We don’t need saving, thanks!
There must have been a giant international Jewish sigh of relief when all those who were held hostage in the Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, managed to escape after a more than 10-hour standoff.
And while the hostage taker was killed when the rescue team moved in to free the hostages, there are way too many concerns about this just to move on.
We cannot ignore the fact that a hostile stranger was able to walk straight into a shul without being stopped. This is extremely concerning.
We have seen the terror and violence that has ensued when Jewish schools and shuls weren’t properly secure and safeguarded, especially when people were praying.
I know it doesn’t seem right to have armed security outside a shul or school, but what’s our alternative? The Jewish world has learnt too many times that there are none. We have to secure these precious places to safeguard our lives.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how small you shul or shtibel is or how safe you feel in it, we – and I mean South Africans and the world over – have to be sure that we can learn and pray in peace and security. It’s that simple.
Sitting on the southern tip of Africa where we understand crime, we can clearly see the analogy of leaving the front door of your home and your garden gate open all day and night. We just wouldn’t do that. Not a chance. We would be asking for trouble. In fact, I have phoned neighbours before to make sure they were okay when they accidentally left their gate open in the middle of the day. So, why would we leave our shuls and schools open for anyone to access?
In some places around the world, we would be seen as paranoid or even ridiculous, but unfortunately, we have learnt the hard way.
Having said that, bli ayin harah (without the evil eye), we have been fortunate that our South African shuls have never been attacked the way the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was during a Shabbos morning service. The attacker killed 11 people in the shul, and wounded six. This wasn’t the first incident of its kind, nor will it be the last.
Our lesson in this for the Jewish world is to safeguard Jewish institutions no matter what. Fortunately, in South Africa, we have the Community Security Organisation (CSO) and CAP, and between these two organisations, every precaution is taken to safeguard our community.
I’m grateful every single day for the CSO and CAP. I’m also grateful that our community got this message loud and clear long before the rest of the world. I appreciate that we don’t take what the CSO says lightly because we shouldn’t. They keep us safe.
So, it made me sit up when I heard that the CSO was concerned that the hostage taker had a goal in sight, to release an Al-Qaeda prisoner in return for the hostages.
Again, hostage taking isn’t something we’re very familiar with in South Africa. It happens, but not much.
The thing is: we can’t allow it to happen. How easy is it to take a hostage or hostages and demand that some lowlife gets out of prison? Let’s not even take this to the level of antisemitism, which isn’t difficult. At all costs, we have to prevent this from happening.
Desperate people do desperate things. And as is so obvious in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, some are willing to take their own lives in the process of vengeance, hatred, or simple antisemitism. So, we have to take every precaution and, to be honest, there are many communities around the world who could take a leaf out of our book.
This brings me to an opinion piece that was carried in the Jerusalem Post early in December, in which Rabbi Stewart Weiss called on Israel to save South African Jewry.
When I first read it, I kept wondering what he was going on about. He had convinced himself that we needed rescuing as our days here were numbered. He made us out to be real miskeinim (desperate souls) waiting to be saved by Big Brother Israel. Really?
I’m not going to challenge him because South African Jewish Board of Deputies National Chairperson Wendy Kahn did that exceptionally well in a later edition of the same newspaper. However, what astonished me is how he missed the fact that we have a model community here, one that takes care of ourselves. We may have people who don’t like us much, but we live in a democracy, and we can and do hold them to account.
Yes, it’s true, the ruling party has taken a stand for Palestinians and against Israel, but this sentiment doesn’t extend throughout the country.
And in truth, antisemitic attacks in South Africa have actually been the lowest in the diaspora, according to Kahn’s piece.
In 2019, Kahn says, South Africa recorded just 37 incidents compared to Canada’s 2 207, Australia’s 368, and 1 805 in the United Kingdom. Also, South Africa doesn’t see much in the way of violent antisemitism, according to Kahn.
As she says, “We aren’t a community in distress”, nor do we need rescuing.
What we have is something Jewish communities around the world long for, and that’s a strong, vibrant, unique, and close-knit community which takes care of itself and has a wonderful quality of life.
I agree that South Africa has problems, but who doesn’t? It’s true that as individuals, we all have our fair share of issues, not least of all in the COVID-19 era. But we are just fine, and don’t need saving. Those of us who want to make aliyah are doing so. Those of us who want to continue our quality of life in South Africa don’t want to be “saved”, thank you very much.