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The night Anat Hoffman finally fell silent

Rambunctious Anat Hoffman got laryngitis on the night she had to deliver a big speech – so a colleague had to do so for her. The executive director of the Progressive IRAC, was honoured by the US-based Women of Reform Judaism with their annual Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award. “Unfortunately,” Anat told SA Jewish Report Online, “I came down with laryngitis the day I was receiving the award.”

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ANT KATZ

The night Anat was silenced

Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Progressive Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC), was honoured by the US-based Women of Reform Judaism with their annual Jane Evans Pursuit of Justice Award. “Unfortunately,” Anat told Jewish Report Online, “I came down with laryngitis the day I was receiving the award.”

So her colleague, IRAC Director Noa Sattath, had to step in “to read my acceptance speech for me,” Anat told us. The URJ conference was held in San Diego. “It was a wonderful conference,” says Anat. Sadly, her larynx was unable to remain as enthusiastic as her spirit.

Although read for Anat at the event by Noa Sattath, the powerful (as only Anat can be) speech brought the audience to their feet afterwards.

The Speech

Anat lost her voice. Despite all the remedies and chicken soup suggested by many in this conference, she can’t speak. So here is a useful tip from her: if you’re destined to lose your voice sometime in the course of a 25 year struggle for equality, don’t lose it in the Knesset, don’t lose it in a prison cell, don’t lose it in the supreme court. Lose it when you’re approaching victory, lose it at the 2013 Biennial in San Diego.

Anat Hoffman

RIGHT: Silenced but enthusiastic as always, Anat Hoffman

After flying all over the US, hugging and kissing so many people, a virus succeeded in silencing me tonight. But what a divine coincidence to teach me and all of us that I can be silenced, but everyone here can speak for me.

Everyone here knows there is more than one way to be Jewish. No one here is willing to be ignored on the struggle for this right in Israel. None of us here are willing to give up on the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence as a state that ensures, “complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”    

The video you just saw showed you the highlights of the struggle for equality at the Western Wall.

Now we are part of a team that is making history, together with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, my brother, whose reason, passion and courage make all of Israel’s cabinet ministers look up to him and my colleague and friend Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, who is blessed by both profound ideology and superb analytic skills, and who is leading the Reform movement to a new era in religious life in Israel.

Together we are negotiating a new reality for all of us at the Wall. This is not going to be a slightly cleaned up second-rate area for the misfits.  It will be the first time that the Israeli government will offer everybody a real choice at the Kotel. I know Israelis are going to get used to the flavor of choice and they are going to demand freedom of choice in all other areas of religious life, such as marriage, divorce, conversion, and education. Once you have 31 flavors, you can’t go back.

We are changing things

For too long, the face and character of Judaism’s holiest site has been in the image of one extreme minority, but we are changing that. It is time that Israelis got to know some other faces of Judaism, like that of our very own Rabbi Miri Gold, or that of Ariella Finklestein, our orthodox 14-year-old client who personally sued the bus driver who told her to go the back of the bus in Beit Shemesh.

We must plant our values the same way we have planted trees. This will require all of us to get our hands dirty since there is no other way to plant.

Our success at the Kotel must become the engine pulling the train of religious pluralism. The next car is the end of gender segregation in Israel and the exclusion of women. We bring you news of great achievements, but we also know that the rights of women in Israel are under attack, and it is falling on us to provide the response

Other cars in the train are freedom of choice in marriage, in conversion, and the full equality and recognition of our Rabbis and institutions.

I am standing on the shoulders of our incredible institutions and of the generosity of IRAC supporters over the years. I am standing on the shoulders of women and men who care about Israel, about Judaism, and about equality. I felt this throughout the Biennial. Many asked me what they can do.

First- you have to make a decision. Are you going to wring your hands about Israel or are you going roll up your sleeves and get to work? You can’t do both at the same time.

Let’s roll up our sleeves

I’m asking you to do four things:

1. Read – At least once a week read something about Israel that is not about security;

2. Use your financial support to create an Israel that reflects your values;

3. Visit Israel, and make your visits count. Make time for the Israel Religious Action Centre, (less Roman ruins and more freedom rides); and

4. Refuse. Refuse to choose between your liberal values and your commitment to Israel. Let your frustration motivate you to action. Action is our middle name.

