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Why we’re staying in South Africa

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Since becoming life rabbi emeritus of Sydenham Shul in 2021, my wife Rochel and I have been travelling extensively. I’ve been invited to speak in more than 30 different communities around the world, including North America, South America, Europe, and Israel.

We’ve visited communities big and small – from New York with nearly two million Jews; Los Angeles, with 700 000; Buenos Aires with more than 200 000; and little Spokane, Washington with only 700. London has 160 000; while Malmo, Sweden has only 1 500 souls.

In Los Angeles, once considered the Garden of Eden, people are moving in droves to more politically conservative states like Texas and Florida. Homelessness is a serious problem, and with California’s “woke” ideology, the police are powerless to protect people’s private properties, even their storefronts.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings have taken place across the United States (US). Frighteningly, it’s almost a weekly occurrence. And the scandalous discrimination against Jews at America’s great Ivy League universities borders on the unbelievable.

Antisemitism has spiked across the world, whether in the streets of London, Toronto, outside the shul in Sweden, or even in peaceful Ra’anana. Whereas, with all the African National Congress (ANC) government’s anti-Israel policies, the fact is that there’s still much less antisemitism here than in any other Jewish community in the world.

The South African preoccupation of sitting on our suitcases goes back 75 years from when the apartheid regime came to power. But though it’s a sign of our own historic insecurity, please forgive me for suggesting that there may be a degree of fickleness here too. Consider this, after 9/11, did New York Jewry even think about leaving New York? Did Australians leave their country after runaway wildfires? Did Floridians move north after being battered by hurricanes? The answer is no. Every place has its own set of problems, but people don’t necessarily pick up and move because of them.

Back in 1976, when we came to Johannesburg on shlichut from the US, it was just before the Soweto uprising. People told us we were mad to come here. “We’re sitting on a volcano,” they said. For decades, people have been saying South Africa has five years left. First, there was the fear of a bloody revolution. Then, there was a spiralling crime problem. And now, it’s our current government’s gross incompetence and corruption, failing infrastructure, and crippled services. And, of course, today, the cherry on top is the ANC’s chutzpah to take Israel to The Hague and to drop our Jewish cricket captain. I fully understand the anger.

But while I don’t minimise our problems for one minute, there are still many reasons to stay in South Africa.

Do you really want to be a displaced person for the rest of your life? South African emigrants still miss this place terribly. On a past visit to Melbourne, the Springboks were there for a rugby Test series. I asked the South Africans there if they were supporting the Wallabies or the Springboks. They looked at me like I was meshuga, saying, “Of course, the Springboks!” Many have settled well and done well, and many more still feel like displaced persons.

Let me try and distil some of the main reasons I oppose emigration.

Our way of life

Even in our current situation, we’re still able to enjoy a more relaxed and much less frenetic lifestyle than almost anywhere else on earth. People overseas work much harder, especially our wives. To replicate the quality of life most of us enjoy here internationally requires a fortune of money.

Our Jewish community

Don’t mistakenly think for a moment that the Jewish communal infrastructure is the same all over the world. Ours is a unique Jewish community with a plethora of shuls, schools, and kashrut facilities that aren’t necessarily found elsewhere. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel far and wide, let me assure you that, for our size, there’s hardly a community like ours in the whole wide world. Just one example, in the US, there are cities with more than 100 000 Jews which have only one or two kosher restaurants. Our own, much smaller, Johannesburg can boast 15!

Neither is your favourite shul easily replaceable. Why else would our emigrants have created South African-style shuls in Australia, Canada, America, and even Israel?

Your grandchildren will be Jewish

So many have said that they are emigrating for their children’s well-being. “Far di kinder.” But elsewhere, we expose our children to foreign influences and cultures which threaten their very survival as Jews. Intermarriage is rampant overseas. Ours is still a relatively sheltered community.


Keeping the family together is worth some sacrifice. And the fifth commandment, “Honour thy father and mother,” still applies. Thou shalt not abandon them, dump them, nor leave them bereft of support or nachas.

Almost every Jew in this country is familiar with the blessings and assurances given to our community by my saintly teacher and mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He sent us all his personal message which was, “Don’t be afraid. It will be good in South Africa until Moshiach comes!”

What would the Rebbe say now after our government’s disgraceful shenanigans?

The Rebbe was asked on a number of occasions whether he still held by his promises. And each time, he responded unequivocally that he did indeed.

So either Moshiach is around the corner, please G-d, and if G-d forbid not, then we’ll still be all right until he does come. I can tell you from experience that in all his decades of leadership, the Rebbe was never wrong on these kinds of judgement calls.

At the end of the day, please remember that G-d Almighty runs the world, not Cyril Ramaphosa. Our government is, frankly, ineffectual and irrelevant. Please G-d, things will improve here economically, politically, and on every level.

While black economic empowerment and other local political considerations have made doing business more difficult for many, the confident entrepreneur can still find huge opportunities here and throughout Africa.

In March, my wife and I will have been living in South Africa for 48 years. Thank G-d, we have no regrets. So, for those of you who really want to stay in sunny South Africa but may be struggling with peer pressure, know that you’re not alone. We’re still here, and we’re not going anywhere. I hope you’ll stick around and keep us company.

  • Rabbi Yossy Goldman is life rabbi emeritus of Sydenham Shul, Johannesburg, and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.

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  1. Choni Davidowitz

    Jan 25, 2024 at 12:59 pm

    Rabbi, Why are you defending the exile?
    It is true that the Rebbe assured us that it would be good for Jews in South Africa. (and even better when Maashiach comes. But the Rebbe also said that “we must feel deep pain and remorse that we are living in exile away from our Homeland”(Likutei sichos Vol30 p234) Can one feel safe living in exile and feel deep pain and remorse at the same time?
    Please explain.

