabbi was named CEO of the UOS – essentially heading up 2 major positions of the three divisions.
    \nFor each of these divisions, the leader is in a position of power, influence and responsibility.
    \nWhat is happening is this:
    \nThe current Chief Rabbi, currently holds 2 of those positions having been made CEO earlier this year. This was done without the sanction of the stakeholders (the signatory shuls who represent you and I and our interests). They were ‘informed’ after the fact. 
    \nIrrespective of who holds the CEO position, the heads of each of the divisions should remain separate from one another.
    \nThe (alleged) plan going forward is to make the Chief \”Av Beis Din\” – essentially giving ONE person the power to be judge, jury and executioner. The issue with that? well…
    \nTo whom would such a person be accountable? Clearly the powers that be already feel no accountability. This is not a matter of character of the Chief Rabbi. It’s purely a community matter and the community should weigh in on it.
    \nIt’s all of our future. 
    \n


    \n


    \n

    [The writer is a prominent and very well-informed senior member of the community who for professional reasons has chosen to remain anonymous  -ED]

    \n


    \n


  52. Dan

    Nov 12, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    ‘One of the things the beit din failed to see was the FB page becoming such a strong platform for community members to engage and Darren gaining a mass following. 
    \n
    \nWith Darren’s popularity growing and much bureaucracy the result was inevitable. They saw this as a threat to their positions and policies. 
    \n
    \nSouth Africans are so afraid of being direct but in reality most of you condemn the beit din. 
    \nIts about time to stand up for change.  

  53. Some One

    Nov 13, 2014 at 12:23 am

    ‘Well, the answer to the conundrum is right there in what Mr Levitt said: they hired an independent expert. Everybody knows what an expert is: and ex is a hasbeen and a spurt is a drip under pressure. Who wants to take advice from a hasbeen drip?

    Darren, we wish you well and hatzlocha in your future endeavours.’

  54. Max Anonymous

    Nov 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

    ‘You people are morons. If you knew the real reason he was let go, you wouldn’t be routing for this guy. Trust me’

  55. Colin

    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

    ‘Max – are you saying he did something wrong and they hid their actions as a \”restructure\” without following procedure? Really? Do you have any idea how illegal that is? Are they capable of doing such an illegal thing? How devious. Hmmm’

  56. Really Max!

    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:13 am

    ‘Max Anonymous, if you know something we don’t, why don’t you share it with us?’

  57. Steve

    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

    ‘Please Max Anonymous indulge me – I really want to know if he was at fault somehow..because its well possible he was, and he is just playing nice intentionally’

  58. Matisyahu

    Nov 14, 2014 at 11:37 am

    ‘\”Let go\” – but that would make the official statement from Levitt and the UOS a lie. Surely you aren’t calling Levitt and the Exec Committee liars.

    Or are you.

    Are they?’

  59. percy

    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    ‘Talk going around is that the ‘consultant’ will be one of the ‘ heads’ . Any truth in this statement?

    I am sure both new incumbents have already been appointed. Any truth in this statement ?’

  60. Josh

    Nov 20, 2014 at 8:37 am

    ‘Dear Darren

    You are a true mentch and a personal hero. Thank you what you have done, both for the community and me personally. I am eternally grateful.’

  61. Max Anonymous

    Nov 21, 2014 at 8:46 am

    ‘No the consultant was not offered the job.’

  62. David

    May 2, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    ‘I know for a fact that Mr Sevitz has been manipulative in handling of staff , hardly a total mensch ‘

  63. david orlansky

    Nov 3, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    ‘there seems to be an attempt to get ohr somayach and yeshivah gedolah people into senior positions.are they qualified to run a community?  does ohr somayach pay affiliation fees to the u.o.s?  they certainly benefit daily from kashrut etc. the yeshivah gedolah  cannot claim to produce community leaders.

    ​’

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“Let my people in” – chief rabbi takes on travel ban

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South Africa’s chief rabbi, Dr Warren Goldstein, has taken on the Israeli government over its sudden blanket travel ban in light of the new variant discovered by South African scientists.

He has been interviewed in Hebrew across multiple national radio stations, TV stations, print media, and online media in Israel.

In a plea to Israeli leaders, he said that shutting the door on world Jewry was a mistake for a number of reasons.

Many South African Jews were turned back in transit between 25 and 26 November, and others are desperately trying to get there because of important family commitments. But the chief rabbi emphasises that “Israel is home to all Jews, especially in times of crisis, and a total closure signals a separation between Israeli and diaspora Jews. The new variant doesn’t distinguish between Jews who have Israeli citizenship and other Jews.”

