We are pleased to report that the latest (Rosh Hashanah, 2014) issue of Jewish Affairs has now appeared.

The special focus of this issue is on this year’s 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa and how it has affected, and been influenced by, the Jewish community. The editor’s historical overview of the transition years to the present is followed by a feature on the SAJBD’s 2014 ‘Freedom Seder’, in which Chief Rabbi Goldstein, Zev Krengel and Johnny Copelyn provide their insights on the attainment of freedom in SA in the context of the Biblical exodus narrative. An enlightening analysis of where the country finds itself today and what led up to it is provided by Tony Leon, one of the main actors in that story. Marlene Bethlehem looks back on her ten years on the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission, a statutory body created in this case to promote and protect the rights of South Africa’s many diverse ethnic, faith, linguistic and cultural groupings. One of the ways in which Jewish community members are trying to make a positive difference in addressing the legacy of apartheid is in the educational field. Here, Honey Gluckman has written a moving and inspiring account of her work as a Second Innings ‘Granny’ tutoring underprivileged learners.

The transition to democracy theme also features in the Book Reviews, with Naomi Musiker and Ralph Zulman looking at two important recent books on the subject, Liberation Diaries: Reflections on 20 Years of Democracyand Tony Leon’s latest book, Opposite Mandela: Encounters with South Africa’s Icon. Marcia Leveson writes on a compelling new novel on a Jewish family in 1960s Port Elizabeth and Gary Selikow evaluates a recent work countering the standard anti-Israel narrative now so commonplace in the global media and academic and NGO environment.

Section Two is of a more historical nature, with the essays exploring various aspects of the South African Jewish experience. Bernard Katz writes on General Jan Smuts, using the original text of a speech he gave to show why he has been described as one of the greatest Gentile Zionists. Shirley Klein Kantor writes on the Jewish legacy of Calvinia and her own life-long connection with that Western Cape town while, also on the theme of South Africa’s largely vanished rural Jewish heritage, Joy Kropman reflects on the many exhibitions on that subject that she has curated over the years. Finally, Gwynne Schrire looks at the little-known link between three prominent British Zionists – novelist Israel Zangwill and his cousins Montague David Eder and Joseph Cowen – and South Africa. Other items include new poetry and Isaac Reznik’s obituary on the distinguished rabbi and scholar Dayan Denis Isaacs.

We hope you enjoy this latest Jewish Affairs issue, and that you will pass it on to anyone who might likewise be interested.

 

On behalf of the Editorial Board, I wish everyone a Shana Tova Umetuka.

 

David Saks

Editor

Jewish Affairs, South Africa’s leading Jewish intellectual journal, features a wide variety of articles on Jewish religion, history and culture. It has been published under the auspices of the Board since 1941. To subscribe or take out a gift subscription, please contact Shirley Beagle +27116452583 beagle@sajbd.org or david@sajbd.org

Jewish Affairs – Rosh Hashanah 2014

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The SA Jewish Board of Deputies, on behalf of the Jewish community, extends its sincerest condolences to the people of Nigeria on the Synagogue Church of All Nations disaster and to the many South Africans who have lost family, friends and loved ones as a result.

This is a tragedy for the entire continent, but in light of how many of the victims were from South Africa, it has had a particularly grievous impact on our own country.

The SAJBD commends the South African government on its efforts to assist survivors and to ensure that the remains of those who died are timeously repatriated. We wish those who were injured a speedy and complete recover, and hope that the prayers and condolences of their fellow citizens will be of comfort to all who have been affected by the tragedy.

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At the time of writing, I am participating in the Governing Board meeting of the World Jewish Congress (WJC)  in Berlin. The intention of hosting the meeting in Berlin was to show solidarity with the local Jewish community, which is experiencing a renewed upsurge of hatred against them. We began our visit to Berlin by joining thousands of people on Sunday at the landmark rally at the Brandenburg gate protesting against ‘Jew hatred’. This was both inspiring and disconcerting – disconcerting, because we have to ask why we are once again having to confront this kind of vile prejudice, a mere seventy five years after World War II. Have the horrific lessons of that history still not been learned? The inspiration came from the impressive line-up of influential German political and religious leaders who all expressed their outrage and condemnation of antisemitism in all its forms. Chancellor Merkel opened her speech with the reassuring promise: “That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept.” Fighting antisemitism, she said, was a “national and civic duty”. Unfortunately, Germany is not the only country experiencing crude antisemitism, something greatly exacerbated by the Gaza conflict.

