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Who remembered Madiba was a Canadian citizen?

Canadian Jewish human rights lawyer and prominent lawmaker Irwin Cotler who was part of Mandela’s international legal team during his 27 years in prison, met the great man twice. The first time was on a state visit to Canada in 1998, the second when Madiba became an honorary Canadian citizen in 2001. What Cotler remembers most: “His humility!”

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World

ANT KATZ

Madiba was fondly remembered in Canada last week for his great humility by one of Canada’s top politicians, who is also a regular visitor to SA shores – Irwin Cotler – who, at the request of one of Mandela’s SA lawyers, involved the human rights activist and was part of Mandela’s international legal team during his 27 years in prison.

Cotler is a senior Jewish Member of Parliament in Canada who got to meet Mandela twice.

In an interview with The Canadian Jewish News (CJN), last week, Cotler remembered Madiba for his indomitable spirit, great humility and complete absence of rancour or bitterness toward his jailers after he came out of prison.

Cotler met Mandela on a state visit to Canada by the South African president in 1998, and when Mandela became an honorary Canadian citizen in 2001.

“He embodied three great struggles,” Cotler said the morning after Mandela’s death, “the march to freedom for black South Africans, the fight for democracy and the struggle for equality.

“He had a transformative impact to make, but there was no bitterness. He was a model for nation building.

Madiba at yad vashem
RIGHT: During his 1999 state visit to
Israel, Madiba visited the famous
Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial

 

“The most remarkable thing about him is that he emerged from prison, not only to preside over the dismantling of apartheid, but to become president.”

In Parliament, Cotler said: “We are all, wherever we are, deeply saddened and profoundly pained at the passing of a great world historical figure [who] made possible, as president, the establishment of a democratic, multi-racial, free South Africa.

 “Nelson Mandela was really the metaphor and message for the struggle for human rights and human dignity in our time. If apartheid was the ultimate assault on human rights and human dignity, South Africa was the first post-World War II country to have institutionalized racism as a matter of law.

“We should not forget that apartheid was not just a racist philosophy, it was a legal racist regime, and it was Mandela who fought and gave full expression to that struggle for human rights and human dignity against this racist legal regime.”

Cotler recalled being arrested in 1981 in South Africa after speaking there at the invitation of South African anti-apartheid movement leader Helen Suzman.

“[South African politician] Pik Botha asked to meet me, and there was a picture of [Soviet prisoner of conscience] Natan Sharansky in his office.

“He thought Sharansky was a freedom fighter and a democrat and that Nelson Mandela was a communist and revolutionary, and asked me to go around the country to see how democratic South Africa really was.

“When I got back, I told him: ‘Sure, South Africa is democratic. But only if you’re white.’”

Even though Israel was one of the only countries to continue to do business with the apartheid regime despite international sanctions, Mandela recognized Israel’s right to exist and had “very warm” feelings for the Jewish People despite the fact that he could be critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Cotler said.

Madiba read Begin’s memoir

Cotler also noted that Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, shows that Mandela read Menachem Begin’s memoir The Revolt, and it served as something of an inspiration. Mandela wrote: “I was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forest, a situation similar to our own.”

In 1999, asked why he had finally decided to visit Israel, Mandela replied, “To the many people who have questioned why I came, I say: Israel worked very closely with the apartheid regime. I say: I’ve made peace with many men who slaughtered our people like animals. Israel co-operated with the apartheid regime, but it did not participate in any atrocities.”

Cotler said Mandela’s greatest legacy will be his role in establishing a free, multi-racial South Africa.

When Mandela became an honorary Canadian citizen, Cotler said in the House of Commons:  “This honorary citizenship will have a historic and inspiring resonance for Canadians, for good relations between Canada and South Africa, and for… our common humanity.”

Cotler left with the Canadian contingent to South Africa Sunday to attend memorial services for Mandela.

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Community

Focus on Yom Hashoah turns to family

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There is a new international initiative to start a family tradition on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), in which families will gather to light six memorial candles and recite a pertinent poem and prayer to remember the 6 000 000.

This initiative, called “Generations light the way”, encourages families to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer, Kel Maleh Rahamim, and/or the poem, Nizkor – Let us Remember, by Holocaust survivor Abba Kovner, to impart the memory of the Shoah to the next generation. It is a collaboration between Yad Vashem and Tzohar Rabbinical Association.

“Today, we find ourselves at a crossroads,” said acting Yad Vashem chairperson Ronen Plot. “As the last generation to be personally acquainted with Holocaust survivors, we have a great responsibility to ensure that what we saw, what we heard, and what we learned is passed on to future generations.”

