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

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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: https://www.sazf.org/hell-or-high-water.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Merryl Kantor

    May 6, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    Not to detract anything from the impressive achievements of Israel, but South Africa itself has many fully competent water experts that were driven from their positions in line with BEE requirements. What of all this local expertise and competence to turn the situation around?

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Communal organisations help make Rosh Hashanah special

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With Rosh Hashanah upon us, communal organisations are hard-pressed to make sure that every community member is looked after, but the number of people needing help has spiked since the onset of the pandemic.

The Chevrah Kadisha – which looks after the lion’s share of those in need – has recorded a 35% increase in the amount of financial assistance that it gives families towards living costs. In the Western Cape, Jewish Community Services Cape Town (JCS) recipients have increased more than 100%.

The Jewish Women’s Benevolent Society (JWBS) has also noticed an increase in the number of people in need over the past few years. “With COVID-19, it’s especially hard,” said Maureen Disler, the co-chairperson of the organisation which has survived for more than 127 years. “People have lost their jobs, and some people ask for food vouchers. They haven’t got enough to feed their children.”

The Chevrah Kadisha gives special yom tov meals to the 850 elderly and physically or mentally challenged people living in its residential facilities. However, its wider reach extends to nearly 11 000 people, helping them with living costs, food, healthcare, education, accommodation, and social services throughout the year.

“The Chev is unique in the sheer volume of people it helps, the duration of time that it helps them for, and the diverse range of its activities from cradle to grave,” said Saul Tomson, the chief executive of the largest Jewish welfare organisation on the African continent.

The organisation distributes R5 million every month to families in the community, totalling R60 million for the year. This is a significant increase from pre-COVID-19 times. It’s also involved in education, with nearly R1 million a month going towards 279 children in Jewish schools and remedial schools, as well as 130 university students who are being educated through the Chev’s interest-free student-loan programme.

“Particularly now leading up to Rosh Hashanah, a lot of assistance is being distributed through our COVID-19 emergency release fund,” Tomson said.

Smaller organisations like Yad Aharon & Michael have also been inundated with new requests over the past two years.

“Whereas the number of families who receive weekly food parcels from us stands at about 700, families who aren’t in a position to provide festive meals for Rosh Hashanah through to Sukkot apply for food parcels, which we gladly provide, thereby increasing the number of parcels packed by anything between 20 to 30 plentiful yom tov hampers,” said Alice Friedman, the chief executive of the organisation founded more than 23 years ago.

Ingrid Koor, the chairperson of the Union of Jewish Women (UJW), which assists just more than 100 people over Rosh Hashanah, said, “There are many more people in need as many families have emigrated, leaving elderly people. The economic downturn and COVID-19 have made things more difficult. With, unfortunately, many more elderly passing, our numbers have remained the same for a few years.”

The UJW’s flagship project, Kosher Mobile Meals (KMM), will supply festive cooked kosher Rosh Hashanah meals, plus honey for a hopefully sweeter year. “We will also distribute yom tom joy parcels supplied by the HOD [Hebrew Order of David] consisting of treats and non-perishable food to recipients,” said Koor. “KMM distributes kosher cooked meals to those Jewish elderly over 75 who are unable to cook for themselves.”

For Rosh Hashanah, Yad Aharon & Michael is handing out double portions of seasonal fruit, apples and vegetables, supplemented by meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Its dry goods hampers include honey, grape juice, challahs, and honey cakes in addition to all the basic requirements needed to prepare yom tov meals and usher in a happy and sweet new year.

“I’m confident our families won’t need to shop for extra food for two days of yom tov,” said Friedman. “Our aim is to enable them to enjoy plentiful meals free from worry and anxiety. This is made possible by the community’s renowned generosity.”

JWBS is giving money to its recipients to sweeten their Rosh Hashanah. It also recently gave out activity packs. “People are lonely and isolated, so we’ve given them each an activity pack. They really look forward to it,” said Disler.

This Rosh Hashanah, the JCS’s hampers include round challot, ready-made vegetable soup, roast chicken, pumpkin pie, vegetables, salads, and strawberries.

“Of course, we add in the apples, honey, grape juice, and candles,” said Lauren Cohn, the chairperson of the JCS Tikvah Foodbank Committee. “In addition, we include a Tupperware container filled with teiglach, meringues, dried fruit, and Sparkles. Every food hamper has a special Rosh Hashanah card handmade by children in our local Jewish schools. These food hampers are well thought out, meticulously planned, and beautifully presented with the love, dignity, and respect that we all deserve.”

The JCS is raising funds through the Rosh Hashanah Appeal, which entails sending out e-cards on behalf of the Tikvah Foodbank’s donors. The organisation also relies on volunteers.

“Our Rosh Hashanah and Pesach [fundraising] campaigns are the biggest,” said Friedman. “We have a Rosh Hashanah campaign running at the moment. It’s widely posted on social media, advertised on street poles in suburbs known to be frequented by the Jewish community, and in the SA Jewish Report. We’re also selling beautiful yom tov gifts at various points in Joburg, which is a successful initiative.”

The JWBS phones people to ask for donations as COVID-19 restrictions prevent it from running traditional functions such as theatre shows and golf tournaments.

Since many of the UJW’s recipients don’t have family nearby or the funds to pay for their meals, KMM is run mostly on donations. “We launched a fundraising campaign on social media and via our databases to raise money,” said Koor. “We also phoned people to ask for donations.”

Although the UJW’s principal need is donations, it also needs volunteers to chat to its isolated elderly when it’s safer to do so. “KMM recipients are more isolated since COVID-19,” said Koor. “We used to host elderly people to a Wednesday lunch at our UJW house. These people are sorely missing the social interaction.”