    • Rabbi Yossy Goldman

      Jan 29, 2024 at 12:03 pm

      Dear Friends,

      I sincerely appreciate and value all your comments, observations, and questions.

      To my old friend Choni: While it is corect that we must always yearn for the redemption and the return of the exiles to our holy land, the Rebbe did not encourage mass aliyah. He replied to those who asked his advice on a personal, individual basis. Yes, we hope and pray for Moshiach many times a day. At the same time we must contribute and support Jewish communities around the world. and, yes, the Rebbe also sent his Shluchim (emissaries) around the world, including to places like Russia!

  2. Simon Berg

    Jan 25, 2024 at 4:40 pm

    I am reminded of German Jewish “loyalty” in the 1930s, who by some standards were “more German than the Germans, never for a moment thought to leave the groaning dinner table and that their cultured friends could turn against them.
    Rabbi, I appreciate exactly where you are coming from, and PG we will still reap the rewards of what South Africa still has to offer. South Africa has been a Goldene Midinah and thus enabled us to make massive disproportionate contributions to its wealth and education, but those gifts may now come at a price.

    • Lindal

      Jan 26, 2024 at 11:28 am

      I agree. Jews need to wake up. Don’t fall into the trap.

    • Rabbi Yossy Goldman

      Jan 29, 2024 at 12:07 pm

      Dear Simon,

      Nice to hear from you.
      Of course, we here are all deeply disturbed and disappointed by our current ANC government’s hostile attitude to Israel. Still, I am quite confident that the people of South Africa will not allow it to go anywhere near the likes of pre-war Nazi Germany.

      Bsorot tovot!

  3. Choni Davidowitz

    Jan 26, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    Questions for Rabbi Goldman. Were there occasions when the Rebbe would not approve kiruv work in an “antiSemetic” country? if so are not the actions of this government antisemetic? Furthemore we are taught that those who Bless Israel, will be blessed, and those who curse Israel will be cursed. (Gen 12;3).Is it not plain to see how this government is cursing Israel?
    In my opinion this curse is a message for Jews to get out of this exilic graveyard asap.

  4. Choni Davidowitz

    Jan 29, 2024 at 10:36 am

    Exile is punishment! South Africa is exile. Stop defending it.

  5. Michael Goldman

    Jan 30, 2024 at 11:35 am

    Rabbis, do you include Israel in places where our grandchildren may not be Jewish? I mean I would. But to you?

  6. Richard Shavei-Tzion

    Jan 30, 2024 at 1:25 pm

    Dear Rabbi
    Indeed, if you rank at the top of your list of reasons for remaining in RSA, the value of a relaxed and substantial material life-style, then you have every reason to stay.
    As for your lower ranked reasons, from the collective experience of the thousands of many happy and proud South Africans who have been living in Israel for decades including at this present, fraught time, there is no better place for unity of family, quality of community and the continuation of Jewish progeny than right here. We have the remarkable zechut to have retained our SA values and traditions and at the same time, broadened our life’s experience, incorporating the wonders of the wider Jewish world.
    Add to that the privilege to be part of the destiny of our nation and the fulfillment of our forebears’ dream of Return to Zion that you and I pray for three times a day. I respectfully recommend that you try it or, if it impacts on your standard of living/ are worried that your offspring will convert here, at least do not discourage it.
    I need not tell you how statements paralleling your’s on G-d and Ramaposa have led to such great sorrow for our people. As for the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings, with due reverence, it is our collective, ardent prayer that his instruction does not in the long term, be a catalyst for the shocking tragedy precipitated by those of past revered rabbinical leaders.
    Beracha Vehatslacha

  7. David S. Berman

    Jan 30, 2024 at 10:54 pm

    With all due respect, Rabbi, your attempt to justify Jews staying in South Africa is limp and poor.
    What is more startling though is your refusal to encourage aliyah for those wishing to leave troubled South Africa! So many thousands of South Africans have found a new home in Israel, myself included, where we live in warm communities with amazing shuls, facilities, restaurants and more!
    You are doing a disservice by encouraging Jewish people to remain in corrupt, crime-ridden and dangerous South Africa when Israel offers such a viable lifestyle and endless opportunities… yes, even more during the war!

    • Janine Blignaut

      Feb 13, 2024 at 2:43 pm

      @David S. Berman: Why would you recommend anyone move to a country at war? It is perhaps indicative of how one-sided this so-called “war” is, that you can comfortably do so. The current pro-Israeli narrative posits that Hamas poses an urgent existential threat to Israel, yet you obviously feel safe enough to suggest that the rabbi encourage his fellow Jewish South Africans move to Israel. How exactly do you square this circle? The reality is that this is not an actual war against Hamas, it is the sustained massacre of a civilian population at a catastrophic scale – one that legally constitutes a plausible case for genocide. I would add that the “viable lifestyle and endless opportunities” you so glibly say Israel has to offer, “yes, even more during the war”, have come into being through decades of Israeli occupation and violence, and now the indiscriminate slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians. Justice can move slowly (and is sadly usually incomplete), but over the next several years, as the extent of Israel’s crimes against humanity are revealed, global support for the current Israeli state will wane, just as happened with apartheid in South Africa, and Israel will increasingly become a pariah state. Really, going on about “amazing… restaurants” during a war that has killed innocent civilians Muslim, Jewish, and Christian; unbelievable!

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