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When an Arab Spring turns into an Arab Winter

“One day your enemy could be your partner and another day your partner could be your enemy,” said Brigadier-General (res) Udi Dekel (pictured) during his public address on Tuesday on “Israel in a changing Middle East environment”. It took place under the auspices of the Israel Centre in Johannesburg.





Dekel, a former head of the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Directorate of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces and currently director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, spoke to a capacity audience at the Abe Abrahamson Auditorium at Beyachad.

Dekel, who was head of the negotiations unit with the Palestinians under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said the Arab Spring, with its ambitions of establishing more democratic governments in Arab countries, had degenerated into an Arab Winter. This was with a military government taking over in Egypt and political Islam taking over in countries such as Libya and Tunisia.

Elsewhere the revolution had changed direction, with an underground “tectonic movement” now emerging in the open with ISIS and Sunni/Shia conflict spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

ISIS had a strategy to take over the entire Middle East and establish a big caliphate, taking Islam back to its golden age. It also exported terrorism, such as lone wolf attacks in several countries.

ISIS had no rules of the game, no international standards and no responsibility towards civilians, he said.

The international community had decided it was better not to get involved too directly in combating ISIS because the end-game rules were unknown.

“They also decided it was not so bad with bad guys killing other bad guys.”

The international strategy was to establish a coalition to dismantle ISIS using air attacks, but without boots on the ground. The only country that understood that it could achieve greater influence through boots on the ground was Iran, through its various proxies and Iranian forces.

Israel understood that there was a new Middle East with new rules. Events in the region spilled over into Israel, but it was better for Israel to initiate than respond – protection, such as Iron Dome, was not enough.

For Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the destination was still two states for two peoples, but this was difficult to achieve at present because Israel had no partner.

Every time Israel and the Palestinians had arrived at final negotiations over the past 15 years, “the Palestinians had decided either to reject the Israeli offers or to run away from the negotiating table”.

The Palestinians would prefer the international community to get Israel to accept the Palestinian rules of the game, she said.

If permanent status negotiations with the Palestinians were not on, other transitional initiatives could be considered by Israel, including going back to the 2004 Road Map, building Palestinian capacity, so that it would not end up a failed state, but have effective functions and be stable and accountable.

There were now also possible multilateral options, including the countries of the Arab world, which could support both Israel and the Palestinians. Creating such a coalition could help deal with the problems of the Middle East.

“Israel can take some steps to try to shape a two-state reality by moving forward unilaterally,” he said.

Referring to issues relating to the West Bank, he said: “We cannot solve the problem of individual terror, but we can solve the problem of terror organisations.”

The international attitude to settlements could change if Israel declared it would build only in the established settlement blocs and not in isolated settlements, but this was also a significant internal Israeli political issue.

Five years ago Israel and Palestine were regarded as the most important issue, but today it was understood that Israel was not the problem.

Israel was creating connections with local communities in Syria.

“By doing such positive things we can build more partners for Israel, but this is a long story,” Dekel said.



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A portrait of PE through a life of service



As Port Elizabeth community stalwart Isaac Rubin reflects on his 90th year, his life story emerges as a portrait of this once thriving, now diminishing, but always impactful, Jewish centre of life.

Having offered decades of service as head of the Chevrah Kadisha and the Jewish Benevolent Society, as well as a vice-chairperson and member of the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation Council and serving as its choirmaster, Rubin has lived a life firmly entrenched in service. His has been a contribution that has helped ensure that Jewish tradition continues to be fulfilled in this small seaside town.

“My best saying is, ‘Zeh hayom asah adonai, nagila v’nismicha bo.’ (This is the day that G-d created; let us be happy and rejoice in it.) To rejoice and be happy, you have to have your health, financial resources, a partner, a family.”

He hopes that he has been able to assist in making this a little more of a reality for those around him.

“It’s a blessing that Hashem has given me, to have the strength to do mitzvot,” he says.

The history of Port Elizabeth can be traced back to a group of at least 16 Jewish families that came with the 1820 British settlers. Later, a wave of German immigrants also arrived. Rubin’s family, from the town of Ludza in Latvia, were part of a wave of Eastern European Jews fleeing pogroms and antisemitism in the latter part of the century into the 1900s. His uncle came first, followed by his father. Later, his mother and oldest brother, Solly, arrived – both speaking only Yiddish.

Rubin, born in 1931, was one of four siblings born in Port Elizabeth itself. Building a life in this foreign country was difficult for the family especially as they hit the Depression years; yet his parents, both tailors, persisted throughout.

When it came to Rubin’s first day of school, he remembers how his father couldn’t come because of work and his mother because she didn’t speak English. A friend came with to help settle him in.

