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True heroes don’t badmouth others

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The Jewish Report Editorial

As we enter the most significant weekend of the SA Jewish Report’s calendar, that of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, there is a great deal of anticipation about who will be crowned the heroes this year.

The theme of this year’s awards ceremony is “heroes”, and we certainly have a significant number of outstanding heroes among us. In truth, this year, it has become apparent that there are so many more than we could possibly give nine awards to.

During this incredibly challenging year, so many people stand out for going well beyond any expectation in fighting COVID-19 or the devastating fallout from the virus and the national lockdown.

As many of you are aware, the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is the annual SA Jewish Report fundraiser. Our aim is to recognise and give kavod to the incredible people who make a real difference in society and in our community. They are all genuine heroes.

However, this past week, mainstream and social media focused on a 21-year-old white man wearing the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) red beret, who mouthed off outside Brackenfell High School, upsetting almost everybody in his wake. His name is Jack Markovitz, the grandson of the former mayor of Cape Town, Leon Markovitz, and his wife, Anthula. The Markovitz clan are an iconic Jewish family in Cape Town.

In his rant, young Markovitz called the Democratic Alliance “a white supremacist party”, and claimed he was trying to rectify the situation by transferring generational wealth and land to disenfranchised people in the country. He said he believed the EFF should be doing more, taking their fight to Clifton and Houghton Park – where the rich whites live. He even called Nelson Mandela a sell-out. He insisted:, “We need to take the land from the white people and transfer it to the people of this country.”

Although he identified himself openly as the grandson of the former mayor of Cape Town, there was nothing in what the young red beret said, did, or intimated that had anything to do with him and his family being Jewish.

In fact, the reality may be that this young man – who claims to have been an EFF member since he turned 18 – may well not have any relationship with his Judaism. However, when push came to shove, it was the fact that he was Jewish that has been rammed down his, his family’s, and all of our throats on social media this week.

It’s astonishing! I guess, as Hitler taught us more than 70 years ago that you can deny your Judaism, but you can’t escape it, even if you want to.

I’m not sure what this young red beret was thinking when he spoke out, or exactly why he has found his home as a “sore thumb” in the EFF. He could hardly be more noticeable, but did he deserve the antisemitic lambasting he got? Of course not, nothing he did had to do with him being Jewish.

However, every one of us has our own personal identity and belief system. Some of us are closely aligned with the community, and some are not. Some find fault in general communal ways, and don’t get involved. However, as seen this week, no matter what we choose, we are so often lumped together as Jews whether we like it or not.

I recall many years ago, when I was working at the Zionist Record and was an End Conscription Campaign political activist, a group of us were arrested at a meeting.

That night, those arrested with me were called communists and a host of derogatory words, but just as soon as the police learnt where I worked, I was known only as the “f-ken Jood”. I was released the following morning, a whole lot wiser about how many people see us.

I’m sure young Markovitz has learnt a lot in a very short space of time too.

However, in spite of the fact that I have seen his face over the week with “hero” written underneath, this young man is no hero, not even close.

There are so many ways to protest and right the wrongs in this country. In my opinion, standing up and badmouthing white people, inciting further unpleasantness, and calling people names isn’t one of them.

Frankly, I do believe that this young man wants to do the right thing for the disenfranchised of this country and I respect his spark and commitment. However, I believe he has chosen the wrong way to make change happen.

Running certain people down to make others look good is no way to fix anything. I guess this is a theme that keeps coming up in our community.

Meanwhile, as we will celebrate on Sunday, there are those incredibly selfless human beings who just give of their time, money, energy, and commitment to help others. They avoid the limelight – much to our distress, sometimes – and simply dedicate their efforts to doing good for others.

And while we may often focus on the difficulties in our community and some of the ugliness we experience, these angels or heroes abound.

So much so, that this year at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, we will be honouring far more than nine winners. We have created, specifically for 2020, an honour roll to commend the many who have done so much good this year. And there were many…

While I’m talking about heroes, I have to salute Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of our board, for the endless work he has done behind the scenes of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. He’s not alone. There is the rest of the board and the incredible team who are about to make the impossible possible.

When we were discussing Absa Jewish Achievers earlier this year, so many were convinced it couldn’t happen because it has always been a magnificent big event, at which we all gather together to celebrate our winners.

