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The Jewish women lighting the Olympic flame

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Lifestyle

The Olympics isn’t just the site of the greatest sporting prowess in the world, it’s also a source of national nachas. This Women’s Day, 9 August, we celebrate some of the great Jewish female athletes taking part at the Tokyo Games.

Medallists:

Avishag Semberg –Taekwondo, Israel

Avishag Semberg has proven her mettle in Taekwondo, winning a bronze for the Israeli team at the very first day of this year’s Tokyo Games. Competing in the women’s under-49kg category, she’s the youngest Israeli to get a medal. And, she’s certainly not done yet, recently telling The Times of Israel that her next goal is gold at the Paris 2024 games.

Of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots, Semberg grew up Gadera in Israel. According to The Jerusalem Post, she first became interested in Taekwondo in Grade 1. At the martial arts club where she began training, she met fellow Taekwondo talent Nimrod Krivishkiy. Having trained together since childhood, their bond has since turned to love, and she is now in a long-term relationship with the 22-year-old.

Last year, Semberg enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and serves in the home front command. The Friends of the IDF (FIDF) tweeted after her victory, “FIDF is so proud of Avishag Semberg. Athlete, IDF soldier, and now Olympic medallist – is there anything she can’t do?”

Jessica Fox – Canoe Slalom and Kayak Slalom, Australia

The wonderful “water-whizz of Oz”, Jessica Fox is frequently cited as the most successful paddler in history. These games have been no exception, with her having already achieved a gold in women’s canoe slalom and a bronze in kayak slalom.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), although Fox was born in France, her family moved to Australia when she was four after her father was appointed as a coach for the country’s Olympic team.

Fox’s story is one of intergenerational talent. Her mother, Myriam Jerusalmi, who is now her coach, was an Olympic champion herself, having won bronze for kayak slalom at the 1996 games. Her father, too, was an Olympic canoeist, and her sister, Noemie, is also part of the canoeing clan, taking part in slalom canoeing.

The 27-year-old has previously spoken about the family pride that motivates her. “Both my parents competing in the Olympic Games is something pretty special. Winning a medal is something that you dream [of], and I’m proud to follow in my mother’s footsteps,” she told JTA.

Lilia Akhaimova – Gold in Team Artistic Gymnastics, Russia

Akhaimova is one of Russia’s golden girls after nabbing top spot as part of the country’s artistic gymnastics team. Competing under the banner of Russian Olympic Committee, Akhaimova attained the top score for vault in the team finals.

The 24-year-old hails from Vladivostok, a city with a rich Jewish history dating back to the 19th century. Akhaimova’s family lived in the area until 2012, when they moved to St Petersburg to give her and her sister, Luba, more sporting opportunities.

When not training, Akhaimova is a big fan of social media, posting extensively on Instagram and TikTok. At university, she studied sport and health. It clearly has been a big year for her as in addition to participating in her first Olympics, she received the title of Honoured Master of Sport in the Russian Federation.

According to a message posted on Facebook by the Russian embassy in the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Akhaimova and her team, saying, “For the first time ever, Russia has won the Olympic gold in the artistic gymnastics team event. This success has become a worthy prize for your talent and perseverance in reaching your goals, for your team spirit, solidarity, and beautiful, graceful performance.”

Upcoming Events:

Linoy Ashram – Rhythmic Gymnastics, Israel

The 22-year-old Adidas-sponsored Ashram is Israel’s darling. Having set a number of records and won the European all-around title ahead of the Olympics, she’s now considered one of Israel’s biggest hopes for glory at these games.

Born in Rishon LeZion, her family is of Yemini and Greek origin. She said that she began gymnastics as a small child because she simply couldn’t keep still.

She’s studying education, and describes herself as a perfectionist. One of her routines is set to Hava Nagila, although she incorporates lots of different musical genres into her routines. According to the Hey Alma website, she even has a back-bend turn named “the Ashram” after her.

The women’s rhythmic individual all-around gymnastics qualifications take place on Friday, 6 August.

Sue Bird – Basketball, United States

An icon of the Olympics, Sue Bird, was one of the United States (US) flagbearers at the opening ceremony this year. The 40-year-old is competing in her fifth Olympic Games, hoping to nap a fifth gold medal for basketball.

