Jewish Affairs Pesach 2014 EDITION


Pesach 2014

This Pesach 2014 issue of Jewish Affairs is divided into two broad themes. The first looks at the legacy of Jewish Lithuania, providing perspectives by those who were born and grew up there, those descendants of Jewish Lithuanians who have returned to visit and from a renowned rabbi and historian on Lithuanian Jewry’s enduring spiritual-intellectual heritage. Veronica Belling, Natalie Ginsberg and Joseph Rabie are all descendants of Lithuanian Jews who settled in South Africa. In their accounts of visiting the land of their forebears, they bring their particular family experiences and academic training to bear in describing their thoughts and feelings on confronting the echoes of a culture that was all but obliterated seventy years ago. The Lithuanian boyhood of Solly Per features in a memoir written up by his daughter-in-law, Linda Per, and the editor tells the harrowing yet also inspiring story of Lithuanian Jews who escaped the Nazi killing machine through being sent to a Soviet slave labour camp just days before the German invasion. The opening article by Rabbi Berel Wein is taken from the recent book The Legacy: Teaching of the Great Lithuanian Rabbis, co-authored with South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. This stresses the importance of ethical, moral conduct and fitting inter-personal conduct in Jewish philosophy, one of the areas in which Lithuanian Jewry did much to enrich the Jewish world.

Part two of this issue deals more broadly with the themes of identity and culture. Gwynne Schrire’s witty and erudite take on Jewish eating habits through the ages provides, as it were, much food for thought on the question of how much diet and Jewish identity are intertwined. Bev May, a new contributor, exams with much sensitivity the complex area of gender in Jewish tradition. The extent to which the British connection has influenced Jewish modes of worship in South Africa is addressed by David Sher, and SAJBD archivist and frequent contributor Naomi Musiker looks back on an invaluable oral history project conducted by the Jewish Historical and Sociological Society in the middle of the last century. Finally, veteran Israeli scholar Dr Aryeh Newman puts the case for a more open and flexible approach to current Halachic challenges.

Book reviews include Ralph Zulman on Robe Rose’s take on a local Jewish Ponzi scammer and two new studies focusing on the theme of immigration from Eastern Europe. Hazel Frankel’s original Yiddish poem poignantly relates to the opening theme of this Jewish Affairs issue.

On behalf of the Editorial Board of Jewish Affairs, I wish you all a Chag Pesach Kasher v’Sameach.

David Saks

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A scandal over a first-year initiation ceremony featuring apparent ‘Sieg Heil’ gestures by participants has cast the spotlight on the persistent culture of Nazi chic at North-West University (formerly, University of Potchefstroom). Last week, the Beeld newspaper published a video clip showing female first-year students concluding a song of welcome to the head of their residence committee with an emphatic stiff-armed salute. While most of the students were white, several black students, probably unaware of the explicit anti-black racism of the Nazi ideology, also took part. The accompanying article noted other acts of identification with the Nazi regime that have taken place on campus in recent years, including a Rag float this year depicting Hitler and German soldiers. NWU was renowned for being a bastion of right-wing Afrikanerdom during the apartheid era.

NWU Vice Chancellor Dr Theuns Eloff dismissed as ‘laughable’ the claim that the students had been making a Nazi salute. As quoted by City Press, he said that members of a women’s residence had merely, as was their tradition, composed and performed a greeting to their chairwoman of the house committee.

“They sing about all kinds of things, their arms go up and go down. There is no Nazi salute. We apologise if this little movement in the video has caused anybody concern,’’ he said.

In a statement released on Monday, NWU said that no infringement of human rights would be tolerated by the institution. It was reported that its executive committee had “deliberated on the implications of the articles on the reputation of the university”, and resolved that it would await the findings of the internal investigation by the NWU legal office before deciding how to proceed.

Amongst those who condemned the incident was North West Premier Thandi Modise, who said, “As a nation, we can ill-afford to be exposed to any sentiment which undermines the prescripts of our constitution”.

Writing to Campus Rector Prof Herman van Schalkwyk, SAJBD Chairman Mary Kluk said that publicly identifying with Nazism, whether through making ‘Sieg Heil’ gestures, displaying swastikas or any similar such acts, could not be regarded as ‘good clean fun’.

“Nazism was predicated on the belief that there exist ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races….[It] was seen as a matter of biological destiny for the superior races to colonise, enslave and even exterminate those deemed to be inferior. Such theories led directly to the unspeakable atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II, including the systematic mass murder of three-quarters of European Jewry” she wrote.

Kluk further stressed that the most effective way of dealing with the problem was through education, since once students were made aware of exactly what Nazism stood for and the horrors it spawned, it could safely be anticipated that the vast majority would have no wish to be associated with it. She offered to put the University in touch with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre with a view to its possibly running appropriate awareness programmes not only for those involved in the latest incident but for students and faculty members in general.



3With the elections now just two months away, the ANC has embarked on a “Suburbs Outreach” communications initiative aimed at making contact and engaging in dialogue with various minority constituencies around the country. On Monday evening, it was the turn of the Johannesburg Jewish community, with Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalule addressing a gathering of “Young Jewish South Africans” at the premises of Capricorn Capital in Sandton. The event took place under the auspices of the SAJBD, with the welcome and introduction being given by Gauteng Council member and Capricorn Capital Director Robbie Fihrer.

