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Yeshiva heads unite youth in support of Israel



Yeshiva College’s head boy, Akiva Fox, and head girl, Kayla Sifris, gave student representatives of each Jewish school in South Africa an opportunity to express their support for Israel during the upsurge of anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment in South Africa last year.

Akiva Fox

In response to the vitriol following the outbreak of violence on the Israel-Gaza border in May 2021, Fox had the idea of uniting Jewish schools in support of Israel. So, he and Sifris crafted a powerful video of student representatives from each school passionately expressing support for Israel.

On 23 May, Fox read out a joint message from Jewish youth at the pro-Israel rally organised by the South African Zionist Federation at Beyachad in Johannesburg. “It was a powerful display of pride, hope, and support for Israel,” he says.

Sifris reached the international finals of the Chidon HaTanach, the Bible Quiz in Israel the previous year.

“The Tanach is the most magnificent book ever written, and it’s incumbent upon every Jew to explore its pages to truly understand Jewish history and Hashem’s hashgacha,” she says. “As I began my studies for the Chidon HaTanach in Grade 8, I fell in love with the Tanach, and it was this passion that inspired me throughout my journey. I was incredibly privileged to be exposed to great rabbinic teachers through Yeshiva College who truly uplifted the level of my studies. It was these teachers alongside my passion for the majestic book that drove me to reach the international finals.”

Sifris was elected head girl of Yeshiva College amid the COVID-19 pandemic during September of the same year.

“School as we knew and loved it for the past 11 years had come to a sudden halt,” she says. “Our team committed ourselves not to let this pandemic detract from all the wonderful things the school has to offer its students. We innovated by pioneering a hybrid online assembly system which abided by COVID-19 regulations and ensured that the great tradition of Yeshiva College assemblies with guest speakers, Israel-advocacy workshops, and ‘big buddy, little buddy tochniot’ continued, as well as maintaining the fun and gees [spirit] Yeshiva College is famous for.”

As head boy, Fox was entrusted with making Yeshiva College proud. “This broad definition manifested in organising school-wide projects, representing the school at external events and, on a personal level, living in accordance with the school’s core values,” he says.

Since he also headed up the unity and inspiration committee, he organised events and initiatives which helped fellow students connect to the Torah, Israel, and their Jewish identity.

“A matric year is stressful, but a matric year during COVID-19 while playing a leadership role in the school is extremely pressured,” he says. “However, my major success was not being brought down by all these challenges, but rather uplifted by them. Pushing through the restrictions of COVID-19, our leadership group revolutionised the committee system at our school while also managing to maintain our academics. Most importantly, we were also able to have fun and take time to chill. In short, our major success was finding a way to enjoy a really difficult year.”

Sifris says it’s difficult to pinpoint a singular success in a year filled with the challenges, interruptions, and uncertainty of COVID-19. “However, the fact that my matric year prevailed is testament to our grit in our final school year,” she says. “We never gave up. We kept our eye on the prize. We worked hard in our academics. We lent a hand to our friends. We laughed and had fun. We grasped every opportunity to give to our school and community. And we emerged as the second year of COVID-19 matriculants with both the glorious education and the derech [halachic lifestyle] of Yeshiva College to carry with us into our future. That will always be our greatest success.”

Online schooling is certainly a challenge, but Sifris and her fellow students were a lot more prepared last year, having become accustomed to Zoom schooling in 2020. “We were incredibly lucky that all our teachers went the extra mile to make sure each of us were able to connect to lessons and understand the syllabi in spite of technical difficulties. Although we spent the majority of our school days in-person, to a large extent, my matric experience was a virtual one, with many after-school lessons on Zoom and classwork posted on Google Classroom.”

School last year was absolutely unique in both its challenges and opportunities, says Fox. “Being online for a significant period was certainly an obstacle, yet I and my classmates were extremely privileged to have all the correct facilities and devices to make it work. Though COVID-19 disrupted the year with its tumultuous peaks and relieving lows, my school and teachers made sure that all of us were more than prepared to excel in our matric year. More than just schoolwork, the year made me appreciate family and friends who helped to make a stressful time that much easier.”

Fox is excited to be learning at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel this year. “I’m doing it through Bnei Akiva’s incredible MTA [Midreshet Tora v’Avodah] programme,” he says.

Sifris also aims to attend the Bnei Akiva MTA programme in Israel, studying at Midreshet HaRova in the Old City.

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