Born in New York, according to JTA, Bird was granted Israeli citizenship in 2006. Though she did so in order to be able to play in European teams, she said she learnt a lot about her cultural heritage in doing so.

According to Sports Illustrated, Bird used to keep her gold medals in her sock drawer, although she now puts them in a safety-deposit box. Her fiancé is acclaimed US soccer star Megan Rapinoe.

Bird has been instrumental in the fight for better pay and benefits for the female players in the US’s Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Former WNBA player Dawn Staley is quoted by Time magazineas saying that Bird “gives a voice to women who are underpaid and underappreciated”.

The women’s basketball finals take place this weekend.

Jemima Montag – Racewalking, Australia

A first timer at the game, Montag’s parents’ “meet-cute” story began at the 1989 Maccabiah Games where her father was playing cricket and her mom competing in heptathlon.

According to the Hey Alma website, though Montag tried a variety of sports and dance, she found her niche in racewalking, saying that her “combination of endurance, hypermobile joints, and fiery competitiveness are a great trio for racewalking”.

Montag sites her Holocaust survivor grandparents as her inspiration, holding close their lessons about resilience.

The women’s race walking final take place on Friday.

Alix Klineman – Beach Volleyball, United States

When Alix Klineman wasn’t selected for the US Olympic team for indoor volleyball for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the now 31-year-old decided to switch to beach volleyball to continue her Olympic dream. This gamble paid off, and she is now ranked second in the world with her partner in the game, April Ross.

Born in California, Klineman is a graduate of Stanford University, having gained a degree in Art Studio. In 2015, she was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The Women’s Beach Volleyball semi-finals and finals take place this week.

Maor Tiyouri – Marathon, Israel

When the Women’s Marathon event takes place over the weekend, Maor Tiyouri will represent Israel with pride.

The 30-year-old from Kfar Saba comes from an Iraqi and Iranian Jewish background. Though she studied and now trains in the US, her heart is made of pure milk and honey.

She told Hey Alma that being a Jewish athlete and representing Israel, a “small country that has known so many hardships” was an honour and a privilege.

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Lifestyle

Yiddish machzor finds its way back to family

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When Shelley Harari read that a Yiddish machzor originally printed in Vilna had been uncovered in Cape Town, she couldn’t hold back the tears, realising that the owner, Jacob Dick, was her late grandfather.

“After reading the article, I was overwhelmed with emotion. A flash of more than 140 years of my family’s history passed over me,” says Harari. She attributes the connection to “the power of journalism, which led to a series of events that unravelled within two weeks in September 2021”.

The original article, published in the SA Jewish Report on 13 August 2021, explained that the machzor, printed in Yiddish in Vilna in 1876, had resurfaced in Cape Town just before the high holidays. The address of the owner was written inside, and was the same address that now houses a section of Cape Town Torah High (CTTH).

“The book was given to me by Peter Greenberg, who found it in a box of old Jewish books belonging to his late grandfather,” says Rabbi Levi Silman, who collects old books and connected the dots between the machzor’s owner and CTTH’s address. He noticed that the owner had written his name, J. Dick, and his address, 29 Maynard Street, on the machzor. The address jumped out at Silman because his daughter spends much of her school day at CTTH Girls Campus at that address.

Silman was thrilled with the discovery, and gave the book to CTTH Principal Avi Shlomo to house in the school. That is, until Harari contacted him from Israel. Says Harari, “My sister, who lives in Johannesburg, received a call from our cousin who had read the article. She mentioned that Jacob Dick was written inside the machzor. On hearing this, it filled me with an eagerness to know more about an amazing, important, and historical find belonging to my late grandfather.”

She immediately sent a message to the SA Jewish Report’s Facebook page, asking for further information. The SA Jewish Report responded with all the information and contact details of the people involved.

Says Harari, “My late mother, Julia Dick Ostilly, passed away 50 years ago. This machzor was a wonderful link to her and to my grandfather, who passed away in 1941. Jacob Dick was born in Lithuania in 1876. He settled in the Western Cape on his arrival in South Africa in 1903. My mother and her siblings were born in Calvinia. Sadly, they have all passed away.

“In the 1920s, they moved to Cape Town. One address I remember my mother speaking about was in Gardens. As a young girl, I remember my mother would tell me how her father would go down to the docks during World War II and invite British sailors for Friday night dinner. My mother described her father as a generous, simple, kind, and pious man. My uncle, Eli Dick, who lived in Oranjezicht, was a very well-known and respected member of the Jewish community.”

