exploring the concerns of the south african Jewish community
In this article, Leigh Nudelman Sussman looks at how art can serve as a medium to help explore and navigate the challenges facing the South African Jewish community. She further argues that art and artists can play a pivotal role in attracting otherwise disengaged South African Jewish millennials back into communal life.
A recent community survey provides evidence that South African Jewish millennials are becoming increasingly disengaged from community life. Arguably the future of a vibrant and sustainable Jewish community in South Africa resides with the youth. Urgent rethinking about this demographic then must be done to ensure that the community in South Africa carries forward into the future, especially since the survey also reveals demographic decline.
In May 2018, I participated in the South African regional Nahum Goldmann Fellowship (NGF). Here, young Jewish leaders of different religious and political persuasions asked what our role is in South Africa. This question was posed alongside a myriad of internal and external challenges facing the Jewish community. Some of the issues included the challenge of being Jewish and white in South Africa, a chasm between Jews and non-Jews, silos within the Jewish community, the generation gap, engagement around Zionism, the rising cost of kosher food and a Jewish education in a slumping economy, gender inequality, and the disengagement of younger Jewish people from Jewish communal life. With all these difficulties facing young Jews in a complicated society, many, myself included, seemed dispirited.
As someone who cares about the future of the Jewish community in South Africa my gut instinct was to assemble Jewish creative people to continue the conversations started at the NGF. A month later 9th Street was born.
"9th Street’s common goal was asserted from our first meeting: the group could advance the sustainability of the Jewish community through the medium of art."