I want to thank the WRJ, led by their remarkable Executive Director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, for their years of friendship, support, and solidarity. I am honored to accept this award with the full awareness that I am propped up on the shoulders of so many you here today. I am LITERALLY speechless from all the love you have shown here during this amazing Biennial.

Toda Raba!

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Ant Katz

    Dec 27, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Posted by Ant Katz: After posting the above story I sent a link to Anat and said the following “Having some fun at your expense: Hi from sunny SA to a cold Israel, Anat, I know you won’t mind my having had a bit of fun by saying ‘the famously rambunctious Anat Hoffman was silenced by laryngitis’.”

     

    Anat’s light-hearted response: “Sure go ahead make fun of the handicapped, the silenced. Enjoy watching me squirm in front of 5000 people. Just remember that when my big mouth is once again functioning, you Anthony will be first on my agenda. I will go after YOU, safe and warm in South Africa. I will bring you winter. I will make a 3-hour speech that will make Yom Kippur sermon seem short. I will explain to you in detail every aspect of Israel’s conversion laws and regulations until you will want to shout \”OY, enough\” but no sound will come out of your throat. You will be seized by Jerusalem Laryngitis… Yours sincerely (always willing and able to visit SA). Anat.\”

  2. Ant Katz

    Dec 27, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Posted by Ant Katz: After posting the above story I sent a link to Anat and said the following “Having some fun at your expense: Hi from sunny SA to a cold Israel, Anat, I know you won’t mind my having had a bit of fun by saying ‘the famously rambunctious Anat Hoffman was silenced by laryngitis’.”

     

    Anat’s light-hearted response: “Sure go ahead make fun of the handicapped, the silenced. Enjoy watching me squirm in front of 5000 people. Just remember that when my big mouth is once again functioning, you Anthony will be first on my agenda. I will go after YOU, safe and warm in South Africa. I will bring you winter. I will make a 3-hour speech that will make Yom Kippur sermon seem short. I will explain to you in detail every aspect of Israel’s conversion laws and regulations until you will want to shout \”OY, enough\” but no sound will come out of your throat. You will be seized by Jerusalem Laryngitis… Yours sincerely (always willing and able to visit SA). Anat.\”

  3. Anon

    Dec 27, 2013 at 8:58 am

    One would tend to be more sympathetic to a reform Jew (or Rabbi) living in Eretz Yisrael, than to a frum Jew (or Rabbi) living in the Diaspora.

    The former is fulfilling (wittingly or unwittingly) the great mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, while the latter is scorning Hashem’s great gift of love to His people -the Land of Israel.

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Community

Focus on Yom Hashoah turns to family

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There is a new international initiative to start a family tradition on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), in which families will gather to light six memorial candles and recite a pertinent poem and prayer to remember the 6 000 000.

This initiative, called “Generations light the way”, encourages families to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer, Kel Maleh Rahamim, and/or the poem, Nizkor – Let us Remember, by Holocaust survivor Abba Kovner, to impart the memory of the Shoah to the next generation. It is a collaboration between Yad Vashem and Tzohar Rabbinical Association.

“Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads,” said acting Yad Vashem chairperson Ronen Plot. “As the last generation to be personally acquainted with Holocaust survivors, we have a great responsibility to ensure that what we saw, what we heard, and what we learned is passed on to future generations.”

“The Shoah shows us how important every Jew is,” said Rabbi David Stav, the founder and director of Tzohar Rabbinical Association. He recalled an incident when an entire unit of Nazi soldiers stayed on a small Greek island for more than two weeks just to find one Jewish family.

“We need to realise how precious a Jewish life is. So much of our history has been forgotten. From the crusades to the pogroms of 1648 to 1649, to the Spanish Inquisition,” he said.

“We cannot let that happen with the Holocaust. It’s not just because the Holocaust is recent history, it’s important to remember because it teaches us that it doesn’t matter how you label yourself, we are all am echad (one people).”

Tali Nates, the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, agrees. “We need to be aware of the past and how evil is allowed to grow if we hope to prevent more atrocities. And we need to recognise it quicker,” she said.

“The radicalisation of Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The world was facing an unprecedented economic crisis. Europe was still picking up the pieces of World War I. People were suffering and looking for easy answers to difficult questions. Extremism is born out of crisis.