Harari reached out to everyone involved, including Greenberg. “Peter enabled me to join the dots. He had an old suitcase filled with Jewish books which belonged to his grandfather, Jacob Potashnik. He recalled that his grandparents were very friendly with the Dick family. The Potashnik family also lived in Oranjezicht. Before making aliyah in the 1970s, Eli Dick, I assume, gave his friend, Mr Potashnik, the suitcase of Jewish books which he inherited from his father, Jacob Dick. Thus, the story unfolded, and came full circle.

“After corresponding with Rabbi Shlomo and proving that this machzor indeed belonged to Jacob Dick, it was returned to my cousin, Percy Choritz. Percy knew the Dick family for many years. I’m pleased that a relation of the Dick family received the machzor instead of it being sent in a package. Things are meant to be. On his return to Israel in February, Percy will give me the machzor.”

Greenberg was delighted to hear that the machzor would be given to Harari. “It seems right that it’s being returned to the Dick family and also to Israel,” he says.

“It was a beautiful ending to the story,” Shlomo says. “Percy Choritz [who is the nephew of Eli Dick] and his wife Irene  came and collected it. We put on tefillin together, and it was beautiful. The machzor has facilitated many good deeds and we used it in school to study from its unique commentary. So it’s only appropriate that the story ends with another mitzvah – that of returning a lost item to its rightful owners.

“While there was definitely a sense of loss in sending it away as we felt so connected to it, we were thrilled it was going to the grandchildren of Jacob Dick who now had this priceless memento of their grandfather and his bygone world,” he says. “We photographed the front pages and will frame them in a display at 29 Maynard Street, Jacob’s home, and now part of Cape Town Torah High School – connected by Torah and tefillah for more than 100 years.”

Silman was also deeply moved. “I always think that books, especially historical ones, should be where they have the greatest impact or where they can make the greatest difference,” he says. “So if it goes back to family where they will cherish it and it will inspire them to use it more, then that’s definitely where it should be. And it’s always good that things find their original place and go back to their roots.”

Writing to Shlomo and the staff of CTTH, Harari said, “ In honour and blessed memory of my late mother, Julia Dick Ostilly, and her late father, Jacob Dick, I thank you for returning this meaningful, religious, and historic machzor, which belonged to my late grandfather, Jacob Dick. There is one place in the world to which you don’t escape nor immigrate – you come home to the land of Israel. As I live in Israel, I feel a relic of Jacob Dick has come home. My family will preserve this piece of heritage for generations to come.”

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Clegg’s autobiography brings readers into his crazy, beautiful world

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If you ever wanted to sit at the feet of the late, great Johnny Clegg, hearing tales of his early years in his own unique voice, you now have that opportunity. Although Clegg passed away in 2019, he began writing about his life in the years prior to his death. The result is the newly released Scatterling of Africa, which is his “origin story” in his own words.

“It’s a hugely surreal moment for us and a joy to share our dad’s incredible story with the world. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and we are honoured and proud to be able to finally release it,” says his son, Jesse Clegg, in an interview with the SA Jewish Report.

The past few years have been “an emotionally challenging period to be without our dad, especially considering the circumstances we find ourselves in the world”, says his younger son, Jaron Clegg. “We are, however, hugely comforted and feel his presence when we see his music and storytelling connect with people. This book was a way for us to share his presence again and working on it was cathartic because it felt like he was with us as we were making our way through his journey.”

Clegg was known as Le Zoulou Blanc and didn’t emphasise his Jewish identity, and yet the book shows how his life was “book ended” by two very Jewish life-cycle events. We are introduced to his overbearing grandfather, Harry Braudo, who insisted that Clegg have a Brit Milah even though his biological father wasn’t Jewish. This moment and Braudo’s decisions at the time reverberate across the generations.

Then, on the second page of the book, the Clegg family thanks the Chevrah Kadisha for its support over the very difficult period of Clegg’s passing. And so, in birth and death, Clegg was bound to Judaism. In between, as he writes, there were moments when he wrestled with his Jewish identity as well as the question of whether one can change identities, finding a home in another community that welcomes you as one of its own sons.

