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Why letting off steam about SA is bad for your kids




Have you ever considered the effects of your words on little ears?

Children, big and small, have been severely impacted by a continuous daily diet of doom and gloom and negative news. They are a generation born with the spectre of unprecedented crime levels and omnipresent poverty-stricken images on street corners and television sets. They are being raised during an economic recession amidst unacceptable corruption, inept leaders, and political upheaval, despicable looting, and despair.

This doesn’t include the main trauma of their lives right now – a devastating pandemic which has upended all of our worlds. They are seeing the people they love literally dying or making aliyah; and some parents are openly insisting that somewhere over the rainbow, the grass will be greener.

It’s been tough. Do we make it rougher for them to navigate this never-ending patch of fear and FOMO (fear of missing out) by the very words we utter in front of them?

Experts in the field of child psychology say we do. All of these environmental factors have, no doubt, led to an increase in anxiety among our young people, and what we say in front of them adds fuel to the fire.

Johannesburg child psychotherapist, Sheryl Cohen, has noticed what she terms “an interesting shift” in how children relate to the world around them since the start of the pandemic.

“I have noticed that children feel more vulnerable, helpless, afraid, and frustrated than ever before,” she said.

Cohen, who has been practicing for more than two decades, said it would be a mistake to assume that only children are affected in this way, because as adults, we have had the same experience.

“However, as adults, we have more emotional resources to deal with distress. We have more information at our fingertips; we have more comprehension of the facts and less magical thinking about the consequences,” she said. “Children, therefore, depend on us as adults to feel safe and contained.”

Experts agree that the way in which children deal with environmental stressors is strongly dependent on the way their parents or significant others deal with it.

“Children absorb every little thing their parents are saying and not saying,” said social worker Stephanie Urdang, who works with children.

“The walls have ears, and while adults are speaking to their spouses, friends, and families, the children are listening. They also witness body language and feel their parents’ anguish, which has an impact on them,” she said.

“When parents grieve for a lost loved one, children feel the pain, not only because they, too, lost a loved one, but because they are sensitive to the emotions felt and expressed by their parents at home,” said Cohen.

“How do we as parents speak to our children about the world around us? How do we speak to our children about South Africa? About the recent looting, crime, instability? Aliyah in the air? Are we giving our children a feeling of safety and security in the world at large? If we aren’t giving our children a feeling of safety and positivity towards South Africa, how are our children to understand why we live here?” Cohen asks.

These are some of the questions she has grappled with as a therapist working in private practice in our community.

She said children needed to feel safe in the world.

“While there are no guarantees, we need to do what we can to assist them. While we might have electric fences and sophisticated alarms, what do we talk about at the dining room table? Do we undo all the security efforts we put into our sophisticated systems in three seconds by sharing our anger and frustration at the government, the police, and the president?” she asked.

We know not to share the recent robbery up the road with our children, but what’s less obvious is the “style and feeling” we have towards South Africa and the world around us.

“Children pick up on those thoughts and feelings, and it doesn’t serve them well. While it gives us the opportunity to let off some steam, it leaves our children feeling unsafe and unprotected in the world at large at a time in their lives where they need the opposite.

“Feeling frustrated, anxious, upset, and disappointed about life in South Africa has become the norm. But then, in reality, we continue to live here. The discrepancy is a little hard to digest for children. Children don’t do well with hypocrisy. They don’t like a mixed message.”

While she’s aware it’s a complex issue, she said it was important to provide a more balanced perspective.

“This would give them the opportunity to integrate the positive and negative parts of the outside world and live with less stress and a greater sense of stability.”

Urdang agrees that balance is crucial.

“Yes, times are challenging and there are problems, but we need to balance our views. Yes, we were slow to rollout the vaccine, but things are progressing rapidly and we have world-class scientists and doctors that we can be proud of. Yes, the riots and looting were terrible, but we will rise out of the ashes and just look at the astonishing community initiatives that it gave rise to. As parents, we need to emphasise all the positives. While we should in no way diminish anxiety and pain, we need to be mindful and know that we have a lot to be grateful for.”

When it comes to COVID-19, experts say parents should offer children comfort and honesty. Temper scary information and headlines about death with facts and reliable-up-to-date information. Speak in a calm voice, and try to sound reassuring not panicked.

It’s important to give children the space to share their fears, but offer them reassuring information, they say. It’s also important to help children feel in control by doing things like wearing a mask and washing hands often.

Young kids and teenagers worry more about family and friends than themselves. For this reason, parents should encourage their children to FaceTime or voice call their grandparents often.

