Singles find romance in the Cloud
“COVID-19 lockdown? It’s epic. It’s probably the single greatest thing that has happened to single people ever.”
This assertion by gym owner Nicholas Ingel, who has been on the dating scene for four years since his divorce, reflects the fact that many older daters in the community are finding brave new ways to meet their beshert and keep a social distance.
“Before, we were tied into a relationship or a potential relationship only with people that we could physically meet. Now, we are no longer locked in by location or even time,” says the 49-year-old, reflecting on the possibilities for romance across the Zoom-iverse, even in the post-COVID-19 world to come.
Even after the pandemic is contained, the world won’t go back to the way it was before, Ingel says. “This is the new normal. It’s a hybrid between in-person and online meeting, and what an amazing thing it is!”
Lisa Kowalsky, the original founder of the Joburg Jewish Singles 35+ Facebook group, agrees, having recently launched an online series of dating events for the community.
“Obviously COVID-19 made it very difficult for us at first. I tried to get people to continue to interact by putting up questions on the Facebook page to which people could respond. Then I came up with online speed dating, which has been brilliant.”
Kowalsky, who started the events last month, hosts South African only and international Jewish singles dating events. Each participant gets a minimum of eight dates that last five minutes each. Participants share only their first names, and the dates are held on a special online platform that mimics a date setting.
“It has been such a success. We have had so many matches. In the first event, almost everyone had between one and four matches. Some people dated afterwards, and lots said it was so much fun.”
Michelle Blumenau has thoroughly enjoyed participating in two of the events. “It’s a low-stress way to meet new people via your computer.”
Blumenau explains the process. “It’s a Zoom-like platform, but there’s only you and one other person on the screen for a couple of minutes. Then the next person arrives. It’s just enough time to get a sense of the other and whether you would like to see that person again. If you both agree to meet, you are sent each other’s contact information the next day.”
She says it certainly has advantages over traditional dating. “It saves you having to sit through a drink or a meal with someone when there is absolutely no connection. It’s very good in that way.”
Meanwhile, Lorna Falkson, who voluntarily organised many social events for older singles before lockdown, has started coming up with outdoor activities that allow people to gather in COVID-19-compliant ways.
She recently held a garden get-together that was so popular, she had to turn people down as she could accommodate only 50 people to ensure social distancing. Moreover, she laughs, once the participants arrived, she struggled to get them to leave!
Kowalsky and Falkson say it’s clear that many singles have found life during COVID-19 lonely. In this context, Kowalsky’s Facebook group and Falkson’s gatherings have become not just about dating but serve as a place to connect in general.
“People form wonderful friendships and make great networks. Being single might be the common denominator, but it’s just a starting point,” says Kowalsky.
She says there has been a huge increase in the numbers of people joining the Facebook group during COVID-19, with about 150 new members recently joining the now 900-member collective.
For the first time, this includes Jewish singles from outside South Africa, although Kowalsky has been careful to ensure that they are specifically looking to meet South Africans.
Each member is carefully vetted and each post monitored. She is assisted by fellow administrators Wendy Miller, who is able to offer legal advice, and Colin Gluch, who is her “male counterbalance”.
The group was started in 2017 and since then, romance has blossomed for many of those in the group, with several serious relationships on the go and engagements confirmed.
For some members, it was their first foray back into the social world after a painful experience like the death of a spouse. “One member in his 70s lost his wife 10 years ago. He had become a hermit. He told us how this group had changed his life. He was going out; he was dating; he was having the best fun.”
Kowalsky herself isn’t single, and her passion for the project is motivated by a wider love for the community. “I love to see people happy” she says.
Yet, at times, she gets frustrated by the fact that people allow their inhibitions to get in the way of putting themselves out there. For example, page activity statistics show that about 90% of them are actively reading posts. However, this statistic isn’t represented when it comes to attending events. “The truth is, people moan and groan about where they are, but they’re not always putting in the effort.”
A reason could be insecurity. “A huge problem with singles is self-esteem. You have to realise that a lot of them have come out of bad marriages where their self-esteem has been broken, or they are widowed. They might not have dated since they were 18 years old. Now they’re like 50 or 60 -– where do they begin?”