This didn’t deter Howard, the team, the board, and the staff who worked tirelessly to make this now cyber event a reality. They pulled out all the stops, and made things happen against all odds.

This year’s awards evening will be different to what you expected or were used to, but you can count on it being spectacular.

I look forward to celebrating our heroes. I’m keen to put the tough part of what this year meant for so many of us to one side, and bask in the amazing achievements of those phenomenal people in our community. Kol Hakavod!

Shabbat Shalom and see you at Achievers!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Getting my head around six million individuals

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If ever you question the importance of commemorating Yom Hashoah, which we do this week, keep in mind that we’re not talking about statistics, but the systematic annihilation of a huge percentage of our people.

In fact, before the Holocaust, 60% of all Jews lived in Europe. Two out of three of them were murdered during the war. In 1933, there were 9.5 million Jews in Europe and this number was down to 3.5 million in 1950.

This is hard to absorb, I know, but so often, people dismiss comparisons of the Holocaust with the behaviour of Israel or even with apartheid. The more I acknowledge what it means to murder six million Jews systematically, the more I realise that there is simply no comparison.

This year marks 80 years since the beginning of the mass annihilation of Jews and each year, fewer and fewer survivors remain. Many died this year of COVID-19. Their survival enabled us to understand what they lived through and how six million of their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other family and friends were brutally murdered. The only reason for their death was because they were Jewish.

Until recently, the number six million was simply a very large number to me. Although I had seen the movies and read the books, I couldn’t quite identify with it as being six million people like me and all those I love in this world. It really isn’t easy to absorb and comprehend this number in terms of individuals who had a future, perhaps a degree or three, a wife or a beloved, and children. They had potential and lives yet to be lived, but their lives were stolen from them way before their time.

The Nazis took away their humanity, their individuality, and attempted to make them just a number, which they tattooed on their arms.

Every year, on Yom Hashoah, we observe a ceremony under the auspices of the president of Israel known as “Unto Every Person there is a Name”, in which names of those who perished in the Holocaust are called out.

The point of this particular exercise is meaningful because an individual is given a name by their parents. And they and their families have a surname that they share. This makes every single person a unique individual. Each person has a name, a personality, a particular look, a way of walking, talking, and a way of being that is special to them. So, starting with a name we are given at birth, a person is individualised. And so every year on Yom Hashoah, we do our best around the world to individualise and humanise as many of the six million Jews who died as possible.

To date, Yad Vashem has recorded 4 800 000 names of Holocaust victims on its Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, with more than 2 750 000 names registered on Pages of Testimony.

Here’s the thing: if we had all the names of the six million who were murdered, and could say each name, age, and place of death in one second, we could cover only 86 400 individual names in one 24-hour Yom Hashoah.

To read six million, we would need almost 70 days of 24-hour non-stop reading. If we recited names for only 12 hours a day, giving the reader time to sleep, eat, and have a few short breaks, we would need 138 days to cover the names of the six million Jews who were annihilated in the Holocaust. And that’s if you can read all their vital details in one second.

This brings me a little closer to understanding what the number six million actually means in terms of individuals.

On the Yad Vashem site (YadVashem.org), you can find lists of these names. I went to look this week and found 23 people with the surname Krost who were victims of the Holocaust. I know of a handful. I wonder who the others were. Were they also family?

Then, I looked at the lists of children’s names and there were literally hundreds of pages of names of children, some not even a year old. I couldn’t help the tears as I read names, ages, and where and how they died. I felt quite sick. I couldn’t help thinking that these littlies, who should have been playing and having fun without a care in the world, were brutally murdered because by chance they were born Jewish.

It was then that I decided that I was going to light the six commemorative candles with my sons this year. We will recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, and then start reading children’s names and keep going until we can’t anymore. I believe this will give us a better inkling of the massive horror of the millions who perished all because they were like us.

In this edition, there is a story about the Holocaust on page 12 that stands out for me. It’s about the Wannsee Conference, where the decision was made by the Nazi leadership to murder Jews en masse. What really hit me was Holocaust educator Dr Matthias Haß’s warning that it was because of the small incidents of antisemitism that the Wannsee House decision was made. It was the accumulation of decades of slowly building antisemitism that seeped into German society over years that eventually led to the dehumanisation of Jews, he said.