“When people are suffering, they start looking for someone to blame. More often than not, blame falls on the Jews,” said Nates. “Today, we face another unprecedented world crisis. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. We are facing a global economic and health crisis that we have never seen before. Again, born out of this crisis, we are seeing an alarming growth of extremism around the world. The open rise of nationalism and white supremacy is now leading to an increase in violence against those that look and sound different.”

Nates said there were many lessons to take from the Holocaust. “Remembering the Shoah is so important. Starting from our young generation and going beyond just the Jewish community, to all of humanity, it has a huge educational value.

“It’s a warning for us all to be vigilant and recognise the warning signs,” she said. “When words of hate turn into discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and violence, it ends with mass murder and genocide. The first thing is education – to connect the dots and try to prevent it from happening again.

“You have to make sure you fight antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia. These are the first signs. We need to educate about the dangers of those words and actions. We need to start with ourselves, on a personal level, to be consistent when we are with our friends, family, and neighbours. We need to educate each other that racism, however casual, isn’t acceptable. And we need to be active to avoid the same mistakes made during the Holocaust and other genocides, which unfortunately are still taking place today.

“Because we are in South Africa, we should focus on how we as South Africans can remember the Holocaust,” said Nates. “I would love South Africans to spend time thinking about their own families. A lot of them come from Latvia and Lithuania, certainly they have relatives who were murdered. I would like for the Jewish community to really think about where they come from and what happened to their relatives who couldn’t come here.

“We need to try and collect those names so they won’t be lost forever. Yad Vashem has only four million out of six million names. We need to ensure the other two million names don’t become lost forever. The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre together with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Memorial & Information Centre in Mauritius have called on our communities to collect the names by sending in the names of family members that don’t have a grave. For us, that’s a start.”

Said Stav, “The only way to ensure that we pass this on to our children is to talk about it often. I speak about the Shoah with my family and community at least once a month.

“Evil doesn’t care what we look or sound like. We have passed on the torch of faith, resilience, and morality for more than 3 000 years. The story of the Holocaust is the story of the Jewish people. We have been murdered, prosecuted, and expelled from our homes. And yet, through it all, we managed to survive. We always find a way to come out stronger. Those of us who know a survivor personally have experienced this first hand. Rebirth and resilience is our story. It’s up to us to pass this torch to our children so they can continue to light the way.”

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World

Koleinu calls out horrific attack on London Jewish woman

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A young, pregnant Jewish woman walks down a London street without a care in the world. Behind her, a man strides purposefully, quickening his steps as he gets closer. As he reaches her, he takes out a bag or pillowcase that he throws over her head. He then punches her four times in the stomach, throwing his full weight behind each blow. The woman somehow breaks free and runs away, and then man runs off in the opposite direction.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but this scene played out on a London street on the evening of 18 March 2021, in the neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, which has a large Haredi population. The assault was captured on surveillance cameras, but local neighbourhood watch group Shomrim has since deleted the video from its Twitter feed, saying, “It’s a very violent attack, and can be triggering for many victims.”

The 20-year-old woman, who is about 28 weeks pregnant, was taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries. A man in his late 50s has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, and is now in custody at an East London police station.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, the president of Shomrim, said the woman was left “deeply traumatised”. He noted that “[The perpetrator] followed her for about a mile. In other words, it was clearly premeditated. It wasn’t an opportunistic incident.” The brother of the woman later told the Jewish Chronicle that “It was because she was Jewish. She was wearing a Jewish headscarf at the time.” He confirmed that she did not know her attacker, and he had followed her for almost 20 minutes before the attack.

Describing how over the past month, there have been seven similar assaults on women and girls in the area, Gluck said, “It has reached a new level of violence. It seems he wanted to kill her. It’s a very shocking picture.” He said the Jewish community was “deeply concerned”.

The attack comes just weeks after 33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared in South London on the evening of 3 March. On 9 March, Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens was arrested on suspicion of Everard’s kidnapping and later her murder.

On 10 March, her remains were discovered in a woodland near Ashford, Kent. Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder two days later.

South African organisation Koleinu SA, which supports victims of abuse in the Jewish community and runs education programmes to prevent it, said the attack on the pregnant woman was “a wake-up call that shows how vulnerable women are when they walk alone in cities all over the world”. The organisations’ founders, Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack, said they were “shocked to see something so horrific and inexplicable”.