To him, there are two issues at stake. “The first is the relationship between Israel and the South African Jewish community. Our relationship with Israel is very much part of our value system, and we are a very Zionist community. This is expressed in many different ways, for example, our aliyah numbers, which proportionately are really strong. It’s also expressed in the high percentage of our community who have visited Israel, the fact that so many of our youth study in Israel, and especially in how so many of us have family in Israel. The connection goes very deep.”

To be blocked from entering Israel is therefore “a real blow to the South African Jewish community – spiritually and emotionally”. This latest blanket ban comes after almost two years of very intermittent access to Israel, and the new extreme levels of restriction were a tipping point for him.

“I felt I needed to make my voice heard in Israeli society. This is why I went to the Hebrew media, so that this plea would be heard by society and decision makers. I wanted to send a message on behalf of our whole community.”

He says he has seen the pain of these restrictions reflected in many ways. For example, specific incidents, like a father not being able to attend his son’s Barmitzvah, and a general sense of loss and distance.

The other reason he has spoken out is “for the sake of Israel itself, and for all Jews. Is Israel an ordinary state, or a Jewish state?” he asks rhetorically. “This is a direct plea to the Israeli government and goes to the heart of Israel’s identity. Israel is the only Jewish state, and we are deeply connected to it. In light of that unbreakable bond, if the state says some Jews can’t enter, it’s drawing a divide between the state of Israel and communities across the diaspora. That partnership between diaspora Jewry and the state of Israel is crucial, and if you break that bond, it will hurt Israel and world Jewry.”

He isn’t asking Israel to jeopardise the health of its citizens. Rather, he’s asking that the same criteria be applied to Israeli citizens returning to Israel and Jews needing to visit. Israeli citizens who want to return are allowed to do so if they are fully vaccinated, do a PCR test, and go into quarantine.

“If you combine these three strict requirements, the Israeli authorities have deemed that the risk becomes negligible. If they are good enough for Israeli citizens, any Jew in the world should be allowed to enter on the same basis.”

Goldstein is speaking up now in particular because “vaccines have completely transformed the risk profile. We can see this in the current wave in South Africa.” He has written about it before, but not as extensively as now. “I’ve learnt that one needs to use multiple platforms and address Israeli society directly.”

He says the message has found “tremendous resonance with journalists. I haven’t spoken to one Israeli interviewer who wasn’t sympathetic. They have challenged me, and I have clarified that I’m not asking for more than what’s granted to Israeli citizens. There has been a lot of support and interest.”

He says the incident in which South African Jews were forced away from Israel on Friday 26 November and made to fly on Shabbat was “an absolute disgrace and totally unacceptable for any state, but for a Jewish state, was unthinkable and beyond the pale. This is especially considering the circumstances of two of these Jews going to comfort the Kay family, whose son gave his life for the state of Israel. At the very least, the Israeli government must apologise for this conduct and promise its citizens and Jews around the world that such a thing will never happen again.”

Finally, he says “vaccination is everything. It’s a blessing. Thank G-d for it. Take it with both hands: it is a big mitzvah to protect yourself and others.”

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World mourns Eli Kay, son of SA Jewry

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At the beginning of November, the Kay family celebrated the happiest of simchas in Israel – the wedding of Avi and Devorah Kay’s eldest son. Three weeks later, they again gathered in the Jewish homeland, but this time for the darkest of tragedies: the funeral of the Kays’ second eldest son, Eliyahu (Eli), who was murdered by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem on Sunday, 21 November 2021.

A South African oleh who was building a beautiful life in Israel, 25-year-old Kay was shot dead by a Palestinian gunman in Old City, near the Kotel. Four others were hurt. Horrific images of blood being washed from the Jerusalem stones were seen online after the attack.

The Jewish world is now mourning the senseless loss of a soul who embodied the best of the South African Jewish community and its commitment to Judaism and Israel. Indeed, that deep love of his faith, history, and identity was what brought Kay to the Kotel on Sunday. He was living his purpose but was killed for being a Jew.

An ardent Zionist, he made aliyah from South Africa without his family in 2016. His parents and siblings later joined him, with his parents leaving South Africa last December amidst tough COVID-19 restrictions. They settled in Modi’in. Avi’s parents, Cliffy and Jessie, remain in Johannesburg, while Devorah’s parents Rabbi Shlomo and Rebbetzin Lynndy Levin of South Hampstead Synagogue, live in London. The tragedy of grandparents burying a grandchild is unfathomable.

The family are pillars of the Johannesburg Jewish community, and played a vital role in building Torah Academy over generations. Both parents, as well as their four children, were alumni of the school. In its statement, the school pointed out that Kay was killed while holding his tefillin and a Likutei Sichos [The ‘Collected Talks’ containing the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe] – devoted until the very end to his Judaism.