Falkson says “older men are more shy. If you phone a shadchan [matchmaker], they will tell you there are no men on the books. But the reason there are no men on the books is that men don’t come forward. Yet, there are so many. What I would like to do is encourage them to make contact.”
Falkson says she is motivated by her experience of arriving in Johannesburg as a farm girl from Limpopo. “When I came to Johannesburg at the age of 20, I didn’t know anybody. I opened up a newspaper, and although then I wasn’t religious at all, there was a little advertisement for a Jewish matchmaker. I thought okay, well, this is my only hope.
The lady set her up on a number of dates. Eventually via one of these, she met a man who later introduced her to her husband, although they are now divorced.
“If you live in Johannesburg, there can be hundreds of people around you, but you can be very lonely. That’s why I’m passionate about creating opportunities for people to meet.”
Ingel urges people to rethink their attitude to dating. “Men tell me there is no one to date, and women tell me there is no one to date. We get brought up with these fairytales, and they’re not true. No one’s perfect. Stop looking for perfect – it doesn’t exist. It’s not about settling, it’s about understanding what’s real.”
The disjuncture is in how “people are arrogant in what they look for, but insecure in what they offer”.
They need to find a middle ground in their sense of self. “You aren’t as good as you think you are, but you certainly aren’t as bad as you think you are,” he says.
He suggests that rather than a hindrance, being older is an advantage. “[Being in the 35+ category], is really when you come into your own. I know myself better now than I have ever known myself. I’m comfortable with who I am. I know what I want, and importantly, I know what I don’t want.”
Ultimately, his advice is to remember that relationships aren’t repair shops. “We can’t fix people, and we can’t expect people to fix us. Learn to love yourself first.”
Communal organisations help make Rosh Hashanah special
With Rosh Hashanah upon us, communal organisations are hard-pressed to make sure that every community member is looked after, but the number of people needing help has spiked since the onset of the pandemic.
The Chevrah Kadisha – which looks after the lion’s share of those in need – has recorded a 35% increase in the amount of financial assistance that it gives families towards living costs. In the Western Cape, Jewish Community Services Cape Town (JCS) recipients have increased more than 100%.
The Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society (JWBS) has also noticed an increase in the number of people in need over the past few years. “With COVID-19, it’s especially hard,” said Maureen Disler, the co-chairperson of the organisation which has survived for more than 127 years. “People have lost their jobs, and some people ask for food vouchers. They haven’t got enough to feed their children.”
The Chevrah Kadisha gives special yom tov meals to the 850 elderly and physically or mentally challenged people living in its residential facilities. However, its wider reach extends to nearly 11 000 people, helping them with living costs, food, healthcare, education, accommodation, and social services throughout the year.
“The Chev is unique in the sheer volume of people it helps, the duration of time that it helps them for, and the diverse range of its activities from cradle to grave,” said Saul Tomson, the chief executive of the largest Jewish welfare organisation on the African continent.
The organisation distributes R5 million every month to families in the community, totalling R60 million for the year. This is a significant increase from pre-COVID-19 times. It’s also involved in education, with nearly R1 million a month going towards 279 children in Jewish schools and remedial schools, as well as 130 university students who are being educated through the Chev’s interest-free student-loan programme.
“Particularly now leading up to Rosh Hashanah, a lot of assistance is being distributed through our COVID-19 emergency release fund,” Tomson said.
Smaller organisations like Yad Aharon & Michael have also been inundated with new requests over the past two years.
“Whereas the number of families who receive weekly food parcels from us stands at about 700, families who aren’t in a position to provide festive meals for Rosh Hashanah through to Sukkot apply for food parcels, which we gladly provide, thereby increasing the number of parcels packed by anything between 20 to 30 plentiful yom tov hampers,” said Alice Friedman, the chief executive of the organisation founded more than 23 years ago.
Ingrid Koor, the chairperson of the Union of Jewish Women (UJW), which assists just more than 100 people over Rosh Hashanah, said, “There are many more people in need as many families have emigrated, leaving elderly people. The economic downturn and COVID-19 have made things more difficult. With, unfortunately, many more elderly passing, our numbers have remained the same for a few years.”
