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The Jewish Report Editorial

We can make a difference

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As I write this, Ukrainians are being battered and their homes destroyed by Russian soldiers, all in the name of recolonising areas that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Some people might side with Russia in the battle, like those in our government, but I find what’s happening abhorrent. Seeing innocent and unarmed civilians under attack and fleeing for their lives is shocking.

Amazingly, as this war accelerates rather than dies down, I have a growing sense that South Africans have got bored with the subject. It’s far away and out of sight, out of mind, especially these days, when many choose not to follow the media.

Our ability to focus on any one thing has diminished and we now have what I call a ‘Twitter attention span’, which doesn’t last much more than 40 characters.

Seriously, on three occasions this week when I mentioned “the war”, I got blank looks and people asking what I was talking about.

Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to be under attack, people are dying, being maimed and fleeing everything they know to find safety across borders.

As I sit here, on the southern tip of Africa, I can’t help but wonder what I can do to help. What can I do to make a difference?

So, today, I’m fasting. Yes, I know it’s the fast of Esther and Jewish people around the world are doing the self-same thing, but in all honesty, I’m not usually one of them. I’m generally a once-a-year, Yom Kippur faster, but this year is different.

I have dedicated my fast to the people of Ukraine in general and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in particular. I cannot claim the idea, I read about a rabbi in the United States who called on Jews around the world to fast today.

His reasoning was related to the original reason for the fast of Esther on the day before Purim. Queen Esther called on the Jews of Shushan to fast to give her the strength to persuade King Achashverosh to stop the murderer, Haman, from carrying out his plan to kill all the Jews.

I cannot tell you whether my fasting is going to make one jot of difference or whether it will give Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians any additional strength to push back the Russians. However, the fact that I’m not alone in doing this and there are Jews around the world fasting makes me feel like I’m doing something rather than nothing. Also, as in prayer, there’s power in numbers.

Rabbi Ben Berger, another American rabbi, said in the same article I read, “The fast of Esther”, reminds us as Jews that to make change in the world, we must look inward as well as outward.

“Fasting aligns our bodies, our minds, and our spirit with the deep pain and need present in the world, awakening our souls to the role we might play in providing comfort and healing for ourselves and for others.”

Throughout the day, which happens to be our newspaper’s deadline day and the busiest of the week, I have felt somewhat closer to the Ukrainians. You see, every time I felt peckish or felt the desire for a cup of coffee, I reminded myself that any food or drink I wanted was just down the passage. It was there for the taking if I wanted it. However, Ukrainians who have fled their homes, have had their cities bombarded by Russian soldiers, or have been left homeless, don’t have food in the next room. In fact, so many of them don’t know where their next meal is coming from or when they’ll get it.

So, though I would love something small to tide me over until this evening, I want to stand by the Ukrainians today to show my solidarity with them. I want to give them strength.

Now, admittedly, we’re in a country where our government has chosen to side with the Russians, and I can’t see it changing its mind any time soon. With that in mind, I can’t see our government taking in Ukrainian refugees or setting out on any rescue missions.

So, what can we do to help?

A dear friend sent me a Facebook post about two young Harvard students, Avi Schiffmann and Marco Burstein, who developed UkraineTakeShelter.com, a public platform connecting refugees with potential hosts and housing. It enables refugees to get in contact with potential hosts as soon as they possibly can. I imagine it works best in Europe as it’s easier for refugees to access these homes. However, there are several South Africans and other Africans who have offered accommodation.

I’m sure there are many other innovative ways that we can reach out and help. Any ideas – let me know. I will sift through what comes in, and I would love to be able tobe a part of our community making a difference. So, send me an email at editor@sajewishreport.co.za.

In this edition, we introduce you to some incredible people who are making a difference, some of whom have literally stayed in a war zone to protect their congregation when they don’t have to (page 3).

Others have dropped everything to fly into the war zone to help save lives (page 1). Some have done what they could to make newly arrived refugees feel welcome and comfortable (page 5).

That horrible sense of helplessness is unnecessary. Everyone can do something. And if you can’t find something physical to do, you can donate money to help. Every cent is counts.

Think about it. What can we do? Let’s make a difference!

If you are reading this newspaper on Thursday, I wish you chag Purim sameach! Otherwise, may you have a meaningful Human Rights Day on Monday.

Shabbat Shalom!

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