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Throwing Caution to the Johannesburg Wind.

Just for the few days of Succot, the mysteries of lulavim and etrogim will replace our worries about ISIS and BDS

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The Write Outlook

 I was having a session at the gym today when I heard the woman next to me berating her trainer for dating a Jewish girl, when he is not (being thin and blond, and well, a trainer).  Incidentally the skirt over her pants and the cap she wore with a few strands of hair sticking out quite nonchalantly gave me a very clear sense as to where she fitted in the demographic scale that is Jewish Johannesburg.

 

“I swear to God I wont be at your wedding I will not!” she screeched (clearly forgetting that she has just annulled all her vows) and that there were other people in the gym. “But come to us for Sukkoth Thursday (it’s the most Divine holiday), and you can talk to my husband about this. He will make mince meat out of you, verbally that is, I swear”. Pause. “And bring your doll – I am dying to meet her, dying!”

 

She was right of course. Sukkoth is quite “Divine”, especially in the temperate magnificent spring weather that we are experiencing.  Even building the sukkah, Patrick – who has been doing mine for years – tells me is no sweat at all. But I wondered what Trainer Steve will think of all this when he does go for dinner Thursday, with his doll.

 

For me Sukkoth has always been the time to exhale. The stress of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, still a very real memory, contrasts so dramatically to this festival of seeming irreverence, celebration and quite simple weirdness. I relish the trailers and trucks piled with branches that suddenly become common on our roads and that conversations about the number, cost and size of your palm-leaves (that makes me a slightly uncomfortable) have taken over conversation.  I love the fervency of the debate comparing fresh to permanent schach and the appropriate use of cable ties, along with how many one can fit in their sukkah, comfortably, many falling short on the definition of that very word.  

 

From the lulavim to the hoshanot, to our botanistic (I know its not a word) scrutiny of the etrogim, it is most bizarre, even given all the explanations. And I am reasonably confident that I will ever really get to understand it at all. I am also pretty sure that I don’t actually want to, because for me that’s half the point. The throwing off of physical and intellectual yokes is what makes this special. We build (ok, Patrick builds) the sukkah where we eat and celebrate. We give up our sturdy home, and place ourselves somewhat outside our physical comfort zones and outside our rational ones too. We throw caution to the wind, we switch off those security beams (which didn’t ever really work in any event – not since the dogs kept setting them off) and we venture outside. It is stunning and it is electrifying (not the fence, but be careful with that as the sukkah might be dangerously close to the perimeter walling) and we relax. We don’t get annoyed when we see that someone has placed the “Ushpizim” poster upside down (Paticks’s Hebrew has never been particularly good) and we take the time to breath. The air wafts through and we are peace with our world.

 

My goal this year is to not speak about Isis and the BDS and of boycotts. It is to leave Gaza to the Gazans for a few days, and let go of the fact that the Rand is 11.32 this morning. I intend not worrying about the platinum industry and pricing and strikes and who will be the next Reserve Bank Governor. I might even not worry about the weight that I will put on. Rather, my intention is to focus on the big stuff. To spend a few days focusing on the size of my palms, on the pitom of my etrog, and that way make sure that Sukkoth is in fact, I swear, Divine.

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The Write Outlook

Failure of Power

magine what would, what should, and what might happen if the lights had to go out for the two weeks

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The threat of a countrywide blackout is slowly sneaking into the public domain. A hint here and a veiled reference there, and suddenly it is all around us. It is slowly taking shape in our consciousness and we can’t quite place where we heard it first. The “what ifs” loom over us like a Damocles and we find ourselves still angry, but yet grateful that we are powerless for a few hours and not a few weeks.

But let’s do what we are told not to. Let’s imagine what would, what should, and what might happen if the lights had to go out for the two weeks that it would take them to re-establish the grid if a total collapse were to occur.

It is December, summer vacation time. Our children are home from school and many are preparing to leave their homes to travel to our parts of the country. It has been a tough year economically and the like the last exam, there is strengthen us to just write it, put down our pens, exhale and then have a break. This year, however might not be the restorative period that we are looking for.

