The heroes within
When word got out in the community last week that someone from our community had been kidnapped and was being held hostage, for many of us there was a deep sense of dread.
Did we know him? What were the chances of him being rescued? Would he make it out alive? What would happen if they harmed him?
As a journalist, my mind went to a horrific story I covered years back of Leigh Matthews, who was kidnapped and never released alive.
I remember her parents’ anguish while they waited in hope, and then their sheer devastation when her body was found.
I’m sure, like so many of us, our deepest fears emerge when we hear snippets like this.
However, there’s a whole other side to this event that can be told only now. That is of CAP, its police connections, and the heroes who stopped at nothing to get this man back.
They used the latest technology and equipment, and went where fools fear to tread to find Gary Bress, an integral part of our community.
Now, I say he’s integral because according to CAP, the Community Security Organisation, the Chev, and Hatzolah, every single Jewish person is a vital part of our community. Even if you haven’t been to shul since your Batmitzvah or Barmitzvah, you’re essential, and will be looked after.
What transpired for Bress and his family was, without doubt, excruciating and probably the most frightening night of their lives. However, there’s such solace in knowing that those who are there to look out for us will do their job way past any expectation (see page 1).
Suffice to say, the message is clear: don’t mess with us because we protect our own and won’t take any nonsense, crime, or hatefulness lying down.
So in the midst of the darkness of the kidnapping, there’s strength and relief in knowing we’re not alone. We’re a powerful community with organisations and people who stop at nothing to ensure the safety and security of us all.
In the same week, we hear of an alleged sexual predator in Hermanus who was finally arrested thanks to two women in our community (see page 3). Koleinu SA’s Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack were determined that this man, who they believe to be a serial rapist, wouldn’t get another opportunity to harm anyone.
The man isn’t part of our community and, as far as we know, his victims weren’t either. But our two Koleinu SA heroines don’t just care about Jewish people, they care about stopping abuse. It turns out that it was a young Jewish woman who was almost a victim who originally alerted them to this alleged predator.
Their dedication to stopping him has been remarkable. Their persistence and dogged determination to find women who have fallen into his lair and convince them to come forward has been nothing short of outstanding.
Now it seems, more and more women are coming forward. Isn’t it wonderful to have women like Hendler and Sack on our side?
It gives me hope that those women, men, and children who are being abused right now have people whom they can trust and depend on to make sure that their attackers are brought to book. They give of their love, support and knowhow so willingly to stem the pandemic of gender-based violence.
Going back to the kidnapping last week, there were WhatsApp messages calling on people to daven for Gilad Ben Gila’s safe return. People were praying hard while CAP, the police, and others were doing their damnedest to find Bress and bring him home.
A “Yiddishe kop”, state-of-the-art technology, and prayer is an awesome combination, as it happens.
We have witnessed the power of prayer so often in what appears to be fairly bleak situations.
Remember Gavi Waksman who we recently wrote about? He fell while running cross country with King David Linksfield, and was unconscious for two weeks. Well, Gavi was discharged from hospital last Friday, and is recovering at home with his family. He still needs therapy and medical assistance, but clearly miracles do happen!
I learnt something else this week about the work our community does, in this case outreach work to help the greater community and country.
The Jewish National Fund that, in my head, was always about planting trees in Israel is doing the most astonishing work in our own backyard.
Not only is it working to enable South Africans to deal with a potential water crisis, it’s helping scholars bridge the education gap created by the COVID-19 lockdown (see page 8). The organisation is going all out to help these scholars update their knowledge of science, technology, and geography so that they can get a decent matric and become contributing members of society. This isn’t all that the JNF does, but this is what most resonated with me.
This seems such a fitting thing to learn about just before Youth Day, which commemorates a day 46 years ago, when scholars stood up against a system created to keep them down. Many of those youngsters believed in “liberation before education” and left their formal schooling to join the struggle against apartheid and fight for a better future. In this, so many fell through the cracks because they didn’t get a formal education, not even an inferior “Bantu education”.
Today, a good education isn’t optional, but COVID-19 certainly set so many youngsters back almost two years in their studies.
So, the work that the JNF is doing is a blessing. I wonder if there’s more we could do to bridge this gap? Any ideas?
Reading what Jewish school children wrote about what Youth Day meant to them is so inspiring (see page 10). I love that it’s not just a holiday to them and they have found real significance in this day.
Frankly, to me, that means our future is in good hands.
On that note, I wish all our heroes of tomorrow a smooth path to wisdom and success! I also wish the fathers of our nation a happy Father’s Day!