The WJC meeting has provided an opportunity for the leadership of world Jewry to discuss this scourge and their plans to combat it. It has showcased once again the incredible work and projects undertaken by the WJC, of which the SAJBD is an Executive member. It is fast becoming the international Jewish leadership brand, focused on addressing and responding to issues of importance to world Jewry. One of the most significant initiatives, which is receiving a great deal of justified attention, is the growth of young Jewish political leaders. In this regard, I am thrilled to congratulate Marc Posniac from the SAJBD Gauteng Council, who has been elected as Chair of the steering committee of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps.

I was very sorry to miss what to all accounts was an excellent Gauteng Conference on Sunday, and once again wish the incoming Executive all the best for the coming year. I am looking forward to participating in the Cape Council Conference this weekend.

The Yamim Tovim are coming up, and in light of the steep rise of antisemitic activity in recent months, there is a need for heightened awareness on our part to ensure that proper security arrangements are in place. The CSO, in close partnership with the police services, is as always pursuing this task with the utmost thoroughness and professionalism. Every community member needs to do his or her part, however. We all need to be constantly vigilant and report any activity that could be regarded as suspicious, and we also need to cooperate fully with the CSO, both by taking to heart the carefully thought-out security tips they provide and by unquestioningly following their directives when attending communal functions.

This being the last issue of the SA Jewish Report before Yom Tov, I take this opportunity on behalf of the SAJBD to wish our wonderful Jewish community of South Africa a happy and peaceful New Year and well over the Fast.

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

 

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Positive vibe at SAJBD conference

by SAJBD on 15 September 2014

in General

Despite a strong focus on the upsurge of antisemitism as a result of the Gaza conflict and the presence of anti-Israel demonstrators outside the venue, Sunday’s SAJBD Gauteng Council conference, with its theme of South African Jewry twenty years into democracy, had a largely positive focus. Speakers, including Michael Katz and Colin Coleman, emphasised how much the country had accomplished, despite the serious challenges it still faced, how much the Jewish community as a whole had benefited from this and what part Jews had played, and could still play, in building on those achievements. It was also stressed that while the recent rise of antisemitic activity was a cause for concern, South Africa’s robust democratic culture provided the necessary vehicles through which to address such threats and bring those responsible to book. The conference took place at Investec in Sandton.

Outgoing Gauteng Council Chairman Jeff Katz said that democracy was about more than just being able to vote every couple of years or so. What was even more important was that such basic democratic rights as freedom of expression, thought and religion and protection against unfair discrimination freedoms were respected.

“It is because these fundamental democratic values are so firmly upheld in our country that the Jewish way of life has been protected and indeed is thriving” he said.

SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn gave an overview of antisemitic incidents recorded since the commencement of the Gaza war and how the Board had responded to them. Whereas only 52 incidents had been logged during the whole of 2013, 116 cases had been recorded in the July-August period alone. A high proportion of these had come about through what Kahn referred to as the anti-social media, that is, via Twitter and Facebook, as well as on other online forums. This, she pointed out, was an international phenomenon, as shown by the popularity of the “hitlerwasright” hashtag. Holocaust-themed antisemitism, whether framed in terms of wishing that Hitler had “finished the job” or saying that Jews were themselves acting like Nazis, typified the kind of invective directed against the community and Jews in general. In response, the Board had amongst other things laid criminal charges against four individuals, instituted proceedings on the basis of hate speech against four others at the SA Human Rights Commission and in several cases lodged complaints with the employers of those responsible. What made the task more difficult was that in numerous cases, threats and racist abuse against the community were made under false names and accounts, and sometimes via the wholesale identity of real individuals who were completely unaware that their profiles had been thus hijacked. The Board was working closely with local law enforcement and international Jewish organisations in tracing those responsible.