“An anthropologist by training, our dad always had a curiosity and appreciation for all cultures and religions,” says Jesse. “With Judaism, there were many principles and values that he respected deeply and connected us to as his children. Sometimes we would light the Shabbos candles and he would explain the symbolism around the traditions, and we also had Barmitzvahs. Our family has always had a connection to the Jewish community, and we are grateful for the support and compassion we’ve received.”

Although it can be unsettling to read the writings of someone whose early death remains so raw, Clegg’s voice shines through from the very first word in the most comforting way. He takes us into his childhood memories and teenage explorations with a gentle hand, as if to say “come, let me show you something wonderful”. He talks about how both he and his mother had an almost naïve fearlessness and boundless curiosity, which allowed him to follow a path that none had treaded before.

Asked how the book came together, Jaron explains that his father “chose to focus on his formative years, as it was these years that were so important in shaping his journey as an artist and as a human. It came together sporadically in moments and short vignettes and stories that he would write down as they came to him, and it continued like that until the end. When he passed, we were left with a beautiful collection of anecdotes and memories and so our job, with the editor, was to order and structure the text into a cohesive narrative. With that said, our main priority was that everything was in his own words and nothing was altered from the original text.”

“We had never heard some of these stories before!” says Jesse. “He goes into incredible detail about his family life, his connection to music, and his connection to Zulu culture and South Africa in general.”

In many accounts, Clegg’s stepfather, journalist Dan Pienaar’s decision to take the young Clegg with him to the townships, is credited with kindling his interest in Zulu culture. But in the book, we see that many more forces were at play, including Clegg’s initiative, drive, and joy in discovering a new world – often at great risk. He describes the impact Pienaar’s approach to life had on him in many ways, especially during the year they spent in Zambia. Linked to this are other fascinating stories, such as how Pienaar kidnapped Clegg’s stepsister and went to Australia.

Asked how Zulu culture featured in their lives, Jesse says, “We spent many weekends in Zululand growing up, so we were very exposed to this world and experienced the magical community. We certainly hold dear the Zulu culture and way of life. We visit Sipho Mchunu’s homestead in Makhabaleni often, and reminisce about the life he shared with our father. And every time we drive down, as the Tugela River Valley opens up, it’s like a doorway into another world. This is part of the magic of the place our dad came to love and live by.”

Having access to their father’s story after his passing “is a gift for us as a family because of how strong his voice is and how clearly he comes across”, says Jaron. “We feel especially lucky to have this piece of him as we move forward, something that we can tangibly hold on to and read through whenever we want to hear his voice.”

In the cast of characters we are introduced to in the book, Clegg’s mother, Muriel, plays an important part. “Muriel, or ‘Gogo’ as we used to call her, was a strong and eccentric woman who had a massive role in our dad’s life,” says Jesse. “She championed him in many ways especially in his music career. Of course, she wasn’t without her own troubles and traumas and some of that baggage was carried by our dad throughout his life. To us, she was a good grandmother who read to us all the time and introduced us to the magic of poetry, storytelling, and karate.”

The Clegg sons carry the surname of their father’s biological dad, Dennis Clegg, who their father wasn’t allowed to meet until he was 21. “Without a father, there certainly was a void in his life growing up, and in a way, it reinforced his connection to the Zulu culture as their masculine values as well as their music and dance gave him the tools to father himself,” says Jaron.

“My brother and I did get to meet Dennis, and in fact, we spent a few holidays with him. He would come down to South Africa to visit us, and we always enjoyed seeing him. He was a very kind and gentle man, and incredibly funny. He could also talk to dogs!”

They hope the book “will give people an intimate look at the man behind the music, a glimpse into the world that shaped him and people who championed his journey. For us, our dad’s life serves as testament to human connection against all odds, and the incredible power of music and dance to transcend our differences. We feel honoured and proud to be able to share it with the world.”

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From university of life to LifeBook – a storied tale

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Have you ever heard of a primary school teacher travelling more than 1 000km to say goodbye to one of her scholars? South African-born Roy Moëd recalls his King David Linksfield Grade 2 teacher travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town in 1960 with a farewell gift for him just before he emigrated.

“I must have been so cute that teacher Bessie gave me a silver identity bracelet with the name Roy on the front and on the back, ‘Teacher Bessie 1960’,” Moëd told the SA Jewish Report. “I will always remember her. I never saw her again, but I still have the bracelet. She was a very special woman.”