The UJW’s flagship project, Kosher Mobile Meals (KMM), will supply festive cooked kosher Rosh Hashanah meals, plus honey for a hopefully sweeter year. “We will also distribute yom tom joy parcels supplied by the HOD [Hebrew Order of David] consisting of treats and non-perishable food to recipients,” said Koor. “KMM distributes kosher cooked meals to those Jewish elderly over 75 who are unable to cook for themselves.”
For Rosh Hashanah, Yad Aharon & Michael is handing out double portions of seasonal fruit, apples and vegetables, supplemented by meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Its dry goods hampers include honey, grape juice, challahs, and honey cakes in addition to all the basic requirements needed to prepare yom tov meals and usher in a happy and sweet new year.
“I’m confident our families won’t need to shop for extra food for two days of yom tov,” said Friedman. “Our aim is to enable them to enjoy plentiful meals free from worry and anxiety. This is made possible by the community’s renowned generosity.”
JWBS is giving money to its recipients to sweeten their Rosh Hashanah. It also recently gave out activity packs. “People are lonely and isolated, so we’ve given them each an activity pack. They really look forward to it,” said Disler.
This Rosh Hashanah, the JCS’s hampers include round challot, ready-made vegetable soup, roast chicken, pumpkin pie, vegetables, salads, and strawberries.
“Of course, we add in the apples, honey, grape juice, and candles,” said Lauren Cohn, the chairperson of the JCS Tikvah Foodbank Committee. “In addition, we include a Tupperware container filled with teiglach, meringues, dried fruit, and Sparkles. Every food hamper has a special Rosh Hashanah card handmade by children in our local Jewish schools. These food hampers are well thought out, meticulously planned, and beautifully presented with the love, dignity, and respect that we all deserve.”
The JCS is raising funds through the Rosh Hashanah Appeal, which entails sending out e-cards on behalf of the Tikvah Foodbank’s donors. The organisation also relies on volunteers.
“Our Rosh Hashanah and Pesach [fundraising] campaigns are the biggest,” said Friedman. “We have a Rosh Hashanah campaign running at the moment. It’s widely posted on social media, advertised on street poles in suburbs known to be frequented by the Jewish community, and in the SA Jewish Report. We’re also selling beautiful yom tov gifts at various points in Joburg, which is a successful initiative.”
The JWBS phones people to ask for donations as COVID-19 restrictions prevent it from running traditional functions such as theatre shows and golf tournaments.
Since many of the UJW’s recipients don’t have family nearby or the funds to pay for their meals, KMM is run mostly on donations. “We launched a fundraising campaign on social media and via our databases to raise money,” said Koor. “We also phoned people to ask for donations.”
Although the UJW’s principal need is donations, it also needs volunteers to chat to its isolated elderly when it’s safer to do so. “KMM recipients are more isolated since COVID-19,” said Koor. “We used to host elderly people to a Wednesday lunch at our UJW house. These people are sorely missing the social interaction.”
Asked what advice she has for those wanting to help others on Rosh Hashanah, Friedman said, “Teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah are the three elements which Hashem takes into account when finalising our verdict for the coming year. I’m fully cognisant that everybody is financially stretched, but helping those in our midst who cannot celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the chaggim without our assistance is a communal responsibility. Treating the needy with sensitivity, kindness, and empathy underpins Yad Aharon’s brand of chesed, and addressing the harsh reality of hunger and destitution in our midst forms an integral part of our mission.”
Hudaco-ORT helps disabled entrepreneurs
ORT South Africa hosted a ceremony on 12 August for 10 entrepreneurs who it assisted to obtained SETA qualifications to help them start their own businesses.
The potential and existing entrepreneurs were assisted by Hudaco-ORT to obtain National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 2 new venture creation qualifications, assisting them to start and grow their business ventures.
Hudaco-ORT helps people with disabilities by facilitating their completion of the NQF level 2 qualifications, which equips them to capitalise on opportunities. The beneficiaries received their Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) certificates at the ceremony.
“We often unintentionally consume ourselves with what’s considered the norm rather than focusing on our own uniqueness,” Hudaco-ORT said. “People with disabilities are the epitome of uniqueness, forming a vital part of society and reminding us to value our own strengths and weaknesses.”
Said, beneficiary Mncedisi Bengu, “It was a surprise. I was fairly happy and shocked at the same time. I didn’t think I would be successful. My teacher, Sarah Malape, gave me an experience that I had never had in my life. She taught me to respect myself and other people, and to be myself.”