Charisse Zeifert, SAJBD Head of Communications, said that the coverage of the mainstream media of the Gaza conflict had been overtly biased, with the overwhelming emphasis being on Palestinian suffering and with references to military actions by Hamas being rare or omitted altogether. It had helped that Benjamin Pogrund was in the country during the latter stages of the war to promote his new book. He had worked tirelessly to bring a more reasoned perspective to the debate, through media interviews, meetings with academics and journalists and addressing various public forums. The Board had also been able to get a number of opinion pieces published. However, overall it had been a case of working in an environment where Israel’s guilt was assumed to be a given and where there was very little openness to hearing a different perspective.

About sixty people took part in a demonstration outside the venue under the auspices of the ANC Youth League. ANCYL provincial chairperson Matome Chiloane, whose call, “Down with SAJBD, down”, was greeted with loud cheers, said, “South Africa is not going to be free for them if the people of Palestine are not free.” By contrast Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, deputising for Premier David Makhuru who had to be at the Union Buildings, Jewish South Africans for their role in the struggle against apartheid, saying that the Jewish community enjoyed a special place in the struggle for democracy and freedom.

Lesufi further called for citizens from all cultures needed to work together to fight high levels of poverty and inequality. With reference to the Jewish community, he said, “In the next twenty years, we hope you will assist us… in ensuring our economy is accessible to everyone.”

Colin Coleman, head of the South African office of Goldman Sachs and a former anti-apartheid activist, identified some of the major accomplishments of the past two decades, amongst them a GDP that had increased three-fold and a redistribution of public spending aimed at alleviating the poorest members of society. The most serious problems were unemployment, amounting to one-third of the potential workforce and including a high proportion of youth, and the enduring inequality along racial lines of wealth distribution.

 

Michael Katz said that while the community had declined somewhat in numbers, in terms of quality Jewish communal life had been strengthened in nearly every sphere. Antisemitism existed, but it was not state policy. The jewel in society’s crown was the Constitution, which not only protected individual human rights, but ensured that office bearers were consistently called to account. However, while South Africa had won the fight against legal inequality, the fight against social inequality and poverty still had to be overcome. For a society to move forward and achieve its potential, there had to be a unity of vision, and this could not be accomplished so long as it was divided between those who were affluent and looking to protect what they had and those fighting to obtain a fairer share of the pie.

For some media reporting on the conference, see links below.

http://www.ornico.co.za/editorialstream/OwnMediaAttachments/9_15_2014_1679811.pdf

http://www.ornico.co.za/editorialstream/OwnMediaAttachments/2014-09-15_1680229.pdf

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Mary Kluk and SAJBD condemn vicious Holocaust blog

12 September 2014

One of the most objectionable recurring themes in the flood of anti-Israel invective provoked by the Gaza conflict was the ready comparisons made between Israel’s actions and the crimes of the Nazis. It goes without saying that those resorting to such terminology were not attempting to present a reasoned, fact-based argument; rather, the aim was […]

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SAJBD Conference 2014 Celebrating 20 Years of Freedom

10 September 2014

Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, and Dr Zweli Mkhize, ANC Treasurer General, will be amongst those participating in the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Gauteng Council, to be held this Sunday, 14 September, at Investec from 14h30 – 15h15. The focus of the conference will be to celebrate the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, reflect […]

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Rwandan Genocide Survivor talks on antisemitic rhetoric during Gaza

8 September 2014

  Charisse Zeifert will interview Bonaventure Kageruka on Chai FM this Friday from 12:20

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Benjamin Pogrund looks at media failings in article in the Mail & Guardian

5 September 2014

http://www.ornico.co.za/editorialstream/OwnMediaAttachments/2014-09-05_1663946.pdf 

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Mary Kluk’s, Above Board

4 September 2014

On 14 September, delegates representing a wide range of Gauteng Jewish organisations will be coming together for the SAJBD’s biennial Gauteng Council conference. The theme of the conference is ‘Celebrating 20 Years of Freedom’, but in light of recent events, there will also be a special focus on the impact of the Gaza conflict on […]

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Article by Associate Director David Saks that appeared in the Sunday Times on 24 August

27 August 2014
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