It’s precious stories like this that Moëd, who founded a successful airline catering business and bespoke autobiography service, wants to highlight.

It’s sad, says Moëd, that these kinds of stories about your average person generally go untold. He founded LifeBook, a bespoke autobiography service, in 2011, because he’s passionate about telling these stories.

All because his teacher, Bessie Taurog, drove all the way to Cape Town shortly after the Sharpeville Massacre to say goodbye to a seven-year-old boy who was moving to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands with his parents and three siblings.

Moëd – who is dyslexic, making reading and writing difficult – has made the process of getting people’s stories printed as simple as possible.

“All you have to do is tell your story across twelve 90-minute interviews, and at the last interview, we record you talking about your favourite stories so your family can always hear them being retold in your voice,” he says.

Ten autobiographical books are then printed for the client to distribute among their family and friends, preserving their history and legacy.

“This my greatest business achievement and true legacy,” says Moëd. “We are changing people’s lives because we’re making and preserving this huge social history – there are now 10 000 people around the world who hold a LifeBook in their hands with their parents’ story or stories that they would never have heard.”

Not too shabby for a guy who was born in Waverley, Johannesburg, in 1953, and battled at school. “I failed everything, got kept down,” he recalls.

Moëd regularly went to Waverley Shul before his family decided to emigrate due to apartheid and the last of his grandparents having passed away. He did, however, return to the shul for his Barmitzvah.

By then, Moëd’s mother had realised that Jersey wasn’t, as she was told, a “beautiful tropical island with palm trees”. In fact, Moëd recalls, “the palm trees were all dead”.

“When I was 19, I was already living in London, but returned to Jersey to run a restaurant for my dad,” he says. “It was a Doll’s House [roadhouse]. He brought the idea to the island. However, the weather was rubbish, so we would be open for only three or four months of the year.”

Moëd went on to try his hand at 29 different jobs over the next six years, which he describes as “the university of life”. He did everything from door-to-door insurance to being a barman, waiter, smoked salmon slicer, and fruit and veg van driver. He also had spells working on a kibbutz in Israel, serving as a chef and manager of a restaurant, and managing a hotel.

“At the age of 25, I was basically unemployable. I was really good at interviews, but I wasn’t good at doing the jobs so I kept getting fired.”

In 1978, he started a catering business for the airline industry. “Today, I do a presentation called ‘the value of legacy, not money’, in which I talk about how I grew this business from two employees to 600 and reengineered it four times before selling it in 2007.”

One of Moëd’s proudest moments was the unexpected response he received from the 140 people his catering business had made redundant after deciding to outsource its warehousing and distribution. “I had a party for these people even though everybody said that I was mad and my old classic car was going to get keyed.”

Although they were being let go, they ended up hugging Moëd because he had given them opportunity by employing them in his business. “These people then became our customers as we landed up delivering to the doors of where they went on to be employed,” Moëd says.

His LifeBook company is working on 200 autobiographies for people around the world – from Mauritius and Uganda to the United States. “We always get a local interviewer who lives within 30 minutes of the client. The interviewer is trained by us how to conduct the interview, record the story, and take photographs. We then use a suitable writer – like an Asian if the subject is Asian – as they understand the nuances of things like local terminology.” Moëd’s expert team includes project managers, editors, typesetters, proofreaders, printers, and bookbinders.

“The key to LifeBook is also that the people who do it enjoy it. I started it because of my dad. I wanted to give him a project that he would enjoy and give him self-worth. As we get older, we start to lose our faculties in different ways, but to have a sense of self-worth at what you did, and to have your grandchildren know your values is really important. A great African proverb says, ‘When an elder passes on, a whole library burns down’. My greatest business achievement is that many of these kinds of libraries haven’t burnt down.”

Moëd’s business philosophy is inspired by a book titled The customer comes second. “The essence of that book is that if you get your people right, the customer will be happy. The philosophy is to treat people as people, build a team of people who are doing it for more than just the money, and create an environment where people enjoy coming to work and what they do.”

Business aside, Moëd flew in a race from London to Sydney in 2001. He has a pilot license and an instrument rating, which, he says, “is really academic, and I surprised myself in doing it”.

He has returned to South Africa many times as a tourist, and played polo at Plettenberg Bay, where his parents spent their honeymoon once upon a time.

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