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.