During the war years, he recalls having bomb drills at school where “we had to duck under our desk and put a cork between our teeth in order to prevent our jaw breaking in the event of an explosion”.

Rubin also attended cheder from the age of eight until matric. He was inspired by his studies there to complete Hebrew as a matric subject at school.

His family, in spite of financial struggles, persisted in maintaining cultural traditions. “Hard as it was, every Rosh Hashanah, we would get a new suit of short pants and a jacket. My father would close the shop on all major Jewish holidays, and we would go to shul. We kept a kosher home.”

Community life flourished in these years, with a Jewish population of about 5 000 people. “I was a troop leader in the Jewish Boy Scouts in the 1940s,” Rubin says. Always a keen sportsman, he established a Maccabi Jewish cricket club in the city which eventually had so many members, it played across three leagues. He also played in Port Elizabeth’s Jewish rugby team.

Rubin remembers some antisemitism at one school he attended – where the Jewish children were called “porkers”. Yet, he recalls proudly how when his own grandson attended the same school decades later, the outcome of such provocation was very different.

“My grandson’s teacher made a remark about how ‘you must look after your money, and be like the Jews’, and my grandson went straight to the teacher and said, ‘You aren’t allowed to say that.’” A meeting was held with the principal and family, and the teacher had to make a formal apology.

Meanwhile, after his own schooling, Rubin went on to become a pharmacist and travelled around the world, working at one time at a catering facility for the American army in the Arctic Circle. “I had a contract as a dish washer, and graduated to become a waiter,” he laughs.

Later, he married and settled back in Port Elizabeth with his wife, Shirley. They had a daughter who sadly died at age 37, as well as two sons and four grandchildren. Rubin opened his own pharmacy and his one son has followed in his career. Although Rubin retired at 67, he went back to work part-time 12 years ago.

Once a keen runner who completed 11 Comrades and 11 Two Oceans marathons, Rubin swims in the sea, does yoga, and walks. Both he and his wife are keen bridge players. Over the years, he also volunteered for Lifeline and Hospice. Yet, even this wasn’t enough for Rubin – at the age of 72, he decided to improve his musicality, and learnt to play the piano.

Always a committed member of the synagogue, over the years, he became increasingly active in communal leadership. Twenty years ago he became a member of the council of the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation and then adopted his roles in the Chevrah Kadisha, Benevolent Society, and shul choir.

His love of liturgical singing stems from his father who also loved Jewish and Yiddish songs, and would “sing softly”.

Rubin decided to join the Chevrah Kadisha “when I saw what it had done for my mother, father, and daughter” on their passing. In his role, Rubin would respond to calls night and day, going to the homes of the deceased, comforting the mourners, and organising all the logistics of burials. It was only at the age of 80 that he stopped even helping to dig the graves.

Earlier this year, Rubin stepped down as chairperson, although the organisation then elected to appoint him honorary chair for life.

Gidon La Grange, his successor to the position, recounts once being with Rubin when a call came through from a family who had tragically lost a loved one. “He couldn’t speak. For at least three minutes, he just sat. Silent. He took out his hanky, and wiped tears.” They then began discussing the practical arrangements.

“I remember thinking, this is the quality you should have in responding to people’s loss. This compassion is the way he deals with everybody. The whole community loves him because he carries everything close to his heart.”

Rubin stills heads up the shul choir and the Port Elizabeth Jewish Benevolent Society, whose role is to ensure that the basic needs of all members of the community are met. Although the community has shrunk drastically, its needs have increased.

While Rubin laments the diminishing numbers in the community – the Port Elizabeth Hebrew Congregation now has 182 members – he says the community can hold its head up high. “We have a community that we can be proud of – we’ve upheld our yiddishkeit throughout.”

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Lifelong friendship helps to change the world



A friendship that started more than 50 years ago in South Africa has sown the seeds for remarkable philanthropic success in two different continents.

Best friends Glynne Wolman and Dorit Sallis have achieved success in their respective charitable efforts and changed the lives of their beneficiaries.

Wolman is the founder of the The Angel Network, a charitable crowdfunding initiative run by a dedicated group of Jewish women that reaches more than 200 000 people across social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

Sallis’s Zurich-based nongovernmental organisation, the Twin Star Project, has also had great success since it launched in 2018, giving financial and legal assistance to economic migrants who have fled West Africa and the Middle East for Europe.

Wolman and Sallis first became friends in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) in the 1960s when they were only three years old. They were best friends throughout primary school at Theodor Herzl, but Sallis and her family emigrated to the United States in 1978 when she was 13.