“The Shoah shows us how important every Jew is,” said Rabbi David Stav, the founder and director of Tzohar Rabbinical Association. He recalled an incident when an entire unit of Nazi soldiers stayed on a small Greek island for more than two weeks just to find one Jewish family.

“We need to realise how precious a Jewish life is. So much of our history has been forgotten. From the crusades to the pogroms of 1648 to 1649, to the Spanish Inquisition,” he said.

“We cannot let that happen with the Holocaust. It’s not just because the Holocaust is recent history, it’s important to remember because it teaches us that it doesn’t matter how you label yourself, we are all am echad (one people).”

Tali Nates, the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, agrees. “We need to be aware of the past and how evil is allowed to grow if we hope to prevent more atrocities. And we need to recognise it quicker,” she said.

“The radicalisation of Nazi Germany didn’t happen in a vacuum. The world was facing an unprecedented economic crisis. Europe was still picking up the pieces of World War I. People were suffering and looking for easy answers to difficult questions. Extremism is born out of crisis.

“When people are suffering, they start looking for someone to blame. More often than not, blame falls on the Jews,” said Nates. “Today, we face another unprecedented world crisis. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. We are facing a global economic and health crisis that we have never seen before. Again, born out of this crisis, we are seeing an alarming growth of extremism around the world. The open rise of nationalism and white supremacy is now leading to an increase in violence against those that look and sound different.”

Nates said there were many lessons to take from the Holocaust. “Remembering the Shoah is so important. Starting from our young generation and going beyond just the Jewish community, to all of humanity, it has a huge educational value.

“It’s a warning for us all to be vigilant and recognise the warning signs,” she said. “When words of hate turn into discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and violence, it ends with mass murder and genocide. The first thing is education – to connect the dots and try to prevent it from happening again.

“You have to make sure you fight antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia. These are the first signs. We need to educate about the dangers of those words and actions. We need to start with ourselves, on a personal level, to be consistent when we are with our friends, family, and neighbours. We need to educate each other that racism, however casual, isn’t acceptable. And we need to be active to avoid the same mistakes made during the Holocaust and other genocides, which unfortunately are still taking place today.

“Because we are in South Africa, we should focus on how we as South Africans can remember the Holocaust,” said Nates. “I would love South Africans to spend time thinking about their own families. A lot of them come from Latvia and Lithuania, certainly they have relatives who were murdered. I would like for the Jewish community to really think about where they come from and what happened to their relatives who couldn’t come here.

“We need to try and collect those names so they won’t be lost forever. Yad Vashem has only four million out of six million names. We need to ensure the other two million names don’t become lost forever. The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre together with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Memorial & Information Centre in Mauritius have called on our communities to collect the names by sending in the names of family members that don’t have a grave. For us, that’s a start.”

Said Stav, “The only way to ensure that we pass this on to our children is to talk about it often. I speak about the Shoah with my family and community at least once a month.

“Evil doesn’t care what we look or sound like. We have passed on the torch of faith, resilience, and morality for more than 3 000 years. The story of the Holocaust is the story of the Jewish people. We have been murdered, prosecuted, and expelled from our homes. And yet, through it all, we managed to survive. We always find a way to come out stronger. Those of us who know a survivor personally have experienced this first hand. Rebirth and resilience is our story. It’s up to us to pass this torch to our children so they can continue to light the way.”

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World

Koleinu calls out horrific attack on London Jewish woman

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A young, pregnant Jewish woman walks down a London street without a care in the world. Behind her, a man strides purposefully, quickening his steps as he gets closer. As he reaches her, he takes out a bag or pillowcase that he throws over her head. He then punches her four times in the stomach, throwing his full weight behind each blow. The woman somehow breaks free and runs away, and then man runs off in the opposite direction.

It sounds like something out of a movie, but this scene played out on a London street on the evening of 18 March 2021, in the neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, which has a large Haredi population. The assault was captured on surveillance cameras, but local neighbourhood watch group Shomrim has since deleted the video from its Twitter feed, saying, “It’s a very violent attack, and can be triggering for many victims.”

The 20-year-old woman, who is about 28 weeks pregnant, was taken to hospital for treatment for minor injuries. A man in his late 50s has been arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm, and is now in custody at an East London police station.

Rabbi Herschel Gluck, the president of Shomrim, said the woman was left “deeply traumatised”. He noted that “[The perpetrator] followed her for about a mile. In other words, it was clearly premeditated. It wasn’t an opportunistic incident.” The brother of the woman later told the Jewish Chronicle that “It was because she was Jewish. She was wearing a Jewish headscarf at the time.” He confirmed that she did not know her attacker, and he had followed her for almost 20 minutes before the attack.