On receiving his certificate, he said, “I’m excited. At my home, they gonna [sic] be happy for me, and say, ‘Wow you did it.’”
Said another beneficiary, Sthembile Gumede, “I’m so happy, and my grandmother is happy for me. I wish I learnt more because I like books.”
ORT SA wishes all the beneficiaries of the Hudaco-ORT Project well in their future endeavours, and is grateful to Hudaco for partnering with it to make a difference in people’s lives.
Rabbi and craftsman perfect the art of charity
Two people from two different backgrounds – Rabbi David Masinter and artist Leonard Nyathi – have come together with the goals of teaching, educating, uplifting, and spreading the message about the need for charity around the globe.
Masinter, the rabbi of Chabad House in Johannesburg and the founder of the fundraiser Miracle Drive, was looking for a good craftsman who could also teach in the most destitute areas.
He came across Nyathi, a master craftsman whose business struggled before Miracle Drive recognised his talents and commissioned custom artworks.
Masinter told Nyathi, “Let’s identify the artists, bring them together, train them, and I will buy in a whole bunch.”
Encouraged, Nyathi started working with Masinter. “We worked as a team, an unusual team,” says Masinter. “The only thing we have in common is that we both like to teach.”
They started hiring and training underprivileged people. “We normally hire street kids and people with disabilities,” says Nyathi. “We also give training to people that don’t have an education. The rabbi and I decided to employ people so that they could make a living.”
Masinter says they found underprivileged artists in the most remote areas, and improved their skills. “When you find a skill within a person, you improve not only that skill but every other aspect as well,” he says.
Nyathi and the other artists are turning Jewish objects into what Masinter calls “African art”. All the artworks are handcrafted and hand painted – from ceramic mezuzah cases and ceramic dreidels to ceramic arks and a set of three ceramic grating plates (meat, parev, and dairy). It can all be purchased on the online Gallery of Goodness and Kindness, set up due to COVID-19. According to Masinter, they also “have a whole bunch” of non-Jewish products.
“The gallery online is only the beginning,” says Masinter. “We are building a proper gallery like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art – a proper beautiful online gallery to promote South African art, underprivileged and other artists, one that can bring a smile to people’s faces.”
Asked if they have a marketing and sales strategy, Masinter says, “A hundred percent. That’s why this thing is going global. We also doing displays in different shopping centres, and we are taking it overseas.”
Nyathi is thankful for Masinter’s help. Now, he and the other artists can afford to pay their rent and support their families. “If it wasn’t for Shabbat, we were going to close this business,” Nyathi says.
When people praise his artwork, Nyathi says he feels “over the moon” and “recognised” in his heart.
Asked where the funding comes from for the materials, Masinter says, “Where required, I will do the funding, but the idea is to make it self-sustainable. This thing is global. We have already got orders from overseas. We are changing our world for good. Everyone should be energised by this. We can do much more.”
Masinter believes every Jew is obligated to uplift the spiritual and material welfare not only of every Jew, but also non-Jews as well.
“Therefore, we cannot live as South Africans only focusing on Jewish things when we have a fortune of programmes, from kids programmes to teenage programmes, to senior-citizen feeding programmes. We have to worry about everybody. You can’t live in a country where millions of people are living in squalor and say, ‘It’s not our problem’. The way to [help] is through job creation, and this project is helping with that. We have 21 libraries in the city in underprivileged areas. We have the whole learning programme for primary school children. We have a job-creation programme, and now during COVID-19, we went into this programme, which is self-explanatory. A rabbi and an artist have come together to turn the world upside down for good, with one thing in common, a passion for art and education.”
Masinter’s charitable work is based on two philosophies, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” and “You don’t have to stay down, you can uplift everybody.”
Asked how long he has been doing his charitable work, he says, “I’m a Chabad rabbi. Every Chabad rabbi does charitable work. We don’t talk about the past. It’s about what we could be doing. You must energise people to copy what we are doing. We can’t sit here with millions of people living in squalor. We should all be asking what are we doing to assist welfare in this country, Jewish and non-Jewish.”• The Gallery of Goodness and Kindness can be found at: https://www.chabadsouthafrica.org/templates/articlecco