Proudly Jewish South African
Two spectacularly successful events last week showcased the extraordinary vibrancy of the South African Jewish community, along with the equally remarkable depths of talent within its diverse ranks. The first was the Sinai Indaba, which if anything surpassed the phenomenal success of last year’s inaugural event. The second was the Jewish Achievers Awards function in Johannesburg, which proved to be one of the most memorable and inspiring such occasion since that initiative was launched some fourteen years ago.
All four Sinai Indaba programmes, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, elicited an enthusiastic response, both in terms of high attendance and positive feedback for what was on offer. The high proportion of those happy to devote their weekend to learning about what Judaism has to teach belied the relatively small size of our community.
For its part, the Jewish Achievers Awards demonstrated how much South African Jewry is contributing to the greater society. Whether as entrepreneurs, human rights activists or in the social welfare and cultural realms, we continue to produce leaders and innovators of striking talent, vision and initiative. Those honoured this year, moreover, are all identifying, active members of the Jewish community and in some cases are or have been office bearers within our communal structures.
Currently, there has been much debate in the Cape Town press over an article by a Jewish community member publicly and emotively renouncing her Jewish heritage in protest against certain actions by Israel. Fortunately, such extreme over-reactions by Jewish individuals are rare, and probably say more about the people concerned than what is ostensibly at issue. Despite the fact that there is today such a hostile climate being fostered not just against Israel but increasingly against its supporters, Jews in South Africa are becoming more, not less connected to their Jewish heritage. It is a striking testimony to the depth of residual Jewish loyalty, pride and resilience for which our community has traditionally been known.
Public Holidays in South Africa
Last month, the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Commission held a consultation with representatives of a wide array of faith communities regarding religious public holidays in South Africa and what the official policy should be in that regard. The Jewish faith community was represented by our National Director Wendy Kahn, who has since been widely quoted in the many local and international media reports on the whole question. As articulated by Wendy, we do not expect any of our holy days to be accorded national recognition. What we do ask is that our religious rights and freedoms concerning the celebration of these days be recognised and protected, particularly in such areas as the workplace and in the field of tertiary education. We are fortunate in South Africa that these freedoms are indeed respected, and the SAJBD will continue to represent its constituents in ensuring that this remains the case.
This Above Board Column first appeared in the South African Jewish Report on 29 June 2012