He accomplished much in his short life. After arriving in Israel, he studied at a Chabad yeshiva in Kiryat Gat in the south of Israel, and then enlisted in the army. “He was a squad commander in the paratroopers, which is a big deal for a lone soldier in my view,” says Ron Feingold, who served with him. “He volunteered for the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and then excelled enough to lead people in it. I will never forget our conversations about the duty that we felt to our people.”

After completing his military service, he volunteered at the Nirim kibbutz for a year in the Eshkol region of Israel. Writing on Facebook, Shira Silkoff recalled meeting him when she arrived on kibbutz.

“The first time I met you [Eli], you were walking in one direction and I was walking the other. I was shy, unsure of how to go about meeting people who already all seemed to be friends. But we spoke for a few minutes, on that kibbutz path, with you holding a tub of slowly melting ice cream. Because that was you. You had time for everyone. No news report can capture your spirit. Your smile. Your passion for life, your ability to hold deep conversations at absurd hours, and absurd conversations at any hour. None of the news reports can capture your enthusiasm, your determination to achieve everything you set out to do.”

Kay then began working at the Kotel as a guide at the Western Wall Plaza. Some reported that he was murdered on his way to pray, others that it was on his way to work. But for Kay, these tasks were intricately connected. At the end of the day, he was there because he loved Israel and the Jewish people. According to The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Kay “warmly greet[ed] everyone he met, doing his sacred work”.

Hearing the news was one of the most difficult moments for members of the South African Jewish community. “I was broken, gutted,” says Rabbi Levi Avtzon, who taught Kay when he was a teen. “Eli was quite a character: he was feisty and demanded a lot of himself and others. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He was a great guitar player and a natural leader. He was a searcher, looking for the truth. And when he saw the truth, he would go all the way in following it.”

Avtzon says these values came from the incredible upbringing he received from his parents. He describes Avi as “a gentle soul” and “an incredible financial advisor”, who continues to do this work in South Africa even though he now lives in Israel. “Until they left for Israel, Devorah was the life and soul of Torah Academy Girls High – loved by everyone and really dynamic.” The family’s door was always open. For example, they graciously hosted Avtzon’s parents when they visited him after he first moved to South Africa as his flat was too small.

Contemplating what Kay’s future would have looked like had his life not been stolen so senselessly, Avtzon says, “No matter what he would have done, he would have done it well. We need to take pride that this is the kind of mensch that our community raises.”

Kay’s cousin, Eli Landes, wrote on Facebook how he remembered “dancing with you [Eli], laughing with you, learning to play ‘mouth trumpet’ with you, studying with you, making up fake British sentences with you, talking about life with you. In life, you defended us. Guarded us. And now, I have no doubt you stand at G-d’s right hand, continuing to fight for us and protect us.”

Kay’s fiancé, Jen Schiff, said, “I felt it was important to share how much Eli loved this country, and how he came here by himself, and fought for this country. He always treated everyone with love and respect. And I know that when this happened, he didn’t feel alone.”

The outpouring of grief and support came from the very top of Israeli society as well as from around the globe. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid and other Israeli leaders expressed condolences. Minister of diaspora affairs, Nachman Shai, personally wrote to the South African Jewish community, saying, “My heart breaks with yours. [Eli] was a son of both of our communities … Eli represented the best of the Zionist spirit nurtured in Johannesburg.”

Shai represented the Israeli government at the funeral, which took place at Har Menuchot cemetery in Jerusalem. Thousands of people from all walks of life attended in person, and almost 2 600 people (mostly from South Africa) watched on YouTube. There, Shai described him as “the paratrooper, the yeshiva student, warrior … the best of the best”.

Kay “would have been a great husband and father”, said an emotional Rabbi Motti Hadar, the principal of Torah Academy Boys High School, contemplating the brightest of futures cut short. “That is the hugest tragedy. And while his time came too soon, I think there is almost no other way he would have chosen to go than literally sacrificing his life for what he believed in, which was Israel, his Judaism, and living life to the fullest.”

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Miss SA future uncertain as Israel hatred boils

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It’s touch and go whether Miss South Africa will get on a plane to Israel to compete in the Miss Universe pageant next month, after a week of high drama in which the South African government bizarrely withdrew its support for the young university graduate.

The government had the anti-Israel lobby licking its lips at the prospect of her dreams being crushed. This lobby was determined that Lalela Mswane would never compete on an international stage in the coastal town of Eilat.

There are many who want her to go to Israel and represent her country, learn, engage, and prosper and there are those – a bunch of Israel haters – who are pulling out every stop to prevent it.

So far, the 24-year-old KwaZulu-Natal beauty has stood her ground. She is due to meet about 70 of her counterparts from all over the world – including the Arab world – in the Holy Land in a few weeks’ time.

Just how long she, the private Miss South Africa Organisation, and its chief executive, Stephanie Weil, can withstand the heat created by the small but predatory anti-Israel lobby is anyone’s guess.