Describing how over the past month, there have been seven similar assaults on women and girls in the area, Gluck said, “It has reached a new level of violence. It seems he wanted to kill her. It’s a very shocking picture.” He said the Jewish community was “deeply concerned”.

The attack comes just weeks after 33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared in South London on the evening of 3 March. On 9 March, Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens was arrested on suspicion of Everard’s kidnapping and later her murder.

On 10 March, her remains were discovered in a woodland near Ashford, Kent. Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder two days later.

South African organisation Koleinu SA, which supports victims of abuse in the Jewish community and runs education programmes to prevent it, said the attack on the pregnant woman was “a wake-up call that shows how vulnerable women are when they walk alone in cities all over the world”. The organisations’ founders, Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack, said they were “shocked to see something so horrific and inexplicable”.

“Pregnant women are much more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves, as they have a baby to worry about,” Sack said. “That could be the reason he chose her as a target.

“We are desensitised as South Africans to violence against women as we are exposed to horrific acts of femicide on an almost daily basis. So it’s interesting that we are still shocked to see something like this. And not necessarily because she’s religious. As South Africans and Koleinu, we should be aware of the trauma and long-term consequences that such an incident can have on someone’s life, no matter who or where they are.”

Hendler notes that the man is full of rage, and said it was important to pinpoint why men were so angry, and why they would take out that rage on a woman.

“This incident is extreme,” she said. “But we see thousands of daily incidents of a violent nature – verbal and physical. It highlights its prevalence, and how many women live in fear. This video shows how violence against women happens in every community, country, and stream of religiosity.” She urges people to report any act of violence they witness or abuse they suspect. “We need to be brave enough to take a stand and hold others accountable.”

“The attack was totally frightening and just so awful, especially on a pregnant lady who was walking, minding her own business,” said 37-year-old Talya Zwiers, who emigrated to London in 2007. “Attacking her in broad daylight shows that we are all vulnerable, in spite of us thinking it’s safe to walk during the day.

“I left South Africa after my twin brother was hijacked and kidnapped, and as a result, lost all sense of safety and security in South Africa. I didn’t have the naïve belief that attacks and muggings don’t happen in London, but I most definitely went for a safer way of life, especially for my family,” she said.

“This attack left me feeling vulnerable, exposed, scared, and actually quite worried. It has made me aware that as women, we need to be constantly vigilant, aware of our surroundings, and cannot let our guard down. We cannot just walk carefree, unaware of who is behind us. I do feel much safer in London than I did in Johannesburg. I’m not on edge 24/7, but I have a heightened sense of awareness.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another South African Jewish woman in her 30s who emigrated to London in 2019 said, “Obviously the attack on the Jewish pregnant woman is shocking as in South Africa, we weren’t exposed to religiously-motivated attacks.

“It makes me more aware of not letting my son walk around in public with his tzitzit and kippah. Regarding Sarah Everard, this can happen anywhere. I haven’t really had a false sense of security coming from South Africa. I’ve always been overly cautious where possible.”

Another ex-South African woman who emigrated to London decades ago was shocked to hear of the attack as she hadn’t seen reports about it in the mainstream British press. “The volume of violent attacks against women is really overwhelming. Perhaps it’s because she ‘sustained light injury’ that it isn’t newsworthy. Last year, a mother and daughter were murdered in a park and it didn’t get the coverage that this most recent horrific murder [of Everard] received. The mother and daughter were black …”

The attack on the pregnant woman was condemned by Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, who said on Twitter, “This hateful attack on a pregnant Jewish woman in Stamford Hill is absolutely gruesome. As a society, we have to do so much more to tackle antisemitism as well as violence against women.”

Also on Twitter, author Professor Kate Williams wrote, “The footage from the #StamfordHill attack is so distressing. She looks so happy, walking and swinging her handbag. And then he attacks her and her unborn baby in a despicable act of antisemitism. And we are still being told that attacks on women in the street are rare.”

“This seems to be yet another example of Orthodox Jews being physically and violently assaulted because of their Jewishness,” said educator and author Ben M. Freeman, whose recent book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, aims to empower Jews to reject the “shame of antisemitism”.

“Orthodox Jewish communities regularly endure violent anti-Jewish racism,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to stand with them in solidarity, and to condemn the normalisation of violence against Jews.”

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News

SA company switches to Canadian hechsher

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A South African health-food company opened the door to getting a hechsher from international kosher certifiers when it adopted the Canadian Kosher Certifier (known as MK) recently. This decision appears to be unprecedented in the South African market, and raises questions about the impact on the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS’s) Beth Din.

