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Too late to stop Squid Game’s tentacles grabbing your kid?

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It’s going viral faster than society can handle, but it’s not coronavirus, it’s Squid Game. The South Korean TV series has taken Netflix and the world by storm, and its tentacles are sucking in children and teens quicker than adults can get to grips with what that means. Local Jewish schools have become so concerned about the violent nature of the show, they are advising parents not to let their children watch it.

Squid Game, which started streaming on 17 September, focuses on a desperately indebted group of people in South Korea. They join a secret tournament of children’s games where if you lose a game, you die a violent death, but if you win the entire tournament, you will be given about $38 million (R560.6 million). The show is extremely stylish, almost like a graphic novel or a cartoon, and is very addictive. The fact that it features children’s games may mean parents think it’s for kids, but it’s actually extremely dark and disturbing.

Social media lawyer Sarah Hoffman and clinical psychologist Pam Tudin, both founders of Klikd (which helps teens and parents navigate social media safely) wrote a blog post guiding parents on how to deal with the show capturing the attention of their “screenagers”. This post itself went viral, showing how desperate parents are for answers.

“The response to the post has been staggering,” says Hoffman. “So many parents have come forward and said their young kids have somehow watched it, and if they haven’t seen it, all their friends are talking about it. Kids from Grade 5 have shared with us that they are watching it and parents don’t know.” Meanwhile, a principal at a Jewish school in Cape Town wrote in the school newsletter that children in the foundation phase (Grades 1 to 3) are talking about it. “There have been lots of kids mimicking the show at school, with kids even asking for ‘Squid parties’ – cupcakes and all!” says Hoffman.

“Kids aren’t seeing the horror in it. They are detached from the extreme violence and abuse because they are watching other violent shows,” she says. “This one appeals most because it’s experienced as reality TV even though it isn’t. Many kids have asked if the characters are real. Most importantly, it normalises the ‘desperate measures for desperate times’ approach to solving problems. This is very dangerous for teens as the show doesn’t model appropriate solution-driven responses to family and financial stress. It also doesn’t demonstrate that communication can alleviate a sense of isolation.”

Matthew Gruzd, the chairperson of United Herzlia Schools, shares his experience as a parent. “My children aged 12 and eight aren’t allowed to watch it, and I have explained why. The subtle story line about societal inequality, desperation, and exploitation that flows beneath the gratuitous violence is of more interest, but over their heads. I’m continually reminded by them of their friends who have been allowed to watch it.”

Yeshiva College was one of the schools that alerted parents to the “extreme violence that the show exhibits” and “strongly advised” that they don’t allow their children to watch it. A school counsellor who asked not to be named says, “At this point, we’re hearing murmurs about Squid Game, and in order to try to protect our learners from the impact of watching the series, the school has notified parents of our concerns in the hope that they will prevent their children from watching it.

“At this time, we haven’t been notified of any trauma, but we will certainly assist should any concerns come to our attention. Our counselling department has offered assistance to parents in the event that their children are affected by the series. We regularly engage our learners on the psychological and spiritual impact of what we view. At this point, the decision has been made not to engage with learners on this specific series. We are concerned that the more attention we give it, the more curious learners will be, and the more the series will take centre stage. Should the situation change, we will adapt our approach accordingly.”

But is it really possible to keep Squid Game off the radar in our world of instant information? Local media expert Gus Silber doesn’t think so. “It’s almost impossible to say to pre-teens or teenagers that ‘you mustn’t watch Squid Game or speak to your peers about it’. The more you say that, and the more you try and prohibit youth from being interested, the more they’re going to seek it out. It’s almost impossible to avoid Squid Game. Memes, jokes, and videos on YouTube are out there, whether or not you watch the series. It’s almost impossible not to know that Squid Game is a violent, cartoonish series about people who play a game, and most of them lose their lives in the process.

“One shouldn’t underestimate the savviness of young people in the digital era and the ease of access they have to all kinds of information,” Silber says. “And I think they’re savvy enough to know where to draw the line, and know what’s real or not.”

The great irony for him about Squid Game is that “it’s about children’s games, a lot of which will be familiar to older and younger South Africans. I certainly remember playing marbles at school and being fiercely competitive. While it wasn’t violent, there certainly was a very strong sense that if you lost the game, you lost more than the game – there was a lot at stake.

