Subscribe to our Newsletter


click to dowload our latest edition

The waves buffeting our shores

Published

on

Voices

The year began with South Africa in the middle of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and unfortunately, is ending with a fourth wave now well underway. Among other things, it has resulted in the cancellation for the second time of the end-of-year machanot. For many hundreds of young members of our community, it will have come as a tremendous disappointment, particularly after so many months of enforced separation from friends and classmates and the stresses and disruptions of long-distance learning. The psychological fall-out of the pandemic has affected all of us, but its impact will have been especially severe on younger people in the formative stages of their emotional development. It’s something that parents, educators, and communal leaders alike need to recognise and pay due attention to when looking ahead to a post-COVID-19 future.

The fact that the Omicron-driven fourth wave arrived at the end of another difficult year and at a time when many were hoping that the worst of the pandemic was finally behind them will have been especially disheartening. However, and while it’s of course still early days, there are hopeful signs that the impact of the latest wave of infections may be less severe than was previously the case. Infection rates have, indeed, increased sharply in the course of the past week, but thus far, they have not resulted in the multiple hospitalisations that we experienced during the first three waves.

Much of this can be attributed to vaccination. What we are seeing is that while not preventing people from contracting the Omicron variant, being vaccinated helps to reduce its harmful effects. This underscores the urgency for everyone in our community to ensure that they are fully vaccinated and to encourage everyone around them (especially in the work environment) to do likewise. At the same time, we must continue to adhere rigorously to standard safety protocols like wearing masks and observing social distancing. Much of the pandemic is out of our hands, but this is something we can influence, and the kind of year 2022 turns out to be thus, to a large extent, depends on us.

From the point of view of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), we are gratified by how much was achieved this year in terms of our core mandate of promoting the welfare and safeguarding the rights and freedoms of our community in spite of the often difficult circumstances.

This being my last column for 2021, I take this opportunity to thank my SAJBD colleagues and professional staff for all their support and good work, and wish you all a safe, healthy, and relaxing end-of-year break.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Voices

We Remember campaign packs punch locally

Published

on

International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, 27 January, was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in November 2005 to commemorate Jewish and other victims of Nazi genocide during World War II. The date 27 January was chosen because it was on that day in 1945 that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the death camp whose very name today is synonymous with the horrors of the Nazi regime and the industrial-scale mass murder it perpetrated.

Over the past several years, the World Jewish Congress has run a #WeRemember campaign, in which individuals around the world are encouraged to write the words “We Remember” on a sheet of paper, take a picture of themselves holding the sign, and post it to social media using that hashtag. The global impact of this simple but powerful demonstration of solidarity and commemoration has been considerable, with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) successfully implementing the initiative on a local level.

We were moved last year when Clive Mashishi, a social-justice activist with whom we have worked extensively to bring relief to areas especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 lockdown, decided to use the #WeRemember model to educate the communities he engages with about the Holocaust and counteract the toxic antisemitic conspiracy theories that are taking root in certain quarters.

Among the most malignant of these conspiracy theories is that which holds that the Holocaust itself is a Jewish hoax that Jews, through their alleged secret control of world events, have somehow imposed on a gullible humanity. Last week, the United Nations recognised the dangerous and hateful nature of this phenomenon by adopting a resolution condemning it. Sponsored by Israel and Germany, the resolution declares that the Holocaust was real, and that “to deny or distort the historical facts is wrong on every level and dangerous to society, and needs to be to countered with education”. It further urges governments and “social-media companies to take active measures to combat antisemitism and Holocaust denial or distortion by means of information and communications technologies, and to facilitate the reporting of such content.”

Fittingly the resolution was adopted (with only Iran objecting) on the anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference, where on 20 January 1942, senior leadership of Nazi Germany met to decide upon and plan the annihilation of European Jewry.

Holocaust remembrance isn’t only about commemorating those who died, but also to the living victims of Nazism. Part of the SAJBD’s work in this area has been to assist local Holocaust survivors wishing to claim under various compensatory, hardship, and relief funds that have been set up for those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime. Over many years, this task has been carried out with characteristic dedication and thoroughness by Shirley Beagle, who continues to go the extra mile to ensure that our survivors are given all the logistical, technical, and moral support they need to negotiate this complex and often intimidating process.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

Continue Reading

Voices

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater

Published

on

In our rush to get back to what was considered normal in a pre-COVID-19 world, I’m concerned that we might be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

Where there is, of course, a great need to do away with restrictions so that we can rebuild our economy, relationships, and get on with things, it might be worth considering if perhaps we might want to consider holding on to some elements of the restrictions.

