Third wave batters community, floods hospitals
Early in the morning of 28 May 2021, Lisa Kowalsky warned the Johannesburg Jewish Mommies Facebook group that there weren’t enough COVID-19 beds in Gauteng.
Her desperately ill father was unable to find a bed, and she wanted to alert people to the extent of the third wave.
“Even though we had paramedics and a doctor at the house, we couldn’t find a hospital in Joburg or Pretoria to take him to as all the beds are full,” she wrote. “You can imagine the panic and sense of helplessness we went through.
“By an absolute miracle, a high-profile doctor I’m fortunate to know managed to convince someone from one of the hospitals to make a space for him in an intensive-care unit (ICU) at one of the hospitals,” she wrote.
“What I’m trying to convey to all of you is that there are NO beds. The situation is scary and dangerous. You cannot treat this virus lightly. Do not take chances. Your life is at stake.”
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report on Monday, 31 May, Kowalsky said her father was still battling in high care and might be taken back to ICU if his oxygen levels don’t improve.
“He just wants to come home. He is a fit and healthy man, but his oxygen levels continue to go up and down. He was doing so well at first. He went for a COVID-19 test because he was due to have a procedure, otherwise he would never have known. Then two days later, he started to deteriorate.”
She said he was taken to hospital a number of times because of dehydration after vomiting, but wasn’t admitted because he wasn’t ill enough. Eventually, when he needed to be admitted, she was “horrified” when they couldn’t find a bed.
Said specialist physician pulmonologist Dr Carron Zinman of Netcare Linksfield Hospital, “What we are seeing this time round is that if somebody comes home with the virus, the vast majority of the household gets infected. We’ll also have cases where the blood work is mild, they’re getting better, and then 24 hours later, their symptoms get aggressive and we can’t turn them around.
“We’re seeing more cases under the age of 45 with no co-morbidities who are really sick. Fifty percent of our patients are in ICU, and 80% to 90% are on ventilators in one form or another. Last Monday [24 May], we had four resuscitations in two hours. Two were unsuccessful, two weren’t.”
Although Hatzolah’s numbers are specific to the Johannesburg community, the number of new cases the organisation is dealing with is going up rapidly. Last Friday, it had 123 new cases in the week with 213 patients on home oxygen (active and closed) and 349 admissions to hospital (active and closed). The week before, it had 103 new cases, with 211 on home oxygen, and 333 hospital admissions. The week before that, there were 66 new cases.
The numbers are lower in Cape Town, but that doesn’t mean the virus isn’t leaving a trail of tragedy in its wake. Fifty-year-old Bram Radowsky’s family described him as almost “paranoid” about COVID-19. But a month ago, he let his guard down a little and attended a small gathering to watch sport with friends. Two weeks later he was dead, suffering a heart attack in his sleep as a result of mild COVID-19 pneumonia.
“After the gathering, he was told that a person who was there tested positive for COVID-19,” said his brother, Gordon Radowsky. “He went into self-quarantine and didn’t have any symptoms. A week later, he tested positive and began to get symptomatic. He called an ambulance, but they said he wasn’t sick enough to be admitted. So he drove himself to hospital and checked himself in. The lesson is that if you believe you need advanced medical care, then get the help that you need urgently.
“At no stage did any of us think we would lose him,” said their mother, Rose Radowsky (80). “He was overweight but had no other co-morbidities. He was in ICU on oxygen. On the Saturday [after a week in hospital], the ward sister said they were pleased with his progress. But on the Sunday morning, they called to tell us he had had a heart attack and they couldn’t resuscitate him.” Losing a child to the pandemic has been “a terrible shock”, and she is still reeling.
Virology expert Professor Barry Schoub confirmed that the country was entering a third wave of COVID-19. “Some provinces have been more seriously affected than others,” Schoub said. “The third wave was predicted to coincide with the winter months, when people are reluctant to be outdoors, or to open doors and windows to improve ventilation in indoor settings.”
Dr Darren Joseph, a specialist physician and pulmonology fellow in the department of internal medicine at Steve Biko Academic Hospital, confirmed “bed availability is at the moment a real challenge facing both the public and private sectors”.
“Over the past few weeks, we have seen a steady and marked increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as in the proportion of PUI [person under investigation] patients that ultimately test positive. This is in both public and private sectors,” Joseph said.
“My hospital’s COVID-19 high care and intensive-care units are near full capacity and additional wards are in the process of being reopened to facilitate more critically ill patients,” he said. “The profile of patient we are admitting remains incredibly varied. Sadly, this includes the admission of young patients with no known prior illnesses.
“It’s heart-breaking that the third wave has arrived before many of the vulnerable in our communities have had the opportunity to receive vaccinations,” he said. “Many of us are still emotionally and physically fatigued by previous waves. We are also seeing patients now who return several months after their illness with persistent symptoms and functional impairment. These after-effects are something I feel people don’t truly appreciate.”
Johannesburg general practitioner (GP) Dr Sheri Fanaroff said, “In the third wave, we are seeing much more school children being infected, especially in the high school age group, many of them infected out of the school setting.
“What is worrying about this is that although teens generally experience mild disease, they then go home and infect parents in their 50s who are much more vulnerable,” Fanaroff said.
“I have 10 patients I’m monitoring at the moment, which is a lot for my very small practice. I haven’t had anywhere close to this number since the second wave. Two are on oxygen at home, some of the others are on cortisone and anticoagulants. Some of the patients that GPs are treating at home would have been admitted to hospital if there was more bed availability. Every day, my day starts with multiple messages and calls from patients who have been exposed to a positive patient and are now contacts.
“People are making up their own rules of quarantine and really need to follow NICD [National Institute for Communicable Diseases] protocols,” said Fanaroff. “If you have been exposed, you need to quarantine for 10 days from the contact, regardless of having a negative test during this time.”
Dr Evan Shoul, an infectious-disease specialist at Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, said, “We have been getting more calls from other hospitals that are full and [are] sending cases through. We haven’t been able to take all the patents referred to us. We are still trying to increase wards and ICUs so that we can manage as many people as possible.”
Zinman advises the community to get vaccinated, but warns that it doesn’t mean we can become complacent.
“I know 20 people who had the vaccine and got COVID-19. The message is that the vaccine can protect you from severe COVID-19, but it doesn’t protect from getting COVID-19 and giving it to the vulnerable. We can’t change our behaviour just yet.”
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