The two friends lost touch with one another, with Sallis residing in various places, including New York, Russia, London, and her current home, Zurich. Meanwhile, Wolman also lived in various places, including London, Israel, Cape Town, and her current home, Johannesburg.

In spite of this long separation, the two were never too far from one another’s thoughts, and in 2016, they reconnected via Sallis’s aunt (who still lives in South Africa). They have subsequently been in regular contact through WhatsApp, but neither initially knew what the other was doing in terms of their philanthropic initiatives. However, since finding out about each other’s organisations, they have collaborated to assist one another.

Wolman is providing invaluable support and advice to Sallis and the Twin Star Project, where she is on the board along with Sallis and seven other people, including two migrants.

Sallis is using the same web designer and social media manager from The Angel Network to assist the Twin Star Project, while her husband has provided critical funding for The Angel Network.

Wolman founded The Angel Network in November 2015 after being asked on Facebook to assist with funding for matric dance dresses and a Santa Shoe Box. After receiving an overwhelming response, Wolman realised that social networking had the potential to realise a considerable change for good for those less fortunate. The Angel Network now has branches in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and even Sweden and Sydney, Australia.

Through social media, this organisation helps to co-ordinate assistance for a variety of people in need in the local Jewish community and general South African society. Philanthropists and organisations have opened their wallets and hearts, with millions of rand donated to the network.

Rather than merely provide charity on a short-term basis, Wolman seeks to ensure that recipients are given the tools to become self-sufficient and forge sustainable success in their lives and careers – a philosophy that she describes as giving a “hands up”.

However, during 2020, the nature of this assistance changed drastically, as the focus shifted to providing immediate and urgent financial and organisational assistance rather than long-term self-sufficiency. This period has also brought out the best in people, Wolman notes.

“We have met the most phenomenal human beings during COVID-19 who are doing such incredible work on the ground and in their communities. These people have nothing, but still drive around and do the kindest, most benevolent work with no assistance – they are such good people.”

Similar to The Angel Network, the Twin Star Project’s overarching goal is to give a “hands up” to migrants, and help pave the way for them to have a financially self-reliant and productive life.

These migrants face an uphill battle from the moment that they begin their journey. Driven by dire poverty, they travel north through the Sahara Desert to Libya and cross the Mediterranean in dinghies. Tragically, Sallis notes, only about 20% of them successfully make this perilous journey. Many of the migrants who survive then land in Italy, where they struggle to find work after leaving a reception camp, and end up homeless and begging on the streets.

Relying on financial donations, the organisation performs a bridging function, meeting the immediate survival needs of migrants in the precarious period after they leave the reception camp. Migrants are placed in a halfway house in Italy, and are provided with a raft of financial and legal support, including housing and financial aid for living and medical expenses – be it in Europe or back in their countries of origin.

The Twin Star Project then assists the migrants to find future employment either through training or by funding small businesses, either in Italy or back in their home countries.

There have already been numerous success stories, with one migrant having been given the financial aid to establish a grocery store in Nigeria, while her husband is being given advice and material support to set up a business.

Sallis notes that a similar philosophy to The Angel Network underpins the Twin Star Project’s work.

“Ultimately, I want the people that the Twin Star Project helps to move towards their goal as efficiently and quickly as possible. But I also want to ensure that I take good care of them until they find a long-lasting solution for their careers and lives.”

Contrary to the perception that migrants are opportunists looking to take advantage, they are earnest and salt-of-the-earth people, Sallis says.

“I have found migrants to be decent, honest, and exemplary people. Even though they have suffered unimaginably hard times, their kindness and goodness shines through. I want to see them fulfil their potential.”

Sallis has had an illustrious professional career. She is currently managing director of the Joint Chamber of Commerce, which serves as a business bridge between Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the South caucuses, promoting bilateral relations between 13 countries in this region.

In spite of this success, she was motivated to create a larger impact on society. She started the project after seeing images on television of migrants travelling from West Africa to Europe on precarious dinghies.

“I saw images of people floating in dinghies and it broke my heart. As a Jewish person, I know all about expulsion and feeling left out, and I couldn’t just let this go by. It touched a deep nerve. I realise that I got lucky in life, and I want to share my good fortune with those less fortunate.

“The Twin Star Project is the culmination of my professional career, and is beyond meaningful. I believe I will continue to do this forever.”

Sallis says the example set during the Holocaust by the Righteous Among the Nations is an example that she aims to emulate.

“Non-Jews have helped Jews in need in the past, and we have to reciprocate in the present. If they could help us then, then we can help those who are in need right now.”

