exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In this article Marlene Silbert looks at the importance of interfaith spaces for the South African Jewish community. She focuses on an Interfaith-Intercultural Youth Programme, aimed at grade 10 & 11 learners from schools across the Cape Metropole, which she initiated under the auspices of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative. She further discusses the potential that interfaith collaboration can hold for the South African Jewish community.
The Interfaith-Intercultural Youth Programme helps us understand and respect differences and make friends with one another. I have learnt not to react badly when people offend me unintentionally because they make uniformed statements. As ambassadors of the Interfaith Programme we should respectfully engage such people and help them to become informed and change their mind-set (Grade 11 learner, Herzlia High School).
RECENT estimates suggest that nearly ninety percent of all Jewish children in South Africa attend Jewish community day schools. Many also attend Jewish youth movements. De facto, this means that the vast majority of our children have very little, if any, meaningful engagement with the full diversity of broader South African society. And, of course, the converse holds true: there is very little opportunity for broader South African society to engage with and learn about Jews and the Jewish community, particularly at a younger age.
"Prejudice towards Jewish South Africans can derive from not having any engagement or meaningful dialogue with members of the South African Jewish community."
This is not just an issue facing the Jewish community in South Africa. It is, however, this social and cultural chasm within South African society that interfaith programmes try to address, some with greater success than others.
exploring the concerns of the south african Jewish community
In this article Benji Shulman argues that a paradigm shift is occurring in how the Jewish community conceives of and engages around 'outreach' and social responsibility. He examines the strengths as well as challenges of the existing models, and proposes that the emergence of a third model, which he terms Darkhei Shalom, can be used to address the current limitations of Jewish philanthropy within the South African context.
Our master taught: For the sake, the poor of the heathens should be supported as we support the poor of Israel, the sick of the heathens should be visited as we visit the sick of Israel, and the dead of the heathens should be buried as we bury the dead of Israel - The Talmud
EARLY one November morning a group of young people is preparing to take part in one of Johannesburg’s major cycle races. They hail from Vosloorus, a township in Gauteng, and train regularly to ensure that they are fit enough to race. They are part of a development programme, and as such their kit and bikes are sponsored. At first glance this might resemble any other youth development initiative for aspiring sportspeople from a disadvantaged area. But it is, in fact, much more than that. The riders are Christian Zionist activists from the Hope of Glory Tabernacle (a local church) and members of the pro-Israel group DEISI (Defend, Embrace, Invest-In and Support Israel).
"Jewry in post-apartheid South Africa have largely organised philanthropy around two different conceptual approaches; what I have termed Hessed and Tikkun Olam... programmes like Ride4Africa-Israel ...suggest the emergence of a third concept ... ."
They are part of the team Ride4Africa-Israel and are riding with members of the Jewish community. They race side-by-side flying both the South African and Israeli flags proudly displaying their affiliation to the passing crowds. The money raised through the race is donated to an initiative that provides water and agriculture technologies from Israel to projects in their own community and others around Johannesburg.
exploring the concerns of the South african jewish community
In this article Dan Brotman argues that with the hemorrhaging of the South African Jewish community due to emigration, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies should take a proactive role in lobbying for immigration reform and supporting prospective Jewish immigrants.
The Jewish Board of Deputies in Transvaal, Natal and the Cape were established around the same time or directly after Morris Alexander led a delegation of Jewish communal leaders to the Cape Parliament to lobby for changes to the Cape Immigration Restrictions Act of 1902. This law was detrimental to Jewish immigration, as it stipulated that prospective immigrants must speak a European language in order to be allowed to settle in the country. As Yiddish was not deemed a European language for immigration purposes, this new condition would have effectively put a halt to Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.
Alexander and his counterparts prevailed, and Yiddish was recognised as a European language for immigration purposes, and as a result the South African Jewish community continued to grow in numbers. Following his successful immigration lobbying efforts, Alexander went on to form and lead the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies in 1904 and South African Jewish Board of Deputies in 1912. According to Percy Cowan’s 1929 piece entitled The Jewish Board of Deputies in South Africa, the Jewish Board of Deputies in all three regions dealt directly with immigration issues pertaining to the Jewish community. The Cape Board specifically “dealt with a number of immigration cases, with the result that many deserving immigrants were allowed to land who would otherwise have been sent back to the countries whence they came."
"Between 1981-2005 alone, 40% of the South African Jewish community emigrated for a variety of reasons..."
Although the SAJBD’s activities today primarily focus on combatting antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments and expressions in government and civil society, I argue that it is once again necessary for the SAJBD also to ‘return to its roots’ and assist with Jewish immigration to South Africa, which will replenish our community’s diminishing numbers.
EXPLORING THE CONCERNS OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
In this article David Saks argues that the current surge of anti-zionism in South Africa has antisemitic influences.
PERHAPS the most fiendishly difficult question that Jewish rights groups must grapple with today is where the boundary lies between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. A perception has been created by anti-Israel activists that the Jewish community rushes willy-nilly to label as antisemitism that which is in fact legitimate criticism of Israel. This is untrue. Instead there is an acute awareness of the need to make a clear distinction between the two, and so far as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is concerned, the record shows that it has been scrupulously careful in this regard.
This being said, it is inevitable that attacks ostensibly only against Israel sometimes spill-over into hatred against Jews. No-one can reasonably accuse Jews of ‘crying antisemitism’ when they take action in such instances (although many do). And when anti-Israel sentiment takes on so extreme a form as to amount to inflammatory propaganda, it is understandable that the Jewish community should come to the defence of Israel. It is an attack on something that the great majority of Jews around the world passionately identify with.
"What purports simply to be anti-Zionism frequently turns out to be fuelled to a greater or lesser extent by residual anti-Jewish feeling".
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In the first of our three inaugural articles, Adina Roth explores the concept of Machloket l’shem shamayim and looks at what our textual tradition might suggest about the possibility of deepening debate and conversation in the South African Jewish community.
Every argument that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure. And every argument that is not for the sake of heaven is not destined to endure. What is an example of argument for the sake of heaven? The arguments of Hillel and Shammai. And not for the sake of heaven? Korach and his congregation (Avot, 5:17).
Machloket l’shem shamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven, is an invisible yardstick put forth to distinguish between arguments considered worthy, and those seen as unworthy. What place could the concept of machloket l’shem shamayim or – argumentation for the sake of heaven – have in the South African Jewish community? Can this concept help establish the boundaries as well as the possibilities for acceptable discourse and debate in our community?
While the right to freedom of speech, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, ensures that anyone can raise an argument in our community, the way in which arguments are received, explored and discussed within the community is influenced by communal culture and norms, social pressures and consensus; a host of factors far more complicated than the right to freedom of speech. No one wants to be ostracised for exercising their inalienable right to free speech. That said, intuitively we might understand that some arguments are edifying and do much to advance the ethics of a community or culture while others can be destructive. The boundaries of what is and what is not a worthy – or edifying – argument, however, can become subjective. When it comes to communal engagement around issues of contention, we are in the realm of sociology as much as law; subjective narrative or poetics as much as absolutes. The question becomes, is it possible to share the value of macholket l’shem shamayim across the community so that a space of constructive, rigorous and more forthright dialogue can be opened up?