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Members of the Jewish and Japanese communities, diplomats, business leaders and Holocaust survivors packed into the Abe Abrahamson Auditorium at Beyachad last Wednesday to remember Chiune Sugihara, the heroic Japanese diplomat who exceeded his authority to issue 6000 life-saving visas to Jewish refugees during World War II. The event took place under the combined auspices of the SAJBD Gauteng Council, Embassy of Japan and Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. Amongst those famously saved from almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis by Sugihara were most of the members of the Mir Yeshiva, which was able to relocate to Shanghai for the duration of the war. Four of those present at the function were Johannesburg descendants of those survivors, Rabbis Yossy Goldman and Weinberg and Rebbetzins Rochel Ehrman and Chaya Sternstein.

In her message of welcome and introduction SAJBD Diplomatic Liaison Aviva Moses, who headed up the initiative, stressed the enduring example Chiune Sugihara had set by his heroic actions. In ‘a period of utter desperation’, he had stood out and shone through the fundamental humanity he displayed, and in today’s turbulent times, it was a lesson the world at large needed more than ever to take to heart.

“No matter what continent we live on, our world is in turmoil. We are bombarded on a daily basis with news of torment, terror, death and destruction. And there has never been a time when is has been more important for every individual to rediscover his or her humanity, because without this intrinsic component of our being, what are we?” she said.

The keynote address was given by Hugh Raichlin, a well-known and popular speaker on Jewish life in countries throughout the world and who recently added Japan to the growing list of places he has lectured on. In addition to speaking (with accompanying audio-visual material) on the life and achievements of Sugihara, Raichlin gave an overview of the Jewish connection to Japan since the 1860s combined with entertaining insights into the nature of Japanese society today. As depicted by him, Sugihara emerged as a genuinely saintly man who to the end refused to take any special credit for what he had done. Raichlin also stressed the unfailing support provided by Sugihara’s wife, Yukiko, and the crucial involvement of the family of the young Solly Ganor. Excerpts from a video interview with the latter especially arranged for the occasion were also screened.

Rabbi Goldman and Rabbi Weinberg spoke about their own fathers, both of whom were provided with visas by Sugihara. Rabbi Weinberg said that his father, the only one of eleven siblings who survived the Holocaust, would relate his story to his family on the first night of Chanukah every year. This had instilled in his children an awareness of how important it was to remember and be grateful to their benefactors. Similarly, Rabbi Goldman’s father was the only survivor of his family in Poland. On his behalf, as well as that of his descendants – amongst them nearly eighty great-grandchildren, Rabbi

“I thank you for the gift of life, for the gift of the generations. G-d bless Mr Sugihara’s precious soul” he said.

Messages were also given by Japanese Ambassador Yutaka Yoshizawa, SAJBD Chairman and Holocaust educator Mary Kluk and Tali Nates, Director of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre. Ambassador Yoshiwaza noted that in Japanese culture, it was at this time of the year that the spirits of one’s ancestors were believed to return, and therefore it was a time when those who had passed away were traditionally remembered. This included remembering both the two million Japanese who had died during World War II together with acknowledging the death and suffering Japan had inflicted against others during those years. Against this background, he said, the legacy of Sugihara shone even brighter.

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Five months ago, under the heading ‘Make Us Count’, the Board embarked on a serious of initiatives aimed at encouraging the Jewish community to become involved and in general get into the spirit of the upcoming national elections. It began with a drive to encourage first-time voters, as well as those living overseas, to ensure that they were registered. We went on to host a number of well-attended functions, including multi-party pre-election debates in Johannesburg and Durban, for community members to hear from and engage with senior representatives of some of the major parties contesting the election. The Make Us Count campaign culminated in the Board’s putting together a multi-faith, trans-national election observer team, with accreditation from the Independent Electoral Commission, to assist in monitoring the voting process and ensuring that everything was fair and above board. This was an inspiring success, and attracted much favourable coverage for the Board and for the Jewish community in general in both the local and overseas media. Around a hundred volunteers from across the religious and ethnic spectrum took part, covering over 250 voting stations in five cities.

