The approach of the Yamim Noraim – High Holidays – provides us with an opportunity of both looking both forward and back. Just over a year has passed since my election as National Chairman of the SAJBD. It has been in many ways a difficult period for our community, particularly during the last six months, but there was also much to feel positive about. I have been much heartened by the way in which our community has been able to work together in confronting the challenges that have confronted us, particularly in the area of South Africa-Israel relations and in responding effectively to the increasingly sophisticated, well-funded propaganda efforts of the anti-Israel lobby.
The Jewish community is served by a range of different organisations, each focusing on a particular area of Jewish communal concern. However, in the face of a common threat, these organisations have been able to transcend any turf or personality issues that so often undermine collaborative efforts and join forces in working for the best possible outcome for the community as a whole. The SAJBD has worked especially closely with the SA Zionist Federation, Fairplay SA and the SA Union of Jewish Students, and of late this inter-organisational cooperation has very much included the Office of the Chief Rabbi as well.
Amongst the most noteworthy collaborative projects have been responding to last November’s Russell Tribunal on Palestine and conducting a sustained challenge (whether in the legal, diplomatic, media or other fields) against the proposed re-labelling of Israeli products from the West Bank. On a continual basis, unfortunately, we are being faced with individual cases of anti-Israel boycott initiatives, mainly in the political arena and on certain university campuses. Despite the increasingly difficult environment in which we are working, however, we are not backing down, but rather continue seek new and effective ways of responding. In some cases, we have had encouraging success whilst in others little headway is made, at least ostensibly. Regardless of the outcome, however, we are doing all that we can to challenge whatever we consider to be unfair, discriminatory and hostile to our interests.
What has also been very heartening for us during these trying times has been the more outspoken and meaningful support we have been receiving from outside the confines of the Jewish community. Many Christians share our love and concern for Israel, and are becoming much more active in standing up against hardline anti-Israel activists. Most memorable was the march in Pretoria earlier this year by some 2000 mainly black and Christian South Africans to protest against the anti-Israel policies of the current government.
Throughout all of this, South African Jews have continued to strengthen their connection to their Jewish heritage. Never before in our community’s history have we seen so great an involvement in Jewish learning, with the Sinai Indaba and Limmud being just two of the more recent initiatives that have helped to bring its members on board. From my own perspective in Durban, I have seen the establishment of a vibrant, active Jewish centre in Umhlanga that now provides a hub of Jewish education and observance. All this points to the essential resilience of South African Jewry which, combined with its strong sense of unity and commitment to the greater good, will undoubtedly see us successfully meet any challenges the forthcoming New Year will pose. I wish everyone a Shana Tova u’Metuka.
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This Above Board column first appeared in the South African Jewish Report on 14 September 2012