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Yom Hashoah 2021 shows our ability to adapt

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Voices

When the country went into lockdown in March last year, it was obvious that the traditional, countrywide Yom Hashoah ceremonies couldn’t be held, and that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) would have to come up with an alternative way of marking this very important day on the communal calendar. It was decided to organise a single national online ceremony in which all regions would participate. The Holocaust centres in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg were an essential part of the whole process, and here, we had the advantage that our national president, Mary Kluk, who headed up the national planning committee, was also the director of the Durban Holocaust Centre.

Far from being a stop-gap, second-best alternative to the traditional in-person gatherings, the first-ever united Virtual Yom Hashoah ceremony was a great success. More than 17 000 people (many overseas) participated, and the feedback was extremely positive. I’m happy to report that this year’s online ceremony was even more successful, with 40 414 people viewing the presentation to date. We have received fulsome praise from across the board for an event variously described as moving, profound, dignified, and forward-looking, as well as very well put together. Once again, all praise is due to Mary and her committee, to our professional staff, and perhaps above all to the survivors, around whose testimonies and messages for the future the entire event was organised.

Another positive lesson we can take from all this is how well our community has been able to adapt to the extraordinary circumstances it has found itself in over the past year and more. Taking full advantage of the many opportunities offered by the online communications revolution, we have been able to ensure not only the continuation of normal communal activities, but if anything, an improvement in their quality and reach. It bodes well for our ability to meet and overcome whatever future challenges our community will face.

More underhanded malice from BDS

At a time when South Africans perhaps more than ever need to work together in addressing the many urgent issues confronting our society, certain fringe groups continue to push radical ideological agendas at the expense of the country as a whole. They include the various BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)-oriented groups, which never lose an opportunity to sow conflict and division in order to spread hatred against Israel and its supporters. This week, we saw yet another instance of this when the South African BDS Coalition came out with a demand that a Jewish candidate for appointment to the Constitutional Court be rejected because of his association with the SAJBD. As the Board is the elected representative of South African Jewry, and since the vast majority of Jews roundly reject the rabidly anti-Israel BDS ideology, this is tantamount to calling for Jews to be excluded from public office in South Africa.

In our response, we criticised this self-evidently bigoted, discriminatory, and totalitarian initiative. We are nevertheless confident that all those genuinely committed to our country’s democratic, non-racial values will reject with contempt this latest attempt by BDS to sow division and hatred in our society.

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

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Voices

Conflict and media bias pose greater risk for Shavuot

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As we count down the final days to Shavuot, we are also keeping an anxious eye on events in the Middle East, where after a long period of relative quiet on the Israeli-Palestinian front, there is again an upsurge in deadly violence. As in years gone by, Jerusalem and in particular the Temple Mount area provided the spark leading to a renewed wave of hostilities against the Jewish state, including a resumption of missile fire on Israeli cities from Gaza.

The media coverage of events has yet again been characterised by an uncritical acceptance of Palestinians’ claims while those of Israel have, as usual, been downplayed or ignored altogether. As ever, it’s Israeli retaliation rather than Palestinian provocation that the mainstream media appear to regard as a cause for righteous indignation. Working with the South African Zionist Federation, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is doing as much as possible to bring greater balance to the coverage, including arranging for local and international spokespeople to appear on various radio stations around the country.

Times of intensified conflict in Israel are always deeply disquieting for Jewish communities everywhere, not only because of natural distress over the danger in which the Israeli people find themselves, but because of the heightened risk of retaliatory attacks against Jews in general. In South Africa, we have always witnessed a sharp spike in antisemitic activity during periods of serious violence in the region. The SAJBD is carefully monitoring events, especially discourse in social media, to identify and, where required, respond to any antisemitic threats. We ask that members of our community assist us by keeping their ears to the ground, and alert us via sajbd@sajbd.org to any incidents that come to their attention.

In addition to concerns about the possible fall-out from the conflict, we need to be aware that yom tov is a time when we need to be especially vigilant against possible attacks. All those who will be going to shul should therefore be sure to comply strictly with the guidelines provided by the Community Security Organisation and their congregations, including not gathering outside one’s shul before and after services.

A second area where we need to be extra cautious is meticulous adherence to COVID-19 restrictions, which involves social distancing before, during, and after services. With winter upon us and infection rates starting to climb once more including within our own community, we have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to do everything we can to minimise any risk of contracting or spreading the disease.

