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Yom Hashoah in the shadow of war

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On Monday, Yom Hashoah ceremonies were held under the auspices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, and Durban. For the first time, the event took place at a time when the Jewish people are again at war, this time against an enemy bent on eradicating their presence from their ancestral homeland. The people of Israel aren’t the only ones under continual attack since 7 October, Jewish communities around the world are experiencing levels of antisemitism not seen in decades. In the wake of the ongoing Gaza tragedy, those wishing us harm are showing less and less compunction in engaging in the most vitriolic rhetoric, not just against Israel but against the great majority of Jews everywhere for supporting it.

An especially vicious aspect of these attacks has been what has come to be termed Holocaust inversion, whereby Jews are charged with committing the same monstrous crimes against Palestinians that their forebears were subjected to in the last generation. Though we mourn the death and suffering on both sides, to level such accusations not only defames the Jewish state in our own day but minimises and even makes a mockery of the real genocide carried out against European Jewry. In light of these distortions, it’s all the more important that we continue to invest in Holocaust education and commemoration. In this regard, a positive aspect of this year’s ceremonies in Gauteng and Cape Town was the exceptionally high turnout, which in Johannesburg included more than 900 pupils from 11 schools in Gauteng. We thank our special speakers Miriam Lazarus and Rena Quint, who gave a video message, whose survivor testimony infused so much meaning into the proceedings.

As SAJBD Gauteng Chairperson Harold Jacobs stressed in his opening address, Yom Hashoah brings all Jews together regardless of where they might stand on the religious, ideological, or political spectrum. In recent times, it took the horrific events of 7 October to remind us that at the end of the day, we’re one people, and that if we’re to prevail against those who wish us harm, solidarity among Jews, whoever they are and wherever they may be, is critical.

National director’s visit to the United States

Shortly before Pesach, National Director Wendy Kahn travelled to Washington, D.C., where she participated with the World Jewish Congress in a series of high-level meetings with senior government officials. The purpose of her trip was to draw attention to the challenges South African Jewry has faced after 7 October, including the steep upsurge in antisemitic attacks and the hostility displayed by many government and civil society leaders. Among the key figures and bodies she engaged with were the United States National Security Council; the state department, including Deborah Lipstadt, the special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism; and the House of Representatives Africa Subcommittee. Our counterparts are well aware of the unusually difficult situation we find ourselves in following the South African government’s application to the International Court of Justice to issue charges of genocide against Israel.

Next week’s column will be about our pre-election activities. We’re excited about our special election indaba on 19 May, from 15:00 to 17:00, where you’ll have the opportunity to engage with representatives of some of the main competing parties and put your questions to them. Please diarise and book your seats as space is limited.

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

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