Like the Friday night curfew. And perhaps the requirement for that extra space between people and their neighbour in shul. But Friday night curfew, for certain.

There was a simplicity to life in the days, or rather nights, when curfew was imposed. For a short time, Shabbat meals started promptly, and there was no danger of having to consider eating one’s own arm just to stay alive while waiting for guests to walk to Glenhazel from Morningside. Or for the final salad to be made just as people are about to pass out from starvation.

That was also a time before curfew when one couldn’t feel confident that the meal would end before midnight. I recall, with some embarrassment, occasions when in desperation and panic, tears streaming down my cheeks, I found myself begging our host to end the meal before I took my own life with the help of a dessert spoon just so that I could rest.

The meal would invariably and uncomfortably hurry towards conclusion and in no time at all, we would find ourselves on the pavement with assurances that we should do this again sometime. Soon.

The walk home on those evenings was never pleasant as I endured lecture after lecture on the appalling nature of my behaviour. But we were on our way home.

There are other aspects of lockdown that might be worth considering holding on to. Social distancing in shopping malls, extra space in shul, and the need to hug people that you don’t want to hug. It’s all good and well when both parties are close and are in a hugging relationship, but the awkwardness around hugging uncertainty isn’t something I have missed at all over the past few years. It would be a great pity for that to become a concern again.

Masks, on the other hand, need to go. The longer we wear them, the deafer I find myself. More and more, I catch myself leaning forward and pulling down my own mask when trying to hear what someone with a covered mouth is saying.

It makes no sense, but I’m convinced that COVID-19 or lack of listening practice has contributed to the fact that I currently hear about 30% of what people are saying. As a consequence, I have taken to filling in the gaps of the missing 70%, which has made people a lot more interesting than they used to be. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that they didn’t say.

There is little doubt that we’re ready to move on. COVID-19 in South Africa is very last year. But like every good fad, it might be worth holding on to a few of the gains before trashing them with the losses.

Continue Reading

Voices

Getting on board with 2022

Published

on

In memoriam: George Szemere

I start this week’s column with a tribute to Holocaust survivor George (Stern) Szemere, who passed away in Johannesburg last week. George was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1940, at the start of World War II. In the final year of the war, his father was one of those taken by the Arrow Cross to the Danube River, told to jump into the icy water, and then shot. George went into hiding with his mother and sister, and survived. In 1958, he left Hungary and subsequently settled in South Africa where he married.

Shirley Beagle, who assists Holocaust survivors with claims under various compensatory and hardship funds, only discovered George fairly recently. Just before the holidays, he was admitted to Helen Joseph Hospital and Shirley was concerned with his welfare. Through our network of Jewish Community Service doctors, we found Jewish doctors to monitor and visit him. I attended his funeral over the weekend. In spite of it being very small, it was dignified and moving.

How Lalela boosted a nation’s spirits

Coming near the end of another trying year, Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane’s success at the Miss Universe pageant in Haifa, Israel, came as a much-needed boost to national morale. Mswane represented our country with grace and courage, and was rewarded by being placed third out of 80 participants.

However, perhaps even more impressive was how she stood her ground not only in the face of an extraordinarily vicious campaign of bullying, intimidation, and invective on the part of the local Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, but also the opposition of high-ranking government members. All manner of pressure was brought to bear on her to withdraw from the event, but in the end, her right to choose and the wishes of the majority of South Africans prevailed. The Jewish community supported Mswane throughout this process, and it was a pleasure for our leadership, together with hundreds of other South Africans, to be part of the enthusiastic crowd at OR Tambo International Airport welcoming her home.

Latest COVID-19 guidelines

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has taken the lead in convening regular meetings of the national communal leadership to discuss issues, share information and best practice, and plan and co-ordinate our response. To ensure that decisions are based on reliable and up-to-date information, we have included medical and other experts in the discussions. On Sunday, a Zoom meeting was held to brief communal leaders on the medical and legal considerations regarding mandatory vaccination. Professor Barry Schoub and Neil Kirby from Werksmans Attorneys set out the scientific and legal framework for the question. Based on this information, each organisation will assess the situation from their perspective and decide how to proceed. A recording of the meeting is available. I encourage those seeking information to write to midweekcovidupdate@gmail.com.

Solidarity with Beit Yisrael Shul in Colleyville, Texas

On behalf of South African Jewry, the SAJBD sent messages to Jewish communal organisations in America and to the American Embassy expressing our support after four members of the shul were taken hostage by a gunman in an antisemitic attack. We are immensely thankful that they all escaped unharmed.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

Continue Reading

Trending