Two weeks of no power would mean very simply that there would be a shortage of everything. The country would come to a standstill and there billions and billions will be lost.

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There will be a level of desperation and panic, hopelessness and anger that will not be easily stemmed.

Crime would surge

Given the dark streets and depleted battery backups, crime would surge and without nightly curfews and the presence of the army on our streets, the country would be ungovernable. Even with them, this might well occur.

The cost to the economy in terms of lost revenue, insurance claims, perished goods, and theft would cripple the country and it would take years to claw itself out of the hole. The Rand would plummet and the loss of potential investment would be incalculable.

In short, it would be an unmitigated disaster and would brand this country with an image it might never be able to recover from.

The mere fact that we are forced to think about this and to contemplate it is a disgrace of massive proportion. The private sector has been precluded from entering this space and so we stand by as helpless as those in charge ruin our country and place our lives in danger. They should have the dignity to stand up, take responsibility and then resign. Resign without a pay-out and benefits. They have blood on their hands and it is time.

We can live without SABC’s shenanigans 

We can laugh at the SABC and their shenanigans because we can live without them. We have made plans and manage private healthcare (even though I feel desperately sorry for those who have to rely on public health). We have learned to live without the post office and those than can afford it, send their children to private schools. But we were not allowed to solve the electricity crises that they had six years minimum to fix, and they have blown it. There is no excuse. None whatsoever.

We don’t know if the total blackout is going to happen or not or if the threat of one is a strategy to make us appreciate the disgrace that we are living through. What we are certain of is that this should be the one priority of government. No one in office should be allowed to go on holiday or take leave. We are at the edge of a precipice – we are staring disaster in the face. It’s time to govern or resign! Surely this is a time to govern or resign!

READ ALL BLOGS BY HOWARD ON SAJR.CO.ZA

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The Write Outlook

The South African Postal Strike – who knew?

When the Post Office has been on strike for three months and nobody notices, it might be time to do away with it altogether.

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Imagine my surprise when I heard the South African post office was on strike. And to make it worse, they have downed tools for the last three months! I am appalled. How could I have missed this? The country must have come to a complete standstill while I was busy on Facebook. The wheels must have come off, mere anarchy has loosed on our world – things must have fallen apart.

 

So I phoned my mom. She is normally very up to date on these matters, and told her what I had just read somewhere on the Internet. “Nonsense” said she, “We would have known.” And then there was a pause. A long pause (which is unusual as she normally pauses just long enough to take a breath). “But now that I think of it, I haven’t seen a E-toll account” (which she likes to hide from my father, given that there is a “gantry” between her home and Caesar’s Casino).  “Maybe its true.”

 

And indeed it is. The South African Post Office has been on strike for nearly three months, and I am not sure anyone has noticed. Can you imagine this sort of thing happening in the U.K. Prime Ministers would be asked to resign, people would have shaken their unshakeable heads. Old men and ladies (and young ones even) would take to the streets waving their placards demanding that this be dealt with forthwith.  It would be viewed, as a sign that society as it was known, had come to an end. Heads would role, but not in an Isis sort of way. But not to overstate the obvious, that is because they actually have a postal service.

 

So I remember the days when we would mail invitations to an event. I recall so clearly, at age 12, rushing to post box daily to see who would had sent a “Reply Card” and would be coming to my bar mitzvah (it turned out I didn’t really know anyone attending , but that’s for another time). And then we got concerned that the invitations would be damaged or not arrive on time and then we got concerned they would never make it at all, and then we stopped using this medium for anything important – for anything that mattered. So now we either hand deliver or we email. And doctors email, and the City of Johannesburg emails and just about everyone does. Because it’s efficient and because we have been trained to do so. And I am not sure, aside from those E-Toll people, who actually supports the post office.