“So, it’s a very violent series about what we take to be innocent children’s games. A lot of children’s games are inherently tied up with what happens if you lose or win. We are naturally a very competitive species, and when you think about kids playing games, it’s almost never that they’re just playing the game for fun, there’s always a very strong element of something else. When you watch Squid Game, those games become very serious. They quickly lose their element of fun. So, it’s not surprising to me that kids on the playground will try play ‘red light, green light’ like it’s played in Squid Game, maybe taking it as far as pretending to get shot or eliminated from the game.”

Ultimately Silber says this is “classic moral panic” – when leaders in society get worried about what they think is damaging to the youth at large and their own kids. There are so many examples of this. Rock ’n roll in the 1950s was seen to be damaging. Heavy metal and hip hop are the same kind of thing, and then the internet at large. “If you don’t watch Squid Game, you’ll still definitely be aware of it, it’s impossible not to be. I’m not surprised that adults are worried about it, but I doubt there’s any teenager out there who hasn’t watched it or isn’t talking about it,” Silber says.

But Hoffman says parents can act. As per the Klikd post, “parents shouldn’t allow younger kids to view this. Tighten up your parental controls on Netflix. There are step by step instructions on our blog post. Second, if your kids have seen it or their friends are talking about it, it’s important to engage in a non-judgemental way about the very big issues raised in the show and how this calls into question our own family values. There are ‘conversation starters’ on the blog post. Upskill teens and tweens with tools like the Klikd app to recognise when technology is having a negative impact on their mental well-being.”

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Legal amendment puts Lithuanian citizenship in reach

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Thousands of Litvak Jews around the world stand a much better chance at getting Lithuanian citizenship based on ancestry since the law was amended last week.

A bill to amend Lithuania’s Law on Citizenship was unanimously passed in Lithuania’s Seimas (parliament) last Thursday, 20 January. It will have far-reaching positive implications for future applicants, many of whom had unsuccessfully tried and lost hope of obtaining citizenship.

This follows a year of extensive lobbying efforts from many quarters. It involved various iterations of a draft bill which was revised and redrafted several times, according to those involved, leading to last week’s vote, in which 110 members of parliament from across Lithuania’s political spectrum supported the bill.

Lithuanian Ambassador to South Africa Dainius Junevičius said the bill clarified that anyone who was a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania before 15 June 1940 was eligible for reinstatement of their citizenship on condition that there were no decisions adopted on their loss of citizenship.

This is a huge relief to many whose applications were rejected by the Lithuanian migration department, some pending indefinitely with others being placed on hold.

The application jam stemmed from a Lithuanian Supreme Court decision a few years ago which opened the law up for interpretation, making it much tougher, and which dramatically slowed down applications, causing enormous frustration.

In addition to what was always accepted as sufficient proof of Lithuanian citizenship, applicants were also required to provide proof that their Lithuanian immigrant ancestors actively sought to maintain their Lithuanian citizenship once in South Africa (or their new country of residence) until 15 June 1940.

This was a dramatic departure from the original position, which never required proof that citizenship was actively maintained after leaving Lithuania.

“This was a major obstacle for applicants as in almost all cases, no such proof exists. It also had far-reaching implications for all future citizenship applications,” said Lithuanian emigration consultant Nida Degutienė from Next Steps. Her company assists South Africans and others to obtain Lithuanian citizenship by helping to source the required documentation for reinstatement of their citizenship. She told the SA Jewish Report many of her clients’ applications had been declined by the migration department because of this.

In some cases where families had applied at different times using the same source documents, some had been granted citizenship, while others had been rejected.

However, this will soon change, said an elated Degutienė, who believes last week’s vote will pave the way forward for many South African Jews to successfully apply for citizenship.

“Less than a year ago, I was telling a story of a ridiculous court ruling which was applied to an unlucky Litvak family whose application for Lithuanian citizenship was rejected. Now I’m so happy to announce that the law has been amended, and this particular family, as many more, will be free to receive their passports.”

Degutienė and many others including politicians and lawyers in Lithuania and members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies campaigned tirelessly for the amendment.

“I was really frustrated about the grey zone in the citizenship legislation which was used by Lithuanian institutions to create rules and obstacles that made many South African Litvaks ineligible for a Lithuanian passport,” said Degutienė. “The only way to solve this impossible situation was to change the law as any other solution would have been too temporary, and we would have had to depend on court procedures which are lengthy and costly.”

She said it had been a tough road.

“Not many colleagues or competitors believed I would succeed, but now as you see, if you put all your heart and effort into something, sooner or later it results in positive developments.”