In closing, I wish you a chag Shavuot sameach. May it be a safe, peaceful, and fulfilling yom tov for all of us.

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

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Friends can do no wrong

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I keep trying to muster up notable outrage at the South African government for its one sided and biased approach to Israel. I keep trying to shake my head in disgust and pen witty and wonderful one-liners that will hurt it more than it will hurt me. I keep trying to be disappointed that it’s quick to point out Israel’s faults, but falls silent when Hamas rockets fall. But I haven’t managed so far. And the reason might be that I no longer care.

For all the right reason, I want to be bothered by the uneven response. I’m a South African, I adore all the people of the country, and I continue to invest in its growth and success. I’m, however, also acutely aware of how little standing we have and how irrelevant we have become on the international stage. In some ways it’s like we’ve undertaken a 12-step programme to discredit ourselves globally and we’ve finally reached our goal. Sadly.

South Africa’s obsession with Cuba hasn’t helped. Embracing a country whose citizens are denied basic democratic rights is perplexing, especially given that that is the very thing it accuses Israel of doing. The harbouring of Omar al Bashir when a warrant for his arrest for war crimes was known to the African National Congress (ANC), something that South Africa accuses Israel of, is another. Then, the refusal of the government to voice horror at China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims when it maintains that Israel is somehow guilty of “ethnic cleansing” all illustrates the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the government. Add to that the murderous silence when it comes to treatment of Zimbabweans, and the pattern isn’t difficult to see.

Very simply, friends of the ANC can do no wrong. And Israel can do no right.

What has exacerbated the situation is the ANC’s lack of understanding of the facts. Just as the ANC was captured by the Guptas and anyone else willing to open their wallets, so too has it been captured by the “anti-Israel” lobby.

Just as it was quick to share the country’s wealth with those who didn’t deserve it, so too has it shared our apartheid history and allowed those not entitled to it to use it. And because “apartheid” doesn’t apply to the Israeli context, facts needed to be changed so that it does. Misinformation, untruths, and emotional manipulation are all employed to make sure that an ill-fitting glove is made to fit.

I would love the ANC to stand for truth and integrity. I would love it to be able to play a meaningful role in some way internationally. I would love it to be the voice of reason that calms Hamas, limits death, and reduces terror. I would love nothing more than for it to be the organisation that it has the potential to be, and not what it is today. Until that time, as much as I would like to care about its utterings, I really don’t.

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Welcome to new Cape Council executive director

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This week, we officially welcomed on board our new South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Cape Executive Director Daniel Bloch. Bloch comes from a background in the events and media industry, and has worked with many international companies as a team leader and decision maker on various projects. In terms of his Jewish communal background, he is a graduate of Herzlia High School and recently served on its governing body. He is also a long-serving member of the Marais Road Shul (aka the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation). We congratulate him on his appointment, and look forward to working with him going forward. At the same time, we thank and bid farewell to outgoing Cape Director Stuart Diamond, who is taking up a new communal leadership position in the United Kingdom. It has been a pleasure working with him these past few years, and we wish him all success in his challenging new position.

Confronting global antisemitism

This week, SAJBD National President Mary Kluk was one of the speakers at the 16th World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly, titled “5th WJC International Meeting of Special Envoys & Coordinators Combating Antisemitism”. The assembly is the WJC’s highest decision-making body, attended by the leaders of Jewish communities from all around the world. Kluk, who represents our community on the executive committee of the WJC, spoke about recent trends and developments regarding antisemitism in South Africa, and how the SAJBD has gone about addressing it.

The Board has always maintained close links with international Jewish communities and organisations. By involving ourselves in forums such as these, we are able to forge mutually beneficial working relationships with our overseas colleagues in addressing such common issues as combating antisemitism, promoting inter-religious contacts, and encouraging cultural and intellectual exchange.

Judicial appointments in SA (continued)

The Board continues to bring to wider attention in the media and in other relevant forums the manner in which two Jewish candidates were treated by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) during their recently-held interviews for judicial positions. This has been done by commenting in the mainstream media, conducting radio and television interviews, and writing opinion pieces for online publications. Notwithstanding the JSC’s denial this week that it did anything wrong, we believe that the questions put to the candidates were inappropriate and discriminatory, and therefore in contravention of the constitutional right of all South Africans to equality and freedom of belief and association. We continue to pursue the matter with relevant State bodies.

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

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