Jewish Affairs

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 or

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


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 or

Jewish Affairs – Rosh Hashanah 2014


The Chanukah 2014 issue of Jewish Affairs has now appeared. You can access it (as well as previous issues from 2008 onwards) online at or click on this link Jewish Affairs – Chanukah 2014 to view it.

Two ‘anniversary themes’ make up a large part of this issue. The first marks the centenary of the start of World War I, and looks at the impact of the conflict on world Jewry, and specifically on the community in South Africa. The essay on South Africa was compiled by notes written by the late Gus Saron for his history of the community, which was left incomplete on his passing. Dr Anthony Grenville provides an international perspective and Naomi Musiker and Stephen Gray focus on the wartime careers of two English Jews with a South African connection, Jack Rich and war poet Isaac Rosenberg.

The second anniversary is the seventieth year since the deportation to Auschwitz of the Jewish community of Rhodes (Rhodos), a reminder of how severely the Holocaust decimated Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Essays and perspectives on the Jews of Rhodes, including on the commemorative visit of survivors and their families earlier this year, are provided by the late Violette Fintz, Maurice Turiel, Isaac Habib and Zmira Cohen.

The remainder of the issue features perspectives on a range of issues, viz. the Jewish sympathies of the Russian composer Shostakovitch (Cecil Bloom), the ideological war against Israel (Shelley Glaser), a related perspective by Kenneth Penkin on the controversial Deir Yassin ‘massacre’, an interesting riff on ‘life before birth’ by Bernard Levinson and the editor’s look at Jewish POWs in World War II, including further memories of successful escapee Stanley Smollan.

There are reviews (by Ralph Zulman and Gary Selikow) on Suzanne Belling’s recently published book on Cyril Karabus and his unjust detention in the UAE and on Martin Gilbert history of Jews under Muslim rule. Obituaries pay tribute to three distinguished community members who had a strong connection to Jewish Affairs, Mervyn Smith, Ronnie Mink and Rabbi Norman Bernhard. Poetry and an interesting letter responding to a previous Gwynne Schrire article complete the issue.

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 Chanukah Sameach and a restful end-of-year break.

David Saks




Earlier this week I attended the World Jewish Congress’s National Community Directors Forum.  My counterparts from 45 countries met in Prague to share our experiences and work together to find solutions to the challenges we all face.

I joined executive directors from countries such as Spain, Turkey, Georgia, Costa Rica, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland, Hungary, the US, France,  Greece, Finland, Norway, Moldova, The Netherlands, Brazil, the UK, Peru, Canada, the UK, Australia to mention but a few of the remarkable individuals that came around the table to address the real issues facing Global Jewry today.

We discussed the escalating levels of antisemitism internationally, focusing on ways that we can address this disturbing trend.  Frightening to note the growing neo-Nazi incidents throughout Europe, as well as the manner in which the anti-Israel activists are using this cause as a platform to launch anti- Jewish hatred.  I was asked to present a paper addressing our specific challenges in this area.

Although we in South Africa do not experience the same level of threat against religious practices in our own country, challenges to practices such as Brit Milah and Schitah are becoming serious problems in other countries, impacting on their way of Jewish life.

An issue that does affect us in South Africa alongside communities internationally is the growing phenomenon of cyber hate.  Antisemitic hatred and threats through the `anti-social media’ is certainly something plaguing Jewish communities everywhere and it was great to have an opportunity to engage on this important topic.

It was also special that South Africa’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic, HE Franki Verwey joined us for dinner during the conference.

I was asked to present a tribute to former President of the SAJBD and Co-Chairman of the WJC Policy Council Mervyn Smith , who had passed away the previous day. Mervyn had not only made a significant contribution to SA Jewry, but had also played an important role in the international platform.

The World Jewish Congress has developed some outstanding programmes and departments to support our work as communal leaders around the world and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with this important global body.  I look forward to ongoing interaction with this important forum.





Wendy Kahn writes on the group’s bullying protest outside of the SAJBD Gauteng’s twenty years of democracy conference Celebrating SA democracy free of Intimidation In the early days of our young democracy, South Africans embraced the image of the rainbow – the beautiful spectrum of colours that would stand together celebrating the diversity of their fledgling nation.

We were so proud of our young democracy, one that celebrated differences, and respected them. Every South African’s right to his or her own beliefs, values and affiliations were a cornerstone of the new nation. We pledged ourselves to the principles of freedom of speech providing every South African with the right to express themselves without fear or prejudice.

The Bill of Rights in our internationally acclaimed constitution enshrined “the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of dignity, equality and freedom”. It furthermore guaranteed Freedom of religion, belief and opinion in section 15, Freedom of Expression in section 16 and Freedom of association in section 18.

Yet these pivotal principles of our democracy were forgotten yesterday when a protest orchestrated by BDS SA descended on the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Gauteng Conference.