At the time of going to press the odds were stacked against them in a fast moving developing story that has everyone guessing.

“It’s a rollercoaster ride,” said one insider.

Behind the scenes, a myriad of supporters have rallied around the young beauty queen, desperate to help her as critics stop at nothing to prevent her from representing her country at the Olympic Games of beauty pageants.

“It’s precarious, complicated,” offered another.

There has been more time and space allocated to this issue in the media than FW de Klerk’s death and his funeral arrangements, hung local councils, and coalition talks. Never mind the country’s dire electricity crisis, abysmal unemployment rate, water cuts, and critical crime levels. Social media has been lit with those fiercely in favour and those vehemently against Mswane attending the pageant.

It appears from thousands of social-media posts that many more are in favour of her fulfilling her dreams and wish her well than not.

The drama started with a statement issued on Sunday, 15 November, by the department of sports, art, and culture announcing that it would no longer support the pageant because of Miss SA organiser’s “intransigence and disregard” of advice against sending Miss SA to Israel, which it said would have a negative impact on her reputation and future.

The ministry, headed by Nathi Mthethwa, has come under fire for its lack of compassion for struggling artists during COVID-19 and the minister’s general ineffectiveness together with his department’s mismanagement of funds.

The African National Congress (ANC) made its views clear by backing and welcoming the government’s decision to withdraw support for Mswane.

The Democratic Alliance’s deputy shadow minister of sports, art, and culture, Veronica van Dyk, told the SA Jewish Report, “Miss SA is a private company, and as such must deal with the government as it sees fit. We don’t intend to be drawn into a fight between the two. A beauty pageant should never be politicised, and this is exactly what the ANC is trying to achieve. We should be weary not to fall into their trap.”

Department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, said this week that in spite of all of the anti-Israel rhetoric, South Africa had “no intention of suspending any diplomatic relationships with Israel”.

He told The Citizen, and later repeated to the SA Jewish Report that Mthethwa’s announcement reflected the government’s stance on the matter falling under his portfolio, “but didn’t indicate any intentions of cutting ties with Israel”.

“We have diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine. What has happened with Miss South Africa cannot be anywhere close to cutting diplomatic ties. We can’t do that because if we do that, it means we can’t engage with Israel so are excluding ourselves from being part of the solution to the conflict, because if you cut ties with a country, it doesn’t have to engage with you,” said Monyela.

However Miss SA’s future hangs in the balance, as negotiations behind the scenes continue ad nauseam.

Zev Krengel, the national vice-president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, lambasted the anti-Israel lobby for its bullying and intimidatory tactics, and said Miss SA was being used as a political scapegoat.

“Miss SA is a young woman, she is an easy target,” he said.

South Africa, he said, participated in various team sports, namely baseball, tennis, and soccer, against Israel, and where was the outrage?

Speculation has it that the signing of the Abraham Accords could eventually lead to Israel co-hosting the 2030 FIFA World Cup with its Arab neighbours.

“Do you see South Africa pulling Bafana Bafana out? No, this is pure bullying of a young woman, it’s outrageous,” he said.

He said he was bitterly disappointed in the government for withdrawing its support of Miss SA saying it was “on the wrong side of history, and while the rest of the world opens up and benefits from relations with Israel, including several Arab nations, South Africa is determined to remain on the sidelines of progress”.

People from all over have weighed in on the controversy.

The former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, tweeted, “Wait, wait! Governments offer no support for this non-governmental contest. And the SA government made no decision whatsoever. A single ministry stated a viewpoint. Where is the story here other than the hateful noise the anti-Israel lobby is peddling?”

Author Khaya Dlanga took to Instagram saying that the government had “crossed the line” by withdrawing its support for Mswane, and had thrown her under the bus.

“They have put a young woman in an impossible position,” he said. “This government hasn’t imposed sanctions against Israel or travel restrictions. Instead, it’s grandstanding on the shoulders of a young girl. Why throw her under the bus when it hasn’t made meaningful commitments? Let her go.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said it was “appalled” that the government was “self-sabotaging” the country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in Miss Universe just because it happened to take place in Israel.

“Our country is simply signalling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage,” it said.

The government had been silent on serious human-rights abuses occurring in many other countries where South Africa participates in sports and contests but “self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish state”, the SAZF said.

“If our country were interested in bringing peace to the Middle East or carrying any moral weight in playing a mediatory role between Israel and the Palestinians, we have now ensured that our one-sidedness and unilateralism will prevent us from doing so,” the organisation said.

Meanwhile, the Miss South Africa Organisation broke its social-media silence this week with an Instagram post about Miss SA 2020, Shudufhadzo Musida’s, participation at Miss World in Puerto Rico on 16 December.

While Miss SA seemingly had the world at her feet just weeks ago, it remains to be seen if she will participate in Miss Universe.

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