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Why networking in the diaspora matters

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Every year, a high-powered delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations (COP) visits a particular part of the world, meeting political leadership as well as the local Jewish community. COP is the umbrella organisation of the 50 most important Jewish communal institutions in the United States, and one of the most effective advocates of strengthening American support for Israel and working towards furthering peace and stability in the Middle East. This year’s meeting took place in Dubai, after which the delegation moved on to Israel for a packed programme of discussions and meetings with top Israeli leaders.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD’s) traditionally close and amicable working relationship with COP was significantly boosted in February 2010 when the Board hosted 65 delegates from both COP and the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress in their visit to southern Africa. Since then, National Director Wendy Kahn has regularly been invited to attend as well as sometimes speak at COP’s annual gatherings. Wendy again attended the Israel leg of this year’s COP trip, in addition to many other important leadership gatherings, meetings, and consultations that she took part in during her visit.

As Wendy always stresses, it’s important to take part in major Jewish leadership gatherings not just because of the value derived from the events themselves, but perhaps even more for the opportunities to network and build partnerships with our international Jewish colleagues. Over the years, these trips have exposed Wendy and other Board professional and lay leaders, myself included, to an impressive range of organisations that have shared the outstanding models and best practice they have developed. Depending upon the work and functions such organisations perform, these, in turn, can be introduced to other South African Jewish communal bodies. Wendy was able to lay the groundwork for future potential partnerships with local communal bodies during her trip. This was in addition to discussing and developing partnerships relating to the SAJBD’s own core work. Though our community is, geographically speaking, quite isolated from the greater Jewish world, we have so much in common with our counterparts elsewhere in the diaspora. Like us, they are constantly required to safeguard their communities against antisemitic attacks, whether involving physical violence, threats, intimidation, or unfair discrimination. They also confront continual attacks on Israel’s integrity and legitimacy, which in addition to defending Israel itself, is also inextricably bound up with defending the right of Jews to identify openly and proudly as Zionists in an environment where such voices are increasingly being silenced.

While in Israel, Wendy was on a panel of country representatives who spoke at the foreign ministry conference. She took the opportunity to share the strengths of South African Jewry as well as the challenges it faces and how it’s dealing with them. It was fascinating to hear how other communities are dealing with similar challenges, and how we can learn from and assist each other in that regard. More sobering insight was provided into the escalating severity of antisemitism in many other diaspora countries not just in terms of the bare number of incidents but the increasing instances of attacks involving serious violence. This is becoming a genuine crisis for global Jewry, and underlines how essential it is for Jewish communities around the world to work together, sharing best practice, resources, and experience, assisting one another wherever possible, and maintaining sound channels of communication.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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