Mbalule focused on such issues as good governance, combating corruption and transformation, particularly in the area of sport. Regarding the question of Israel and Palestine, he said that while there were areas of disagreement between the ANC and the Jewish community, it was important to ensure that there was continual dialogue between the two on those issues. Pointing out that he had himself visited Tel Aviv, he reiterated his party’s stance that the way forward in the region was a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

During the question and answer session, SAUJS national chairperson Ariella Carno asked how the ANC’s official policy on Israel could be reconciled with its having just endorsed the forthcoming Israel Apartheid Week campaign, the aim of which was not to promote dialogue and peace initiatives, but rather to demonise Israel and oppose any kind of engagement with it. Mbalule skirted the question, instead reiterating his party’s support for negotiations as the way forward to end the conflict.

Mbalule was also asked whether South Africa would be taking a stance on behalf of Uganda’s LGBT community in light of anti-gays laws that had recently been introduced there. His reply, to the effect that South Africa did not interfere in the internal policies of other countries, elicited ironic rumblings and comments of “Except for Israel” from the audience.

Notwithstanding these areas of disagreement, the evening’s exchanges were generally cordial and respectful. Afterwards, Mbalule remained behind to engage with individual audience members who wished to ask further questions.


The Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) circus, the annual Israel-bashing jamboree where myths become facts and the truth is routinely inverted, is coming to town on 10 – 14 March. The event has been launched with much fanfare, and as usual Ringmaster-in-Chief Muhammed Desai (who had no problem with the fact that his supporters chanted “Shoot the Jew” at Wits last year) is seeking every possible opportunity for publicising the whole tour de farce.

For those performing in the circus, it provides an excellent opportunity to express their hatred for Israel under the guise of human rights activism. Much as they presume to occupy the moral high-ground, however, the whole roadshow has come to epitomise bullying, bigotry and fascist intolerance.

It was during IAW that a piano recital by Yossi Reshef was disrupted at Wits last year. Ten Wits students were found guilty of misconduct for disrupting or inciting others to disrupt the event. Their response was to claim that they were victims of Zionist money power.

Given the toxic environment created by IAW, particularly at Wits, it was hardly surprising that Jewish students were threatened and insulted in the course of last year’s event. Apart from the now notorious “Shoot the Jew” slogan, students were called “F**** Kikes” and literature, t-shirts and graffiti walls used by the SA Union Jewish Students to respond to the anti-Israel invective were destroyed or defaced. Regrettably, certain Wits academics flagrantly abused their positions to compel their students to attend an anti-Israel propaganda documentary. A number of cases were reported of academics and staff members being threatened and intimidated into complying with a boycott of Israeli academics.

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recognises the need for a two state-solution to the Middle East conflict and believes that dialogue between Israel and Palestinians is the best way in which peace can be achieved. IAW does not seek to support the peace process but rather to demonise the Jewish State through a sustained campaign of slander, defamation, misinformation and emotive bluster. It adds nothing to achieving peace, and is so conducted as to run counter to the values of freedom of expression and association that all South Africans hold dear.

Likening Israel to an apartheid state is a politically motivated smear that falls apart when examined closely. It has recently been thoroughly debunked by UK academic Professor Alan Johnson Centre (see

In passing down the misconduct verdict, Wits Vice Chancellor, Professor Adam Habib said:

Wits is renowned for encouraging freedom of expression, dialogue and debate on often diverse and conflicting views confronting society, provided that it does not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution.

The SAJBD echoes this sentiment, as will all other South Africans who value the principles of academic freedom and honest, constructive debate.
For more information, please contact Mary Kluk on 093 775 8618 or David Saks on 072 2944 056


Issued by David Saks
Associate Director, SAJBD
072 2944 056



Above Board : 14 February 2014, Mary Kluk

17 February 2014

Parliament Hijacked for Anti-Israel Propaganda Stunt At time writing, we are following up with various government and party leaders regarding the “Solidarity Conference in support of the people of Palestine, Cuba and Western Sahara”, which took place in Parliament last week under the auspices of the International Relations and Cooperation Portfolio Committee. To date, this [...]

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Notorious ‘Jew baiter’ to head Palestine discussion in Parliament today!!

6 February 2014

  People are puzzled, to say the least, that the person chosen to moderate today’s conference discussion on Palestine in Parliament is someone who was not only found guilty of anti-Jewish hate speech by the SA Human Rights Commission but who has to date refused to comply with the Commission’s ruling that he apologise to [...]

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Above Board – 31/1/2014

3 February 2014

In November 2005 the United Nations designated 27 January, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is on this day that the world at large now formally remembers the genocide of the Jewish people, along with other atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. Earlier this week, [...]

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Above Board : 24 January 2014

24 January 2014

A definite low point last year was the disruption by anti-Israel demonstrators of a piano recital by Yossi Reshef on Wits University campus. This was a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression and association of those attending, as well as being in overt violation of the universities own code of conduct and [...]

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SAJBD : Outcome of Wits Disciplinary Process

20 January 2014

The verdict against ten students guilty of misconduct during a concert at Wits University represents a resounding reaffirmation by Wits of the values of academic freedom, diversity and tolerance. In March last year, a group of demonstrators lead by members of the then Student Representative Council invaded the venue where Israeli-born pianist Yossi Reshev was [...]

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Ariel Sharon Passing

13 January 2014

The South African Jewish community extends its deepest sympathy to the Government and people of Israel and the Sharon Family on the passing of Ariel Sharon. In a lifetime of devoted service to Israel and the Jewish people, Sharon was unwavering in his courage and unfailing in his strength. He stood like a rock against [...]

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