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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi




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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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations



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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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke



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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SA teen curates LA Holocaust exhibition



Youngsters who have seen David Labkovski’s paintings of the Holocaust say the artworks are much more raw and emotional than the black and white images we have come to know so well.

“It really hits home. You get the feeling of what these people went through,” says a student commenting on the artist’s work.

Now, Labkovski’s works have been combined with the stories of famed Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem in a new online exhibition titled “Recalling a Lost World – David Labkovski brings Sholem Aleichem stories to life”, hosted by the Holocaust Museum Los Angeles. One of the curators of the exhibition, which opened on 28 October, is 14-year-old Eva Trope in Grade 9 at Yeshiva College in Johannesburg.

In the exhibition of about 30 artworks, Labkovski’s depiction of the world of Eastern European Jews prior to, during, and after the Holocaust, is combined with the writing of Aleichem, who Labkovski thought of as his muse. Though Aleichem’s characters were created decades earlier, they are so true to life, he could have been describing the people of Vilnius – or Vilna as it was then known – in Lithuania, Labkovski’s childhood home.

For Labkovski, reading Aleichem’s stories brought him back to his childhood. He wanted to commemorate the Jewish world that was, not just how the Jewish people died, but how they lived for centuries before the Holocaust.

The exhibition has a dark side, moving from paintings with bright colours and Aleichem’s fairytale-like settings to increasing scenes of destitution. Some place their subjects in the Vilna ghetto with Jewish stars on their clothing, and the exhibition culminates with an image of the destroyed Great Synagogue of Vilna after the war.

The exhibit includes audio tours which share Labkovski’s illustrations of Aleichem’s stories with the audience along with teacher educational lesson plans combining the art and literature.

The combination is a powerful way to educate viewers, particularly youngsters. “I could stare at the works for hours,” Trope says of the exhibition. “The placing of the people, buildings, the colour of the sky … many of the Holocaust stories I found unrelatable before have come to life.”

Trope, who “loves art in all its forms”, got involved in the exhibition through a poetry competition organised by the David Labkovski Project (DLP) earlier this year. The DLP uses Labkovski’s art to improve youngsters’ understanding of the Holocaust and promote tolerance and acceptance.

The competition brought her in touch with Stephanie Wolfson, director of education at the DLP, and Trope joined the DLP’s six-months-long International Student Docent Programme with students (Grades 8 to 12 ) from around the world who learn how to educate others about Labkovski’s art. From this, she was asked to join the team curating the current exhibition.

Curating is a “big job”, she says. She worked on the layout, narratives, translations of interviews and story summaries, among other things. Trope was even required to attend meetings at 01:00 at times because her co-workers in the United States were nine hours behind her. “It was a bit stressful with school work and exams,” she admits, but it was worth it.

At 14, she was the youngest member of the team by far, “but we had sophisticated discussions, and listened to each other”, Trope says.

Michele Gold, the president of the Holocaust Museum Los Angeles, describes Trope’s involvement as “remarkable”.

“Eva is wise and professional beyond her years,” says Leora Raikin, the founder and executive director of the DLP. “She has shown dedication not only towards the creation of the virtual exhibit, but the translation of movie footage. She was also part of the official speaking panel for the launch of the international exhibit along with the Israel consul general to Los Angeles, Dr Hillel Newman.”

What’s next for this budding art historian? She aims to get involved in other exhibitions, and to help expand this project by, among other things, assisting in bringing the exhibition to South Africa.

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