 

And it’s not because we don’t want to. It is simply because they have made themselves irrelevant. Like blacksmiths and telex operators, I wonder if there is a future in postal mail and I wonder if the strike is even worth resolving. What if we turned post offices into schools and practiced reading those letters no one thinks that they will ever receive. Postman people can become fitness trainers (they must have some level of physical prowess) and if you really need something you can go to Postnet. Not that I even have ever understood that dubious relationship. Do we even have stamps? The last one I can think of was a 2c one with a picture of a protea. But now proteas are cricketers and I have no idea who it is that we lick and stick.

 

I know that there was talk that Amazon wouldn’t send parcels to South Africa due to high levels of theft at the post office. And whereas I cant confirm if this is true, I know that I was recently unable to complete a transaction on a book as they would not deliver to our neck of the scary woods.

 

It seems to me that the SA Post Office has maneuvered itself into redundancy. I have no understanding regarding the level of demand from an employee perspective, but I do know that given the non existent level of service, the lack of delivery and the fact they have very little support, that we should open their doors long enough for them to deliver me that eBay parcel I am waiting for from China (USD2.99 plus delivery) and then shut them straight down one again. It’s the least we can do.

 

 

 

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The Write Outlook

How will we be judged?

The Breslovers have left our community and I, for one, am left wondering as to what just happened

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And now they have gone. They appeared like an apparition, they unnerved and unsettled us, they angered and frustrated us, and as suddenly as silently as they arrived, so they have disappeared. Our streets of are devoid and they have returned to somewhere. The Breslovers have left our community and I for one, am left wondering as to what just happened and how we fared.

 

It has been a period of rumour and smoke, of sting operations and wedding crashes. A period of car chases through our neighborhoods, of accusations of aiding and abetting and of harbouring fugitives.  We have gossiped and been haughty, we have scorned and we have turned away. I have no idea if we have falsely accused. Certainly their leader’s release in Amsterdam has me a little perplexed.

 

They arrived on our doorstep ahead of Pesach 2014 and we were caught by surprise. They became the community’s concern and we discussed and pondered, debated and argued, and continued to do so as we were thrown a set of circumstances in which we had little experience. Was it our problem to deal with the indigent and the hungry when the burden of responsibly is already straining our community’s limited resources? What about the criminal accusations, Interpol lists, child brides, border crossing and other activities we heard about?

 

We became used to the garbed and the anachronistic walking through the streets of our neighborhoods and we didn’t know how to react. The “other worldly” nature of their attire and approach embarrassed us and all we wanted was for them to go away so that we could continue as we had always done. I have to say that for some reason I was comforted by their presence as if for that brief moment that they were with us, a piece of Israel, with all its eccentricities belonged to us too, here at the tip of Africa. Either that or it harkened back to times gone by – something I had never experienced.


We couldn’t decide what to do

 

So we couldn’t decide whether to nurture and feed and look after and take them in, or not. Some did and others got angry. To support is to encourage and no one wanted that. We were afraid and a bit confused and I think it is important to think about why.

 

Was it because we have a very delicate balance in our community between the observant and non observant, between those that are more vocal in their support of Israel and those who are less so. Is it because we simply could not carry the burden, or were we simply afraid of the otherness of the group and maybe, perhaps, a little xenophobic in our response. Was it because we sought guidance from the pulpit, who clearly were also somewhat ambivalent?

 

I do think that it is important to separate the criminal allegations of their leader, from the approach to his followers. And whereas I certainly believe that they should never have been encouraged to travel around the world with children who will no doubt be hungry and in need of education and medical care, as children are, my intention is not to focus on their responsibility but on our reaction to their presence. For we know that first and foremost their responsibility is their own. But I am not convinced that when we look back on this period that we will do so with pride.

 

I for one did nothing to support them, and now that they have gone there is little that I can do. I happen to feel a little uncomfortable with my own behaviour and my own lack of involvement not in the cause and not in the debate as to innocence and guilt but only, only as it pertains to our visitors. And as we stand before God in the weeks to come, I hope He understands that it was all very confusing. Really it was.

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