“Pregnant women are much more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves, as they have a baby to worry about,” Sack said. “That could be the reason he chose her as a target.

“We are desensitised as South Africans to violence against women as we are exposed to horrific acts of femicide on an almost daily basis. So it’s interesting that we are still shocked to see something like this. And not necessarily because she’s religious. As South Africans and Koleinu, we should be aware of the trauma and long-term consequences that such an incident can have on someone’s life, no matter who or where they are.”

Hendler notes that the man is full of rage, and said it was important to pinpoint why men were so angry, and why they would take out that rage on a woman.

“This incident is extreme,” she said. “But we see thousands of daily incidents of a violent nature – verbal and physical. It highlights its prevalence, and how many women live in fear. This video shows how violence against women happens in every community, country, and stream of religiosity.” She urges people to report any act of violence they witness or abuse they suspect. “We need to be brave enough to take a stand and hold others accountable.”

“The attack was totally frightening and just so awful, especially on a pregnant lady who was walking, minding her own business,” said 37-year-old Talya Zwiers, who emigrated to London in 2007. “Attacking her in broad daylight shows that we are all vulnerable, in spite of us thinking it’s safe to walk during the day.

“I left South Africa after my twin brother was hijacked and kidnapped, and as a result, lost all sense of safety and security in South Africa. I didn’t have the naïve belief that attacks and muggings don’t happen in London, but I most definitely went for a safer way of life, especially for my family,” she said.

“This attack left me feeling vulnerable, exposed, scared, and actually quite worried. It has made me aware that as women, we need to be constantly vigilant, aware of our surroundings, and cannot let our guard down. We cannot just walk carefree, unaware of who is behind us. I do feel much safer in London than I did in Johannesburg. I’m not on edge 24/7, but I have a heightened sense of awareness.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another South African Jewish woman in her 30s who emigrated to London in 2019 said, “Obviously the attack on the Jewish pregnant woman is shocking as in South Africa, we weren’t exposed to religiously-motivated attacks.

“It makes me more aware of not letting my son walk around in public with his tzitzit and kippah. Regarding Sarah Everard, this can happen anywhere. I haven’t really had a false sense of security coming from South Africa. I’ve always been overly cautious where possible.”

Another ex-South African woman who emigrated to London decades ago was shocked to hear of the attack as she hadn’t seen reports about it in the mainstream British press. “The volume of violent attacks against women is really overwhelming. Perhaps it’s because she ‘sustained light injury’ that it isn’t newsworthy. Last year, a mother and daughter were murdered in a park and it didn’t get the coverage that this most recent horrific murder [of Everard] received. The mother and daughter were black …”

The attack on the pregnant woman was condemned by Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who said on Twitter, “This hateful attack on a pregnant Jewish woman in Stamford Hill is absolutely gruesome. As a society, we have to do so much more to tackle antisemitism as well as violence against women.”

Also on Twitter, author Professor Kate Williams wrote, “The footage from the #StamfordHill attack is so distressing. She looks so happy, walking and swinging her handbag. And then he attacks her and her unborn baby in a despicable act of antisemitism. And we are still being told that attacks on women in the street are rare.”

“This seems to be yet another example of Orthodox Jews being physically and violently assaulted because of their Jewishness,” said educator and author Ben M. Freeman, whose recent book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, aims to empower Jews to reject the “shame of antisemitism”.

“Orthodox Jewish communities regularly endure violent anti-Jewish racism,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to stand with them in solidarity, and to condemn the normalisation of violence against Jews.”

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News

SA company switches to Canadian hechsher

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A South African health-food company opened the door to getting a hechsher from international kosher certifiers when it adopted the Canadian Kosher Certifier (known as MK) recently. This decision appears to be unprecedented in the South African market, and raises questions about the impact on the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS’s) Beth Din.

The news was announced in a number of marketing videos made by MK and shared on social media by The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree. In the first video, a man with a South African accent says, “Kosher certification is a big advantage in the competitive industry. That little symbol [pointing to the MK sign] is a seal of quality, guaranteeing that your product meets the highest standard. MK has been a world leader in kosher certification for over 75 years and now we’re in South Africa. We recently certified The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree, leading South African health-food manufacturers that have been synonymous with quality food for decades. Join the movement, get the seal.”