Said Junevičius, “As we welcome this move by the Republic of Lithuania, removing many barriers to apply for the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship, we anticipate deepening connection with ancestral land and fully expect an exponential growth in economic relations and tourism.”

The director of AccessEU, Nicole Marcus, said this week, “AccessEU looks forward to overturning the negative decisions and restoring our 100% success record. Over the years, we’ve experienced changes to the requirements and process, at times becoming very difficult if not near impossible, and at other times easing somewhat. We urge everyone who is eligible to use this opportunity to apply for Lithuanian citizenship before any new interpretations might close the doors once again.”

Before the bill becomes law, Lithuania’s president will need to sign the bill into effect, and this is expected to happen soon.

Once enacted into law, the effect of this amendment will be to remove the requirement that one’s Lithuanian ancestor must have actively maintained their Lithuanian citizenship until 14 June 1940. That requirement was strictly enforced by the migration department since December 2020 following the Supreme Court decision in November 2020, when an application for citizenship with no supporting Lithuanian documentation was brought, causing serious ramifications for many other applicants.

Many applicants were refused citizenship on the basis that their Lithuanian ancestor had naturalised prior to 15 June 1940. Now the prospects of success for those applicants have been revived.

According to insiders, many hundreds of applications are believed to have been waiting for years for a decision following various procedural and then interpretative changes. Hundreds of applications which are currently held in suspense pending queries from Lithuania’s migration department which had been almost impossible to satisfy will now need to be reconsidered.

The migration department will probably take some time to work through the backlog, and applicants shouldn’t expect immediate results. They should keep in mind that the change in the law doesn’t mean that every applicant will be successful as each application will depend on its own supporting documentation which varies from one family to the next, insiders say.

Applicants are still required to prove that their Lithuanian ancestor left Lithuania after 16 February 1918 (the Republic of Lithuania’s initial date of independence) and must still prove with Lithuanian documentation that they held Lithuanian citizenship and departed from Lithuania.

One of the questions still being asked is whether those whose ancestors arrived in South Africa prior to 1918 will be able to apply for a passport.

“The answer is no,” said Degutienė. “This law does not extend the right of applying to those who emigrated earlier than the State of Lithuania was established, and it’s unlikely this will ever change.”

Degutienė said the amendment wouldn’t have been made possible without the help of Lithuanian Member of Parliament Dalia Asanavičiūtė. “Without her persistence and resilience against huge pressure from the migration department and opposition, and her deep understanding and respect for Jews, this change would never have been possible.”

Junevičius said the amendment was a very positive development, and would probably ensure the success of many pending and future applications.

He encouraged prospective passport holders to show an interest in Lithuania, saying that amongst other things, the country offered a broad range of international study programmes taught in English in its 19 universities and 22 colleges at a highly competitive price.

Nearly 8 000 students from 127 countries in the world including South Africa and Israel studied in Lithuania in the 2020 to 2021 academic year, Junevičius said. “The reasons to choose Lithuania as your study destination are multiple, but the main ones are high quality world-class education for an affordable price in an attractive European country.”

As for business opportunities, Junevičius said that for the past 20 years, Lithuania had been the fastest growing economy in the European Union in terms of gross domestic product per capita, with a “highly favourable business environment” with top rankings and ratings.

“Things here get done quicker and better because the doers – from students and engineers to the go-to advisors at Invest Lithuania – are agile, ambitious, and driven by big ideas. And when it comes to big ideas, we don’t dabble, we explore, from gene and cell therapy to the latest in machine learning.”

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Terror accused in court

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Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie appeared in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 26 January 2022, where live broadcasting of proceedings and the setting of a court date were discussed. The twins are accused of terrorist activity targeting Jewish institutions in South Africa, amongst other targets. They have been in custody since their arrest in July 2016.

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East London rabbi fails in bid against Beth Din

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The dispute between Rabbi Chanoch Galperin and the East London Hebrew Congregation (ELHC) that has kept this coastal community in limbo since 2018 continues to have a negative impact on it and on the authority of the Beth Din.

The rabbi was accused of forging the will of a community member, and was fired by the ELHC after a disciplinary hearing which found him guilty of more than 10 counts of misconduct.

He then went to the Beth Din, asking it to adjudicate on the fact that he had been fired. But, because of possible irregularities at a previous hearing at the Beth Din regarding the disputed will, the ELHC refused to submit itself to another hearing.

The Beth Din ruled that it couldn’t adjudicate the labour dispute without both parties consenting to its jurisdiction. Galperin refused to accept this, and in June 2021, he brought an application before the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court to review and set aside the decision made by the Beth Din.