It’s also important to let them know that it’s normal to feel stressed at times. By recognising and acknowledging these feelings, children get a sense that this too shall pass and life will get back to a new normal. This ultimately helps children build resilience and inner strength.

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Antisemitism the second global pandemic, says WJC president



There are two pandemics in the world, Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), told the South African Jewish Board of Deputies national conference on 17 October. COVID-19 is one, the other – antisemitism – has been with us for 2 000 years.

Speaking from the WJC’s headquarters in New York, Lauder said that he had witnessed these two “global viruses” coming to the forefront since attending an executive meeting in Johannesburg six years ago.

Described by the Jerusalem Post as “a rare voice of moral clarity in today’s world”, the American-born art collector has been the president of the WJC since 2007.

The WJC was founded in 1936 in response to the rise of Nazism and the growing wave of European antisemitism. It acts as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people, and has international offices in six countries.

The WJC watches everything that happens around the world, including in South Africa, 24 hours a day, Lauder said. “We will be there for you if you ever need us.”

Today, the organisation is engaged in fighting the mighty wave of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. “I can promise you we will protect Jews everywhere. That’s why this organisation was formed in the first place,” said Lauder.

He said that the WJC was alarmed by the attacks on Jews in the streets of Paris, London, and Los Angeles, and mentioned that just more than two weeks ago, a bottle of water was thrown at a Swedish-based rabbi.

“These things shouldn’t happen at all,” he said. “Israel comes under constant assault through the United Nations and on social media, mainstream newspapers, and on college campuses.”

Lauder said the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa was an example of the “fabrications and complete falsehoods” that the world still believes because “unhinged hatred of Israel is simply the latest version of antisemitism”.

According to Lauder, Jews were hated for their religion during the Middle Ages. “In the late 19th and early 20th century, they were hated for their race. Today, we are hated for the national state of Israel.”

The former United States ambassador to Austria said such hatred was bizarre as Jews make up 0.2% of the world’s population. “Yet, Jews are the target of more than 50% of all religious crimes. These aren’t just isolated attacks. They have occurred in 89 countries.”

The WJC continuously notices baseless posts on social media being reported as truth by mainstream media, Lauder said.

“This was most evident with the attacks on Israel this past spring. If South Africa, France, Great Britain, or any other country other than Israel had been attacked by more than 4 000 rockets launched by terrorists, everyone would have hit back hard, and everyone would have every right to do so,” he said.

“Yet, the world’s press and social media charged Israel with crimes against humanity. That defies all logic. It’s ludicrous. It also gives you an idea of what the WJC is fighting every single day.”

Lauder said the WJC was seeking the people behind these “sickening” lies. “We will start making them uncomfortable. If I’ve learned anything about antisemites, it’s that they’re cowards. The only way to deal with bullies and cowards is to fight back even harder, and they get a taste of their own medicine. That is when antisemitism will start to disappear.”

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Minister hopeful about improved relations between Israel and SA



Israel Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai is hopeful that the relationship between Israel and South Africa will improve soon.

“I’m hopeful that things will get better and even hopeful that the South African government will finally recognise that it made some mistakes vis-à-vis Israel,” he told the participants at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national conference on 17 October.

“It’s time for the South African ambassador to return to Israel and to renew full diplomatic relations. We do everything we can to improve their relations from our end,” he said, speaking from Israel as a guest of honour at the conference.

Shai is widely remembered as the voice of national calm when serving as a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces when Iraq fired missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

He is a good friend of South Africa, and said he vividly remembers being part of a group of Knesset members who visited South Africa three or four years ago. “Needless to say, we appreciate your community, how much you devoted to Zionism and Israel, and of course to your Jewish life.”

Shai thanked the SAJBD National President Shaun Zagnoev and the SAJBD National Vice-Presidents Mary Kluk and Zev Krengel for their contribution to the South African Jewish community during the recent period.

“All of you have played a very important role, like Moshe,” he said. “If the Jewish people were in the desert without Moshe, where would we have been today?”

Shai noted that Europe had lost eight million Jews in the past 75 years. “On the eve of the World War II, nine and a half million Jews were living in Europe. Now there are just one and a half million. Six million were lost in the Holocaust. The rest just left Europe and went all over the world.”

Shai, who is the founder of the commercial Second Authority for Television and Radio in Israel, said Europe consequently lost a significant portion of its culture. He would like to help Jews return to Europe and foster Jewish life there.

He marvelled at how, first, a Jewish state was formed three years after the end of the Holocaust and, second, how Israel had led the world in combatting COVID-19.