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Why SA is calling on Cuba, come hell or high water



Rivers running down streets, cavernous holes outside houses, and buckets next to toilets. These are just some of the sights that Glenhazel residents have become all-too-well acquainted with over the past few weeks.

Speaking to ChaiFM, Lionel Greenberg, the councillor for Ward 72 in the City of Johannesburg, said problems with water delivery in the city had been lying dormant under our feet for years, and had become “malignant”.

“An amount of R170 billion would be required to repair water and electricity infrastructure in the City of Johannesburg. This could take 10 to 15 years to do”, Greenberg said.

Glenhazel is a microcosm of what’s happening in neighbourhoods and towns across the country.

“Climate change, population growth, and lack of investment is putting increasing pressure on South Africa’s water resources,” said Michael Kransdorff, the chairperson of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in South Africa, a leading international Jewish environmental organisation.

“Recognising that water is the next big crisis we face, the JNF has sought to facilitate the sharing of Israeli water expertise in South Africa. To this end, we have organised tours of Israel, the world leader in water management, and hosted local conferences. We are holding a water webinar with international thought leaders on Thursday at 19:00, called “Hell or high water: the untold story of how Israel is sharing her water miracle with South Africa”.

Nevertheless, the South Africa government seems hell bent on relying on the expertise of Cuba, not Israel, to provide solutions to our water problems. It has seconded the help of 24 Cuban engineers at a cost of R64 million to assist it to implement a sustainable water delivery system.

But the true state of Cuba’s water infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. Years of political malaise, sanctions, drought, and infrastructure decay, have made clean running water a rarity for many Cubans.

Only 11% of the country’s population of 11.2 million receive piped water at home 24 hours a day. For more than 50% of households, water is available only sporadically, typically receiving about two hours of running water every five days.

That’s to say nothing about the drinkability of the water. In many areas, chemicals aren’t available for water purification, resulting in carnivorous fish being used to eat the parasite-carrying mosquito larvae that can be found in drinking water.

Just last week (29 April 2021), Cape Town residents were advised by the city “to refrain from drinking municipal water until further notice” due to a strange metallic taste and earthy smell. Perhaps those Cuban fish will come in handy.

In spite of the shocking conditions in Cuba, the South African government still chose the small, undeveloped nation over the world-class assistance that many countries, particularly Israel, can offer.

“There are many benefits South Africa could gain by partnering with Israel”, said Kransdorff. “It has become the world leader in water management and conservation, which we will be showcasing with Israel chief water engineer Doron Markel and New York Times bestselling author Seth Siegal in the upcoming JNF webinar.”

When Jewish settlers first arrived in Israel in the early part of the 20th century, they came upon a wildly undeveloped, dry landscape with little evidence of modern water and sanitation infrastructure. Fast forward 75 years, and Israel is fulfilling the biblical prophecy of making the desert bloom. Through the 230 reservoirs that the JNF has built, as much as 85% of Israel’s water is reused. Compare that with the next runner-up – Spain – which reclaims only 19% of its water, and Cuba’s 4%.

Israel is also home to the largest and most complex desalination plant in the world. This technology alone would have saved the South African economy upwards of R5 billion during the drought of 2017 to 2018.

Israel has always gladly offered its expertise to other countries, especially in Africa. One such example is Innovation: Africa, a non-profit organisation that has brought Israeli technology to more than 300 rural villages across the continent, providing electricity and clean water to more than 1.8 million people. This remarkable achievement has led Innovation: Africa founder Sivan Ya’ari to be ranked by Forbes as one of the 50 most influential women in Israel. She will be sharing this story of Israeli water collaboration in the upcoming JNF webinar.

Another example of Israeli expertise in developing successful water catchment areas and agriculture is found in the Turkana region of Kenya. Before this, water issues, unhealthy soil, and drought prevented the region from developing its agriculture. The health deficits in surrounding communities were insurmountable. Now, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, supported by the JNF, teaches hundreds of students and policymakers modern techniques of agriculture and water conservation. A total of 132 successful farms have been established in Kenya since the collaboration began in 2015.

Projects like these would greatly benefit South Africa’s agricultural industry, water management, conservation efforts, and rural communities.

Kransdorff concludes that “come hell or high water, the South African government seems determined to pay a failed state with a poor human rights record like Cuba to fix our water problems, but not to accept the generous help of Israel, the world’s leader in water management”. Nevertheless, JNF South Africa isn’t deterred from showcasing Israeli environmental achievements and facilitating the sharing of Israeli know-how and technology in South Africa.

  • For more information about the webinar, as well as how to get involved, contact the JNF on 011 645 2579. To register for the webinar:

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