On 18 January 2022, the High Court handed down its judgment, finding that the rabbi’s application to review and set aside the Beth Din’s decision had no merit, and accordingly dismissed it. The rabbi was ordered to pay the legal costs of the ELHC, which had opposed the application.

The story started when the East London Chevrah Kadisha (ELCK) accused Rabbi Galperin of forging the will of an East London community member, the late Israel Bayer, in order to benefit from it. The ELCK was originally a beneficiary, but this was changed to the rabbi in a will that is also being disputed in court.

The rabbi has since admitted that his wife drew up the disputed will, which would automatically disqualify him from benefitting from it. Notwithstanding the disqualification, Galperin is asking for an order that the court declare him competent to receive the benefit in terms of the disputed will.

The Beth Din didn’t oppose the rabbi’s application against it, but the ELHC decided to do so. It contended, inter alia, that the rabbi was obliged, in terms of Jewish law, to accept the decision of the Beth Din.

The Beth Din granted its permission (known as a heter arkaos) for the rabbi to take his case to the secular courts. But the rabbi refused to abide by the decision, contending, inter alia, that the Beth Din had failed to “apply their minds” to the matter. He said its decision wasn’t properly or correctly taken and was fatally flawed.

The judgment highlighted the fact that both parties to a dispute have to agree voluntarily to submit matters to the Beth Din, and then the decision of the Beth Din will be final and binding.

The High Court, therefore, found that there was no basis for the court to interfere with the decision of the Beth Din, whose decision had been made in accordance with Jewish law.

The advocate acting on behalf of the ELHC, Stanley Pincus, commented that the judgment was important in that it upheld the principle that in accordance with Jewish law, the Beth Din wasn’t entitled to determine disputes between parties where one of the parties didn’t agree to submit themselves to its jurisdiction.

More importantly, the Beth Din granting the rabbi its blessing to proceed to the secular courts actually obliged the rabbi, in accordance with Jewish law, to accept the decision of the Beth Din.

In this regard, the judge stated, “the applicant [Rabbi Galperin] in accordance with Jewish law is bound to accept the decision of the Beth Din” and further stated “the applicant hasn’t committed any sin or acted contrary to his religious beliefs as he has the blessing of the Beth Din to approach secular courts”.

As for the Beth Din’s thoughts on the matter, “We believe that the judgment of the High Court has vindicated and endorsed the position of the Beth Din,” said Steven Weinberg of Moss Cohen & Partners, representing the Beth Din.

“The judgment is respectful of the Beth Din and Jewish law,” he said. “It has confirmed that the Beth Din is entitled to decline to hear disputes if either of the parties don’t consent to its jurisdiction. The judgment has further confirmed the Beth Din’s authority to grant permission to a claimant to pursue a claim in the secular courts if the respondent refuses to submit to the Beth Din’s jurisdiction.

“The Beth Din is hopeful and confident that other communities will respect the authority of the Beth Din,” he said. “The Beth Din doesn’t foresee that this judgment will have an impact on future community disputes being referred to the Beth Din in accordance with Jewish law.”

Finally, “the Beth Din has again urged both the East London Hebrew Congregation and Rabbi Galperin to withdraw all of the High Court litigation and finalise their disputes in accordance with Jewish law by way of a private arbitration under the authority of the Beth Din,” Weinberg said.

But Rabbi Galperin plans to appeal the judgment. “Our client is convinced that the judgment is incorrect, and we have received instructions to file a notice of leave to appeal,” said Brin Brody of Wheeldon, Rushmere & Cole, representing the rabbi. “If the judgment is correct, which is not conceded, then it means that any member of the Jewish faith can simply ignore a dispute before the Beth Din. This can never be the case in accordance with halacha and Jewish law.”

The ELHC and ELCK have said they will submit themselves to Beth Din adjudication on all matters regarding the rabbi as long as there are trained legal professionals present. However, according to Pincus, the rabbi has refused this request.

Meanwhile, the ELHC has brought an application before the East London Circuit Local Division of the High Court to evict Rabbi Galperin and his wife from the community property, which he refuses to vacate. The application has being set down for argument on 10 February 2022.

A community member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they remained in limbo as the rabbi was refusing to vacate the accommodation needed for a new rabbi. “Nothing is happening. There’s no one to do services. We cannot bring anyone down easily as he is in our [community] house. It’s a real, never-ending nightmare.”

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