“We were the first to be fully vaccinated,” he said. “To the great credit of this [Israeli] government, we decided neither to quarantine nor close down the entire country any longer. We did this to keep the country moving, not to lose billions of shekels. Now, the economy is still on track, and we are determined to return to normal life, including schools.”

As a parting gesture, he said,” We hope to see you in Israel. We are gradually opening borders and easing restrictions.”

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Heroes, mentors, and cancelled plans: the stories behind the SAJBD awards



Professor Barry Schoub, Dr Richard Friedland, Uriel Rosen, the Kirsh family, and Viv Anstey were all honoured for their unstinting work for the good of others at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Conference at Investec in Sandton on 17 October.

The Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award went to Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland. “Barry has been the person in our community who, over and above the incredible nachas that we receive from his global scientific accomplishments, has done so much for us,” said Mary Kluk, SAJBD national vice-president.

When the SAJBD leadership was grappling with how to protect the Jewish community during the early stages of COVID-19, it was Schoub’s quiet wisdom and vast scientific experience that steered them through.

“He’s become this household name, constantly appearing not only on our news, but also on international news networks,” said Kluk. “Yet, Barry has taken every call and every query from every one of us and all our organisations for the past 18 months. And he has made himself available to South Africa, but in particular to our community.”

Speaking after receiving the award, Schoub recalled how he and his wife were about to travel to Storms River Mouth in the Eastern Cape in March 2020, when his phone rang.

“Look, there’s no way you can go on holiday,” said Zev Krengel, SAJBD national vice-president, on the other end of the line. “Do you know that there’s a COVID-19 pandemic on its way to the country?”

With that, Schoub unpacked the bags, cancelled the booking, and began what he described as a “remarkable” journey.

“I’m indeed overwhelmed, honoured, humbled, and gratified to receive this very, very prestigious award named after two extraordinary philanthropists in our community,” said Schoub. “It will occupy a treasured place for me and on my study wall.”

Schoub paid tribute to his co-awardee, Friedland, describing him as a “tzadik” and saying he had learned so much from his former student.

Indeed, Friedland was lectured by Schoub during his third year of medicine.

“He [Schoub] was a mentor then, and he’s a mentor now,” said Friedland. “One of the great privileges of working now was to sit at the feet of such a master.”

Friedland was awarded for the contribution he made to the Jewish community during the pandemic.

He has spoken on many public platforms, participated in a range of consultative forums, and fielded innumerable queries from all sectors of the community about COVID-19. Through this, he provided up-to-date information, advice, and considered guidelines that the Jewish leadership could safely rely upon. Furthermore, Friedland took a personal interest in those community members who contracted the virus.

After receiving his award, Friedland said Schoub’s praise “greatly overexaggerates the role I played, which was merely a janitor”.

The Chief Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Humanitarian Award went to the Kirsh family for their contribution to South Africa, in spite of being overseas. Natie and Frances, their son, Philip, and daughters, Wendy and Linda, were praised by Krengel as “one of the unique families that did unbelievably well all over the world and never forgot their roots”.

Krengel said the family embodied the proverb popularised by Spider-Man comic books: “With great power comes great responsibility”. He said the family looked after the most vulnerable in South Africa and, during the pandemic, it stepped up to help young people and schools across the country.

The Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award for a Professional went to Viv Anstey and Uriel Rosen. A board member of the Cape SAJBD, Anstey possesses an immense depth of communal knowledge, gives selflessly of her time, and constantly rolls up her sleeves to help with tasks of any size. She has a passion for including and reaching out to youth in the South African Jewish community.

“You have epitomised the model of a Jewish civil servant,” said Tzvi Brivik, the chairperson of the Cape SAJBD. “Numerous organisations have benefited from your qualities of vision, innovation, and initiative, combined with the highest standards of professionalism that you have consistently brought to every position you have held.”

After collecting her award, Anstey said, “As a serial social entrepreneur, I’m proud of all the initiatives I have spearheaded alongside lay and professional teams. For me, leadership is about vision, implementation, and people.”

Rosen is the man behind the Hatzolah Wellness Programme, recognised across South Africa as the epitome of community care. The programme has been a critical resource in tracking and managing COVID-19 in the community.

“Everybody who works with Uriel has nothing but praise for his unbelievable willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to assist those in need,” said Professor Karen Milner, the chairperson of the SAJBD.

Rosen accepted the award on behalf of his team, which “dedicates every breathing moment to the welfare and healthcare of the Jewish community”.

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