A second video welcomes the company, and encourages consumers to “look out for MK, the mark of trust”, and “MK – kosher for Passover” on its packaging.

Moshe Amoils, the owner of The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree, said that even before the uproar last year over the UOS’s Beth Din kosher department’s fees and communication issues, he was thinking of seeking out a hechsher abroad.

“A few local companies were chatting about how unhappy we were about the Beth Din’s service delivery, pricing structure, the lack of justification for fee increases, and the way we were being treated. A couple of us started looking overseas because even by that stage, we were already gatvol.”

After things came to a head and Amoils went on air to describe his experience, he began to seek out an overseas hechsher more seriously. He heard that another local manufacturer had succeeded with MK, and he decided to reach out to it, getting a speedy response from executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel. It was a coincidence that Emanuel happens to be ex-South African, which Amoils only realised after they connected.

Amoils said that from the beginning of going with MK, “the service has been unbelievable, the technology superb. I’ve listed 125 products in two weeks. With the Beth Din, it would have taken two weeks to list one product, although I know their processes have since improved. MK is a different machine. It couldn’t be more co-operative and happy to assist.” Even with the time difference, Amoils said he received prompt answers to questions. “For example, Rabbi Emanuel will call me as he’s getting ready for shul at 06:00.”

Furthermore, he said, he is paying two-thirds of what he paid the Beth Din. “It’s cheaper to get an overseas hechsher than from the people just down the road.” His Pesach fees are 50% cheaper, and annual fee inflation is set at 5% to 7%, a far cry from the volatile increases he said he faced with the UOS.

Amoils said the Beth Din tried to engage with him, and there was discussion of a dual hechsher. The Beth Din allegedly wouldn’t accept being the secondary hechsher, so Amoils agreed to make both hechsharim equal (on the packaging) in the spirit of community unity. However he couldn’t pay full fees to both, so he offered to pay a smaller fee to the Beth Din as it wasn’t the primary certifier. Amoils claims the Beth Din refused this offer. “It’s not about community unity. It’s really all about money,” he said.

He said an overseas hechsher was nothing new in the kosher world. Many companies manufacture products in countries that don’t have a kosher office, and inspectors from overseas certifiers visit their facilities to certify products. The same will happen here. “Essentially, it’s the same concept as the UOS.”

Amoils said the MK hechsher was known by the community here, and if a product was on the shelves of KosherWorld, people didn’t question it. He has spread the word on social media, and believes it won’t take long for it to be just another trusted hechsher.

He said the videos MK released were all funded by MK and were done free of charge as a way to welcome and promote new products. MK is also assisting Amoils with investigating export opportunities in North America. “Making the decision has made a huge difference to my stress levels and mental well-being,” he said.

Emanuel told the SA Jewish Report that he had worked for the kashrut department of the Beth Din for 10 years prior to moving to Canada. Speaking in a strong South African accent, he said “this request came from South Africa. We got an email one afternoon [from Amoils]. We got back to him right away, and soon after that we did the certification.”

He said MK would gladly co-certify kosher products with the UOS Beth Din.

Having options when it comes to kosher certifiers is the norm overseas, creating a “healthy” environment, Emanuel said. “Companies make the decision based on quality, price, and service.” MK has “very experienced representatives in South Africa” to monitor the kashrut of its certified products, and it can certify products “anywhere”.

“Kashrut is all about reliability,” he said. “We go where people ask us to go. We aren’t going out there to companies and offering our services, but we will be glad to assist them if they request it.” The organisation’s goal is to “help companies all over the world get kosher certified in many different markets”.

Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, the managing director of the kosher department of the UOS, said, “We are aware of The Chocolate Tree being certified by MK, however we cannot comment on MK or any other potential competition. We have had limited dealings with them, but understand that they are one of several kashrut authorities in Canada.

“We are an internationally recognised hechsher that works with the best in the world, like the OU [Orthodox Union], and have been serving the South African Jewish community for decades,” Goldstein said. “Being local experts, with representatives visiting factories thousands of times each year, we provide the highest standards of kashrus with the most sustainable option for companies in Southern Africa. We have certified more than 150 new companies kosher in the past three years, and will continue to bring many more kosher products to the community.

“The kosher department of the UOS remains dedicated to delivering on our vision of more people eating more kosher more often.”

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