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Trevor Noah, Monica Lewinsky and us

“Like most New York Jews, I love “The Daily Show,” and so I was very sad to hear that Jon Stewart would be moving on. This past Monday morning, Comedy Central announced 31-year-old Trevor Noah as The Daily Show’s next host, and I thought, “OK, I don’t know him or his comedy all that well, but good for him. I hope he does well,” writes Geoff Mitelman on My Jewish Learning.

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GEOFF MITELMAN

‘From shame to praise’

Republished from MYJEWISHLEARNING.com

But by Tuesday afternoon, I had very different feelings. In less than a day, Noah (in the words of the New York Times) “was subjected to the full scrutiny of the Internet.” People had examined his Twitter history, and had found several tweets that were at best tone-deaf and at worst anti-Semitic and misogynistic.

Understandably, Noah – like Lena Dunham a few weeks ago – quickly experienced some significant backlash. And it made me think of a new book that’s just come out by Jon Ronson entitled “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.

Noah LewinskyAs Ronson notes, in the Internet age, any stupid comment or any poor decision gets recorded forever, and there are often consequences that linger for years later.



RIGHT: THE PRICE OF SHAME – Monica Lewinsky’s own narrative



 

The problem is that yes, sometimes that condemnation is warranted. But sometimes it’s not. And the real question is not whether or not the person deserved our excoriation.

The question is how we ourselves are contributing to this culture of public shaming, and how it is impacting each one of us.

Tomorrow, we start celebrating Passover, and Jewish tradition tells us that when we tell the story of Passover, “we begin with shame and end with praise”.

When we were slaves in Egypt, we were in a place of humiliation and degradation, so we start our story in shame.

Yet we move from shame to praise, from the slavery of feeling humiliated to the liberation of owning our own story. And one person who has started to turn from shame to praise in her own life is Monica Lewinsky.

Lewinsky recently gave a TED talk entitled “The Price of Shame”, and she says that she has started to tell her story because “it was time for her own her own narrative.” But what drove her to speak up now, after over a decade of silence, was the epidemic of easy public shaming, and in particular, the death of Tyler Clementi.

Noah Trevor2So in her talk, she argues that “[w]e need to return to a long-held value of compassion – compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”



LEFT: IS IT ABOUT US?: Trevor Noah at his new employer, Comedy Central



In fact, that’s why the book of Exodus exhorts us to be compassionate and empathetic: because “[we] know how it feels to be a stranger because [we] were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

It’s easy to talk about how terrible someone is online. It’s harder to stand up to cyber-bullying, or to post words of encouragement to someone going through a rough patch. We get to decide how we speak and act both online and face-to-face.

And that’s why blogger Ijeoma Oluo reminds us that our reaction to Trevor Noah or Lena Dunham is not so much about them as it is about us. As she tells us:

  • We are not our intentions
  • Our intentions don’t mean squat
  • We are our deeds

Everything we do, good and bad, makes us who we are. Our honesty and integrity are what matter. Being anti-racist doesn’t mean that you are never racist, it means that you recognise and battle racism in yourself as hard as you battle it in others

Indeed, as we have to go from shame to praise we go through a journey in the wilderness that will be filled with struggles, setbacks and missteps.

The Internet, too, is a wilderness that we are still trying to figure out how to navigate. But as we think about what we post and we comment on – whether that’s about a friend or a celebrity – I particularly like these three questions to help us move from shame to compassion:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?

If those ideas can guide our online and our face-to-face world, then we might truly be able to feel liberated and redeemed.

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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