All participants I have since been in contact with have expressed the tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction they experienced in being able to contribute in this way. We are very proud that the SAJBD facilitated this very special nation-building exercise, and I congratulate in particular Alana Baranov for heading it up so capably. Watching South African democracy at work was again an inspiring experience. One could not help but be struck by the warm spirit of camaraderie and sense of ownership in the wonderful democracy that we all enjoy. It was a spirit that transcended political affiliation, and made the elections – just like those memorable first elections twenty years ago – a truly unifying experience.

Currently, I am attending the American Jewish Congress (AJC) conference in Washington DC, along with six other South African representatives from the SAJBD. Representatives of some seventy countries are taking part in this important event on the international Jewish calendar. As always, it is an exhilarating experience to join with world Jewry in debating issues of concern to all of us. Over the years, we have established a much-valued partnership with the AJC, who have consistently supported us in times of both challenge and celebration. I look forward to reporting back more fully on the conference after my return.

One of the very complex matters our National office has been dealing with this year has been resolving problems of exams set on Shabbat and Shavuot. Fortunately, it now looks very much like acceptable alternative arrangements will be in place at all the academic institutions concerned, with students, as in years gone by, being able to write their papers immediately after Shabbat/Yom Tov at Beyachad. I will go into further detail regarding these arrangements in a future column, but I can say at this stage that henceforth, rather than having to renegotiate a solution on a year by year basis, we hopefully now have in place an ongoing arrangement that all religiously observant Jewish students will be able to avail themselves of when clashes occur.

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

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MARY KLUK GALA DINNER 2013Parliament 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 event has attracted little media attention, and it is not known at this stage whether it will have any impact on existing government policy regarding the South Africa-Israel relationship. Last year, Cabinet issued a statement reiterating its long-standing position, namely that it recognises the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to their own sovereign states co-existing side by side with one another and to this end supporting the efforts by the two peoples to find a negotiated solution to the conflict between them. It also confirmed that no ‘travel ban’ had been imposed on government officials wanting to visit Israel.

The discussions and outcomes at last week’s event unfortunately bore little relation to this essentially balanced and realistic stand-point on the part of the government. This was hardly surprising as without exception, those chosen to participate are well known anti-Israel activists. Several also have a record of making overtly antisemitic statements, amongst them Fatima Hajaig (who once claimed that the West is in thrall to Jewish money power) and COSATU’s Bongani Masuku, whose threats against the Jewish resulted in a SA Human Rights Commission hate speech ruling against him. Neither the Israeli Embassy nor the Jewish leadership was invited to give the Israeli perspective. Instead, the entire discussion around the Israel-Palestine question was so framed as to provide a platform for anti-Israel activists to make vitriolic attacks on Israel without being challenged. There was no discussion on how to advance the peace process, but plenty of over-the-top rhetoric culminating in a host of recommendations calling for Israel to be boycotted. We note that ACDP was the only political party present to protest against the grossly one-sided nature of the event. One of our primary concerns is how Parliament, which represents more than any other forum a public space where all views on a particular issue can be aired, was allowed to become a propaganda vehicle for a narrowly focused special interest group.

Countdown to Elections, 2014

While not yet officially confirmed, 7 May has now been settled on as the date of the national and provincial elections. Over the next three months, as previously reported, the Board will be running a range of projects to stimulate Jewish interest and involvement in the elections, including hosting public debates between some of the competing political parties and introducing our community to what those parties stand for. Now that we have an election date to work from, we are in the process of organising these events, and will keep the community informed once details have been finalised. Another important project we are involved with is in putting together a team of volunteers to act as election monitors on the day, and thus far the response from our community has been very encouraging. We were also pleased to note the excellent response to our registration drive, through which many additional community members have ensured that they are properly registered on the voters’ roll. Exciting times lie ahead, so watch this space!

Mary Kluk
National Chairman, SAJBD

Listen to SAJBD “JEWISH BOARD TALK” with Charisse ……

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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 academic principles. For the sake of our Jewish students, and indeed for the entire Wits community, it was imperative that the University take appropriate steps to deal with this incident. It was unthinkable that a situation be allowed to emerge in which particular lobby groups could silence with impunity anyone they disagreed with.