How often do we dismiss or not make a big deal about what seems to be minor incidents of antisemitism or racism? Sometimes it isn’t always so clear and sometimes it is. But it’s not easy to stick your neck out, especially when you are alone in a situation. And sometimes it might be cleverly disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.

The next time someone says to me, “Don’t make a big deal about it” referring to antisemitism, I will remember how I tried to get my head around the systematic murder of six million Jews.

Shabbat Shalom!

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Longing for freedom we can’t have

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As I prepared for our tiny seders last Pesach and we were just settling into this strange experience called lockdown, I told my sons it wouldn’t last long. I said we would look back at the end of the year, it would all be long over, and we would be back to normal.

How wrong I was!

Now, we go into our second Pesach during the pandemic, and while the numbers are down, we still face a potential third wave that some experts say could surface after Pesach and the Easter weekend. I sure hope not!

We have so much more freedom than we did this time last year when we were still in the honeymoon stage of the pandemic. At the time, it was still fairly exciting to be at home all the time and there was a certain charm to the streets being so quiet and being able to clearly hear the birdlife.

There was something very special about spending all our time with our immediate family, eating and cooking every meal together. Zoom had its pros too. I mean, you really only had to dress the top half of your body for a serious meeting.

Now, I long for a board meeting in a real boardroom where I can actually look into the eyes of the person I’m speaking to. I long to hug people I care about. And more than anything, I would love to go to a dinner party where I don’t know everyone and have a good chat with someone I’ve never spoken to before.

Who would have thought that anyone could miss these day-to-day experiences from our former lives?

I laughed the other day when a friend said she was going to go to the supermarket to get groceries, and her husband told her she didn’t have to bother, she could order online. She was incensed that he would take away her freedom to get out of the house and be among strangers, albeit masked and socially distanced. I could relate to that.

I even look forward to getting dressed up to go to shul over Pesach. I don’t get dressed up enough these days. How often I would want to find excuses not to go to functions in the past. Now, I would love the opportunity.

It’s all about having the freedom to choose, freedom to do what we want, freedom to be who we are. Just plain and simple … freedom.

And that’s what Pesach is all about. Jews moving from slavery to freedom.

What’s always so interesting is that when you have freedom, you often don’t appreciate what you have until you don’t have it. Think about it. When you are on holiday in Cape Town and you drive along the Atlantic Seaboard or over Lion’s Nek, you appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the shoreline, the mountain, and the sea. When you live in Cape Town, do you enjoy the pleasure of what you have all the time?

Is this human nature? Are we always longing for that which we don’t have, or can we be happy with our lot? And if you are happy with your lot, do you still create goals you can work towards? Or is being happy with your lot a case of giving up your freedom to grow?

This last year has brought monumental change for most of us. I’m amazed that almost everyone I know has gone through some kind of trauma. Just when I’m about to feel sorry for myself, I hear someone else’s story, and realise how lucky I am.

It has been a year in which we have all had to draw on our strength, our internal flame, and keep moving forward.

On the radio recently, there was a discussion about how the numbers of people reaching out to helplines doubled within months of the pandemic hitting South Africa. Few of those people were directly affected by actual illness, but it was various traumatic offshoots that hit them.

We shouldn’t underestimate how tough this year has been for us – and it’s not over yet. In fact, there is no way of knowing what life will be like this time next year.

What I do know is that Pesach will still be a special time for our community. It will still be a time of family gatherings, a time to reflect on our freedom and those who don’t have that luxury. It will be a time when we will once again read the Haggadah and remember who we are and where we came from. It will be a time when we remember how we witnessed miracles that saved our lives. There is such comfort in knowing that some things stay the same.

In our annual special Pesach edition, we bring you a host of phenomenal thought leadership pieces written by wise spiritual leaders. We also have a selection of other fabulous Pesach stories. A personal favourite of mine is the kneidel story, which you’ll find on page 34.

We also bring you the latest news and features to ensure you have lots of exceptional stories to read over Pesach.

I’m proud to include in those stories our lead (page 1), which is so inspiring and uplifting. It tells of how a local branch of the South African government has welcomed help from Israel in improving drinking water in outlying areas. This humanitarian venture will save lives and help those in dire straits. Is this new relationship a miracle or a blessing to herald Pesach?