Gauteng Jewry was due to gather on Sunday for its biennial conference with the theme celebrating South Africa’s 20 years of Freedom. The Jewish community along with our fellow South African citizens rejoices in the miracle of our nation, and its members likewise wanted to remember the struggle for our young democracy, to commemorate its achievements and focus on the future.

However BDS SA and the factions within the ANCYL chose to cynically protest this gathering of Jewish South Africans, as well as smearing the Jewish community with insults. Based on their disagreeing with our community’s connection to Israel, they decided to demonstrate against our celebration of this important 20 year milestone. This is something altogether new in our country. Since when do we try and intimidate fellow South African citizens from participating in their country’s heritage? Who gives anyone the right to determine who can and cannot rejoice in the principles of democracy?

The foundations of this country are built on respect and tolerance. These were certainly not in evidence yesterday. Tweeted Braam Hanekom, “The ANC should waste not time speaking to the @sajbd they are racist, Zionist, Islamophobic, supporters of murdering Palestinian children”. Suggested Lwazi Samya, “Maybe the ANCYL should mobilise against the Jewish Board of Deputies”. Zunaid Seedat tells us to, “vat jou goede en voetsek!” while Nazeer Guman comments, “Zionism threatens true freedom in SA: Ban it!!!” These kind of inflammatory and provocative emails run diametrically counter to what our democratic society is all about.

So far as the Middle East issue is concerned, the SAJBD has frequently stated its stance on the Palestinian and Israeli situation, calling for a negotiated settlement resulting in two countries for two nations living side by side with secure borders. This is in line with our government’s stance which was reiterated frequently through the recent war.

I don’t ask BDS SA to hold by these views, knowing that their belief is that Israel should not exist at all. But what I do ask is that they have enough respect for their fellow South African citizens to not allow the conflict in the Middle East to jeopardize the relations between fellow South Africans. I ask that the dignity and respect enshrined in our constitution be upheld and that the dreadful intimidation that we have seen in the past weeks, culminating in Sunday events, be curbed.

During a concert by an Israeli artist on Wits Campus last year BDS protesters chanted dubula e juda – ‘Shoot the Jew’. BDS SA Coordinator Mohammed Desai justified the singing in an interview, “Just like you would say kill the Boer at funeral during the eighties it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime”. According to Desai, “The whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion”.

Unfortunately we are now regularly seeing anti-Israel sentiment crossing the line into overtly anti-Jewish rhetoric. Over the past 2 months we have seen antisemitism statistics rise in SA from 52 for the entire 2013 to 116 for the 7 weeks over the Gaza war. Jewish South Africans were targeted intimidated and threatened by those holding different views about that conflict.

While we recognise the right to protest about international conflict like this one, when this deteriorates into hate speech and intimidation this crosses the line.

MEC Lusufi, in his very warm address at the conference, acknowledged that “the Jewish community enjoy a special place in the struggle for democracy and freedom”. He also spoke of the need for peace and reconciliation in order to build on these achievements and overcome the country’s problems. How unfortunate it was that the protesters outside could not hear this pivotal message. Had they done so, they may have realized that threatening their fellow South Africans and forbidding them a place in our democracy is not conducive to building a healthy society.

South Africa is a country for all. It is a country where diversity is celebrated and alternate views respected. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies will continue to celebrate our democracy as proud and involved South African citizens. We will not be intimidated by those who do not represent the values of our constitution and our Bill of Rights, but seek instead to silence and sideline those who do not share their views.


Wendy Kahn is the National Director of the SAJBD


Report on the SAJBD’s Tribute to Chiune Sugihara evening

27 August 2014

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 […]

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Associate Director David Sacks’ Opinion Piece on the Gaza conflict appeared in the Saturday Star on 19 July 2014

21 July 2014

Click on the link to view David Sacks’ opinion piece SAJDB pdf_01

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SAJBD issued a statement regarding antisemetic incident toward American Jewish business and communal leaders at the AU Commission Summit in Equatorial Guinea

9 July 2014

Following an antisemitic incident concerning a group of American Jewish business and communal leaders at the AU Commission Summit in Equatorial Guinea, the SAJBD liaised with Malcolm Hoenlein for a full briefing on the occurrence. The SAJBD issued a statement regarding the incident and wrote to the Chairperson of the AU Commission Dr Dlamini Zuma […]

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10 April 2014

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 […]

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29 November 2013

Jewish Affairs – Chanukah 2013

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29 November 2013

JA Chan2010

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4 November 2013


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Jewish Affairs: Rosh Hashanah 2013

2 September 2013

Download Volume 68, Number 2, Rosh Hashanah 2013  Why Jewish Affairs serves such an important purpose is that it is the only vehicle that allows for a properly detailed, extended exploration of subjects of interest to South African Jewry, unlike other publications where space constraints seldom allow for topics to be dealt with in more […]

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