Fortunately, the Wits leadership unequivocally condemned the incident and took decisive steps to deal with it. This included hosting a highly successful follow-up concert by an Israeli jazz quartet to demonstrate Wits’ commitment to ensuring safe spaces for all forms of expression. The most critical part of Wits response, however, was to conduct a thorough investigation into what took place and institute disciplinary proceedings against those responsible. This was done, with charges of misconduct being levelled at eleven students (nine of them members of the Student Representative Council). There were angry protests and much pressure was brought to bear by certain student groups and trade union bodies to drop the charges, but the disciplinary process was scrupulously followed through at every stage as per University regulations.

Last week, following a lengthy process of information gathering and formal hearings, Wits announced its verdict. In summary, ten of the students charged were found guilty of misconduct. The sanction imposed was that they be excluded from the university for one year, suspended provided that they not be found guilty of other forms of misconduct for two years, that none be allowed to hold office in any student government structure during that period and that each must perform 80 hours of community service.

Ensuring the safety and well-being of our university students is a priority for the Jewish communal leadership, as indeed it is for all communities in South Africa. It is vital that our campuses provide a safe environment in which the widest range of ideas and beliefs can be expressed, and that no student or faculty member be in any way victimised or censored for their views. This is why the decision by Wits was so important, not only in terms of what it means for Jewish students, but for the way it has reaffirmed the University’s commitment to upholding academic freedom, equality and diversity.

In a press statement welcoming the decision, the Board commended Wits for the firm stand it had taken against those who abuse their right to protest by flouting the principles of academic freedom and seeking to silence alternative viewpoints. The outcome of the disciplinary process had sent a clear message that Wits remains a free, open environment in which the values of freedom of expression and association are strenuously upheld and where any behaviour aimed at preventing others from exercising those rights is not tolerated. Our statement concluded with the hope that the decision will usher in a new era of mutual respect, trust and openness on Wits campus, one that provides safe spaces for the expression of diverse opinions and where people of differing viewpoints can learn from rather than try to silence one another.

MARY KLUK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

CHAI FM CZ

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MARY KLUK ABOVE BOARD : 25 NOV 2013

28 November 2013

Chanukah, which commences this week, represents amongst other things the resilience of the Jewish people in maintaining their religious and cultural identity under the most difficult circumstances. Historically, Jews have been subjected to all kinds of challenges that have threatened to separate them from their heritage. At worst, this has taken the form of outright […]

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MARY KLUK ABOVE BOARD, 22 NOVEMBER 2013

22 November 2013

The secular year is drawing to a close with a flurry of communal events, whether relating to civil society activities, Holocaust commemoration, the forthcoming Chanukah festivities and inter-faith initiatives. The Board has been, and continues to be involved with these, in partnership with other Jewish organisations as well as with organisations outside the Jewish communal […]

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S. Africa would be wise to ponder its Israel stance

4 November 2013

      The recent disclosure by South Africa‘s International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane that her country would be cooling relations with Israel, comes as no surprise. For years now Pretoria’s formal policy has been to back the Palestinian right to self-determination, while simultaneously supporting Israel’s right to exist. But in practice, as the Israeli-Palestinian […]

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MARY KLUK ABOVE BOARD : 1 NOVEMBER 2013

1 November 2013

A continual challenge for the Jewish community leadership is to combine addressing the internal needs of our Jewish community with helping Jews to also identify with and contribute to the greater national debate in South Africa. In this regard the SAJBD, in addition to pursuing its core mandate of upholding Jewish civil rights, encourages and […]

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MARY KLUK ABOVE BOARD : 25 October 2013

24 October 2013

Creating ‘Safe Spaces’ for debate and dialogue I would like to begin this week’s column by congratulating the newly elected executive of the SAJBD Cape Council, whose members were elected shortly after the SAJBD Cape conference held earlier this month. It comprises Gary Eisenberg (chairman), Stanley Donen and Eric Marx (vice-chairmen), Vivienne Anstey and Lester […]

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Mary Kluk Above Board 11/10/2013

11 October 2013

We have come to expect robust, challenging and diverse debate at the biennial Cape Board conferences, and the latest such gathering, held over the weekend, more than lived up to those expectations. As indicated by its theme of ‘Safe Spaces’, it was about the Board acting as a truly representative forum allowing for as broad […]

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