The news was announced in a number of marketing videos made by MK and shared on social media by The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree. In the first video, a man with a South African accent says, “Kosher certification is a big advantage in the competitive industry. That little symbol [pointing to the MK sign] is a seal of quality, guaranteeing that your product meets the highest standard. MK has been a world leader in kosher certification for over 75 years and now we’re in South Africa. We recently certified The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree, leading South African health-food manufacturers that have been synonymous with quality food for decades. Join the movement, get the seal.”

A second video welcomes the company, and encourages consumers to “look out for MK, the mark of trust”, and “MK – kosher for Passover” on its packaging.

Moshe Amoils, the owner of The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree, said that even before the uproar last year over the UOS’s Beth Din kosher department’s fees and communication issues, he was thinking of seeking out a hechsher abroad.

“A few local companies were chatting about how unhappy we were about the Beth Din’s service delivery, pricing structure, the lack of justification for fee increases, and the way we were being treated. A couple of us started looking overseas because even by that stage, we were already gatvol.”

After things came to a head and Amoils went on air to describe his experience, he began to seek out an overseas hechsher more seriously. He heard that another local manufacturer had succeeded with MK, and he decided to reach out to it, getting a speedy response from executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel. It was a coincidence that Emanuel happens to be ex-South African, which Amoils only realised after they connected.

Amoils said that from the beginning of going with MK, “the service has been unbelievable, the technology superb. I’ve listed 125 products in two weeks. With the Beth Din, it would have taken two weeks to list one product, although I know their processes have since improved. MK is a different machine. It couldn’t be more co-operative and happy to assist.” Even with the time difference, Amoils said he received prompt answers to questions. “For example, Rabbi Emanuel will call me as he’s getting ready for shul at 06:00.”

Furthermore, he said, he is paying two-thirds of what he paid the Beth Din. “It’s cheaper to get an overseas hechsher than from the people just down the road.” His Pesach fees are 50% cheaper, and annual fee inflation is set at 5% to 7%, a far cry from the volatile increases he said he faced with the UOS.

Amoils said the Beth Din tried to engage with him, and there was discussion of a dual hechsher. The Beth Din allegedly wouldn’t accept being the secondary hechsher, so Amoils agreed to make both hechsharim equal (on the packaging) in the spirit of community unity. However he couldn’t pay full fees to both, so he offered to pay a smaller fee to the Beth Din as it wasn’t the primary certifier. Amoils claims the Beth Din refused this offer. “It’s not about community unity. It’s really all about money,” he said.

He said an overseas hechsher was nothing new in the kosher world. Many companies manufacture products in countries that don’t have a kosher office, and inspectors from overseas certifiers visit their facilities to certify products. The same will happen here. “Essentially, it’s the same concept as the UOS.”

Amoils said the MK hechsher was known by the community here, and if a product was on the shelves of KosherWorld, people didn’t question it. He has spread the word on social media, and believes it won’t take long for it to be just another trusted hechsher.

He said the videos MK released were all funded by MK and were done free of charge as a way to welcome and promote new products. MK is also assisting Amoils with investigating export opportunities in North America. “Making the decision has made a huge difference to my stress levels and mental well-being,” he said.

Emanuel told the SA Jewish Report that he had worked for the kashrut department of the Beth Din for 10 years prior to moving to Canada. Speaking in a strong South African accent, he said “this request came from South Africa. We got an email one afternoon [from Amoils]. We got back to him right away, and soon after that we did the certification.”

He said MK would gladly co-certify kosher products with the UOS Beth Din.

Having options when it comes to kosher certifiers is the norm overseas, creating a “healthy” environment, Emanuel said. “Companies make the decision based on quality, price, and service.” MK has “very experienced representatives in South Africa” to monitor the kashrut of its certified products, and it can certify products “anywhere”.

“Kashrut is all about reliability,” he said. “We go where people ask us to go. We aren’t going out there to companies and offering our services, but we will be glad to assist them if they request it.” The organisation’s goal is to “help companies all over the world get kosher certified in many different markets”.

Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, the managing director of the kosher department of the UOS, said, “We are aware of The Chocolate Tree being certified by MK, however we cannot comment on MK or any other potential competition. We have had limited dealings with them, but understand that they are one of several kashrut authorities in Canada.

“We are an internationally recognised hechsher that works with the best in the world, like the OU [Orthodox Union], and have been serving the South African Jewish community for decades,” Goldstein said. “Being local experts, with representatives visiting factories thousands of times each year, we provide the highest standards of kashrus with the most sustainable option for companies in Southern Africa. We have certified more than 150 new companies kosher in the past three years, and will continue to bring many more kosher products to the community.

“The kosher department of the UOS remains dedicated to delivering on our vision of more people eating more kosher more often.”

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