Whatever the case may be, it warms my heart that there are people in government that understand that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and if people want to help you and you need help, let them.

In my interview with former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon (page 15), he mentions how irritated he was when the African National Congress boycotted Israel’s offer to help Cape Town in its water crisis, choosing instead to go to Iran to get help. I hope this new endeavour is a sign of things to come.

Shabbat shalom and chag Pesach sameach!

PS: We won’t be publishing the newspaper on Chol HaMoed, but will resume the following week.

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The Jewish Report Editorial

Real protests and smokescreens

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This week is Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which usually means a week of trouble on university campuses around the country and in many other countries. The strife is usually between those who support Israel and those who would like it to disappear. The week-long series of events is a construct of those against Israel in an attempt to garner as much support as they can in their Boycott Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel battle.

They appear to do what they do to make Israel look like a racist country that treats Palestinians no better than the Nationalist government did to black people during apartheid – hence the term “apartheid Israel”.

Frankly, those behind IAW use the guise of human rights to sew division and encourage prejudice and hatred against the Jewish state and those who support it. And as much as they claim that it’s all in the name of human rights, they totally neglect to factor in human-rights abuses in the rest of the Middle East and the world.

The good thing about IAW this year is that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, most students are working from home and aren’t on campus. So, IAW isn’t on campus either.

But there is a genuine protest on campus over young South Africans’ inability to continue their university education because they can’t afford it.

A number of students from our community are involved in the protest and have, in some cases, put their own education and future on the line to help others. One such person is Gabi Farber, who is a member of the Student Representative Council on an African National Congress ticket.

Gabi, like most of us, comes from a sheltered environment where she really doesn’t have to go out on a limb to get an education. But for her, it is a matter of values – Jewish values at that – that spur her on to fight for the rights of others. (See her opinion piece on this page.)

I’m aware that many in our community believe people like Gabi are rabble rousers and troublemakers looking for a cause. I beg to differ. Such people generally don’t do things that could have a negative impact on their own lives. In this case, those who have stuck their necks out have a lot to lose in order for others to gain what they are already getting – an education. They stand the chance of being arrested, suspended, or even kicked out of the university. All this because they are protesting the fact that others aren’t allowed to continue their education.

It would be far easier to sit at home and carry on studying while others are out there protesting.

I do understand the fear factor of students and parents, and some people are ambivalent or not very up to date on what this about. I’m not sure I would be encouraging my children to go out and protest because of fear for their security. However, I do believe that Gabi and the others out there are courageous young people with integrity and backbone. They are doing what so many of us won’t do. They are standing up for those who aren’t being heard.

I do understand that many of us question where the money to put these young people through university is meant to come from. I would also like to know that. We are all aware of the financial quagmire our country is in, not least of all because of the pandemic and lockdown.

However, as Jews, we understand the importance of an education, and most of us would give the clothes off our backs to get our children the best education. So, too, would other parents, however, for so many, their clothes won’t garner a day of a university education. So their children can’t go. And if they could afford something, they may not be able to pay for more than a year or two…

So, where should the money come from? I don’t know. However, like Gabi, I do believe that if young people have the ability to get a tertiary education, they should be encouraged to do so, not prevented.

I believe we should support this cause, not least because it’s part of the Bill of Rights within our Constitution to provide a basic and secondary education. The wording in the Constitution is that everyone has the right to “further education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. Clearly this was written a couple of decades ago, and it should by now have become more accessible to all whether they could or couldn’t afford it. Do I sound like a radical? Hardly! I sound like a Jewish mother who believes education is paramount.

So, while this protest goes on, supported by people who believe in a Jewish state and those who don’t, IAW is still happening in a different format.

This year’s theme is #UnitedAgainstRacism, which as it happens, is something I totally agree with. I believe we should be uniting against racism in all forms. I believe we should be uniting against prejudice as well. It’s a great cause, only I believe it’s a smokescreen. It’s not actually about uniting against all forms of racism around the world, but uniting against Israel, a country that BDS claims is racist. This isn’t a fight against racism, it’s about getting the world to unite against Israel. Let’s call a spade a spade.

I would love us to all unite against racism and for the education of all our children. For me, those issues I fully support.

Shabbat Shalom!

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