Asked what advice she has for those wanting to help others on Rosh Hashanah, Friedman said, “Teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah are the three elements which Hashem takes into account when finalising our verdict for the coming year. I’m fully cognisant that everybody is financially stretched, but helping those in our midst who cannot celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the chaggim without our assistance is a communal responsibility. Treating the needy with sensitivity, kindness, and empathy underpins Yad Aharon’s brand of chesed, and addressing the harsh reality of hunger and destitution in our midst forms an integral part of our mission.”

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Hudaco-ORT helps disabled entrepreneurs

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ORT South Africa hosted a ceremony on 12 August for 10 entrepreneurs who it assisted to obtained SETA qualifications to help them start their own businesses.

The potential and existing entrepreneurs were assisted by Hudaco-ORT to obtain National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 2 new venture creation qualifications, assisting them to start and grow their business ventures.

Hudaco-ORT helps people with disabilities by facilitating their completion of the NQF level 2 qualifications, which equips them to capitalise on opportunities. The beneficiaries received their Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) certificates at the ceremony.

“We often unintentionally consume ourselves with what’s considered the norm rather than focusing on our own uniqueness,” Hudaco-ORT said. “People with disabilities are the epitome of uniqueness, forming a vital part of society and reminding us to value our own strengths and weaknesses.”

Said, beneficiary Mncedisi Bengu, “It was a surprise. I was fairly happy and shocked at the same time. I didn’t think I would be successful. My teacher, Sarah Malape, gave me an experience that I had never had in my life. She taught me to respect myself and other people, and to be myself.”

On receiving his certificate, he said, “I’m excited. At my home, they gonna [sic] be happy for me, and say, ‘Wow you did it.’”

Said another beneficiary, Sthembile Gumede, “I’m so happy, and my grandmother is happy for me. I wish I learnt more because I like books.”

ORT SA wishes all the beneficiaries of the Hudaco-ORT Project well in their future endeavours, and is grateful to Hudaco for partnering with it to make a difference in people’s lives.

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Rabbi and craftsman perfect the art of charity

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Two people from two different backgrounds – Rabbi David Masinter and artist Leonard Nyathi – have come together with the goals of teaching, educating, uplifting, and spreading the message about the need for charity around the globe.

Masinter, the rabbi of Chabad House in Johannesburg and the founder of the fundraiser Miracle Drive, was looking for a good craftsman who could also teach in the most destitute areas.

He came across Nyathi, a master craftsman whose business struggled before Miracle Drive recognised his talents and commissioned custom artworks.

Masinter told Nyathi, “Let’s identify the artists, bring them together, train them, and I will buy in a whole bunch.”

Encouraged, Nyathi started working with Masinter. “We worked as a team, an unusual team,” says Masinter. “The only thing we have in common is that we both like to teach.”

They started hiring and training underprivileged people. “We normally hire street kids and people with disabilities,” says Nyathi. “We also give training to people that don’t have an education. The rabbi and I decided to employ people so that they could make a living.”

Masinter says they found underprivileged artists in the most remote areas, and improved their skills. “When you find a skill within a person, you improve not only that skill but every other aspect as well,” he says.

Nyathi and the other artists are turning Jewish objects into what Masinter calls “African art”. All the artworks are handcrafted and hand painted – from ceramic mezuzah cases and ceramic dreidels to ceramic arks and a set of three ceramic grating plates (meat, parev, and dairy). It can all be purchased on the online Gallery of Goodness and Kindness, set up due to COVID-19. According to Masinter, they also “have a whole bunch” of non-Jewish products.

“The gallery online is only the beginning,” says Masinter. “We are building a proper gallery like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art – a proper beautiful online gallery to promote South African art, underprivileged and other artists, one that can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Asked if they have a marketing and sales strategy, Masinter says, “A hundred percent. That’s why this thing is going global. We also doing displays in different shopping centres, and we are taking it overseas.”

Nyathi is thankful for Masinter’s help. Now, he and the other artists can afford to pay their rent and support their families. “If it wasn’t for Shabbat, we were going to close this business,” Nyathi says.

When people praise his artwork, Nyathi says he feels “over the moon” and “recognised” in his heart.

Asked where the funding comes from for the materials, Masinter says, “Where required, I will do the funding, but the idea is to make it self-sustainable. This thing is global. We have already got orders from overseas. We are changing our world for good. Everyone should be energised by this. We can do much more.”

Masinter believes every Jew is obligated to uplift the spiritual and material welfare not only of every Jew, but also non-Jews as well.

“Therefore, we cannot live as South Africans only focusing on Jewish things when we have a fortune of programmes, from kids programmes to teenage programmes, to senior-citizen feeding programmes. We have to worry about everybody. You can’t live in a country where millions of people are living in squalor and say, ‘It’s not our problem’. The way to [help] is through job creation, and this project is helping with that. We have 21 libraries in the city in underprivileged areas. We have the whole learning programme for primary school children. We have a job-creation programme, and now during COVID-19, we went into this programme, which is self-explanatory. A rabbi and an artist have come together to turn the world upside down for good, with one thing in common, a passion for art and education.”

Masinter’s charitable work is based on two philosophies, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” and “You don’t have to stay down, you can uplift everybody.”

Asked how long he has been doing his charitable work, he says, “I’m a Chabad rabbi. Every Chabad rabbi does charitable work. We don’t talk about the past. It’s about what we could be doing. You must energise people to copy what we are doing. We can’t sit here with millions of people living in squalor. We should all be asking what are we doing to assist welfare in this country, Jewish and non-Jewish.”•            The Gallery of Goodness and Kindness can be found at: https://www.chabadsouthafrica.org/templates/articlecco

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