exploring the concerns of the South AFrican Jewish community
Michael Kransdorff argues that memory and commemoration of the Holocaust often does not give its due to those murdered in the "Holocaust by Bullets." He suggests that there is a particular imperative for South African Jews to remember this less well-known history.
MY first encounter with Mordechai Perlov came at a fortuitous moment. In 2015, a few weeks prior to our first conversation over drinks in his Johannesburg flat, Litvaksig -- the Jewish Lithuanian heritage organization, for which I volunteer as a research coordinator -- had discovered a misplaced file in the Lithuanian archives listing thousands of Jews who had been ‘evacuated’ from Lithuania to the USSR during 1941.
Initially I had hoped that this list might unlock the secret to some unknown rescue attempt of Lithuanian Jews as Nazi forces invaded the country. This would have been a remarkable discovery in a country where local collaboration was widespread and over 90% of the entire Jewish population was murdered. Mord scoffed at my suggestion. This was no humanitarian rescue effort. The people on the list were not Jews saved. Rather, like Mord and his family, they were Jews who were exiled and imprisoned in slave labour camps for being designated as enemies of the Soviet state. The majority would die of hunger, cold or disease.
"South African Jews have deep historical and cultural roots in Eastern Europe ... Nevertheless, we too have, until recently, also largely ignored the Eastern European Jewish experience in our commemoration of the Holocaust".
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
Jacqui Benson reflects on the deep challenges still faced by the LGBTQIA+ community in South Africa, and calls on Jewish South Africans to better understand what it means to be 'allies' to the LGBTQIA+ community.
17 May marks International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. On that day this year I stood on Monwabisi Beach in Khayelitsha with approximately 40 others at a memorial organized by Triangle Project. We were there to honour and commemorate ten of our fellow ‘siblings’ of the LGBTQIA+ ‘family’, who, since 12 February 2021, had been violently murdered simply because of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity.
Since the 17 May the number of victims, ranging in age from 22 to 48, now stands at 14.
Of the 40 people present, and amongst a handful of other white people, I was one of two Jews.
Why is this relevant?
"In the Jewish community, discrimination shows up as a veil of silence, the things we do not talk about, the ‘unmentionables.’ "
HE was the hardest of taskmasters, the severest of critics! Half a lifetime of religious leadership, communal, interfaith, welfare and educational work had instilled in Rabbi Cyril Harris the positive belief that if you worked for any community, in whatever capacity, making you responsible for the care and development of others, you had to strive to produce the best service possible - and to make sure that you took the opportunity to train, train, and train again so that up-to-date theories and skills would automatically become part of your effort.
"... his [Rabbi Harris] practical teachings of the principles of Jewish ethics, what he called “The Jewish Obligation to the Non-Jew”, are probably even more relevant in a Covid challenged world than they were twenty years ago."
Michalya Schonwald Moss reflects on how the experience of Covid-19 in South Africa catalysed her search to uncover her family's Holocaust history.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
Jolan Vida Schonwald, gassed at Auschwitz when she was 43 years old.
IT was an unimaginable curveball and it landed hard, right in my solar plexus. My husband had just returned from a scouting trip to Israel in March 2020 and we immediately went into quarantine, one week before the rest of South Africa. Being unable to control our circumstances and having to abandon our plans to emigrate, I found myself struggling to navigate this “new normal”. The only context I had to compare our situation to was the Holocaust. As a third-generation survivor, I felt trapped, anxious and afraid. It was then that hairline cracks started to appear, and with inherited transgenerational trauma overshadowing my present reality, I realized that I needed to find the courage to be curious about why a global pandemic had triggered an emotional reaction to a story belonging to my progenitors.
My grandfather, Moshe, had never spoken about his life before the war or his wartime experiences. My father and his brother were uncomfortable bringing it up. My uncle, David, described the impact of living with family secrets as having a constant elephant in the room, “and that elephant was death.”
communal matters exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
Contrary to recently released statistics, Ricky Stoch suggests that many young Jewish South Africans have a strong sense of belonging to South Africa and are committed to a future in the country.
THERE is nothing quite like a pandemic in London to remind you how good our lives are in South Africa. I moved to London in 2018 to study and now, while starting my business and getting British citizenship, I commute between South Africa and the UK. When I settle down, I hope to do it in South Africa.
A Facebook post (19/07/2019) encouraging the community to take part in the JCSSA.
According to the 2019 Jewish Community Survey of South Africa (JCSSA) most respondents (74%) had either a strong or quite a strong sense of belonging to South Africa. However, the survey noted that “feelings of belonging are weakest among respondents aged 25 and younger.” In a recent DafkaDotCom article (24/02/2021), Deena Katzen alludes to this pattern when she writes, “I believe that many young Jewish South Africans will opt for the opportunity that offers them the best quality of life. For most this is no longer South Africa.”
Like most surveys, the JCSSA is not entirely representative. I was 25 when the survey took place and I found the results surprising as my social circle has a very strong sense of belonging to South Africa. In fact, of those who have left South Africa many hope to return. When I asked my friends about the survey none of them had completed it. In fact, they weren’t even aware that it had taken place.
exploring the concerns of the South African Jewish community
Looking at the Jewish Community Survey of South Africa, Deena Katzen reflects on the shifts in thinking amongst young Jewish South Africans and suggests that the Jewish community might be out of touch with how the youth think about and engage with the world around them.
IN the five years since I’ve been involved in Jewish student organizations, I have been asked countless times, “What does it mean to be a young Jewish person in South Africa today?” I have always found this difficult to answer because of the diverse nature of the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of Jewish youth today. However, despite this complexity, this question is a fundamental and foundational one, and one which is all too often glossed over by communal organizations.
The way in which young South African Jews think about and experience the world around them has shifted significantly over recent years. The Jewish Community Survey of South Africa (JCCSA), released in 2020, offers some interesting insights into these developments and shifts amongst young Jews.
"It is clear that as young people we need to continue to build a better future for ourselves, and inspire the push towards a more open, safe and accepting society and community. The question is whether we will continue to do this from within South Africa?"
Rabbi Emma Gottlieb reflects on how the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed for the reimagining of Progressive Judaism.
THE year 70 CE was catastrophic for the Jewish people. Jerusalem was under siege, Jewish blood was being spilled in barbaric ways, Jewish leaders were martyred through public torture and execution, and ultimately the Great Revolt against the Romans culminated in the destruction of the Second Temple and the burning and sacking of Jerusalem. It was a dark time indeed. In the absence of seasoned leadership and The Temple, how did Judaism survive?
Without Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, it is likely that it would not have. According to Jewish lore, R. Yochanan had the foresight to escape the siege through a clever ruse that brought him to the Roman general Vespasian. Predicting the general’s rise to Emperor, R. Yochanan was able to secure his safety, and that of his students, who were allowed to relocate with him to Yavneh, a town south of modern-day Tel Aviv. There, they established a new academy, and began the generations-long process of reimagining a decentralised form of Judaism – a Judaism that could survive, even without the Temple; a Judaism that could travel the world as Jews were forced to disperse further and further afield from the Holy Land; a Judaism that could facilitate prayer and ritual in the absence of sacrifice and that could speak to the suffering of their time.
I have often felt a kinship with this generation of radical religious reformers. They understood the urgency of the times. Their willingness to innovate granted all future generations of Jews permission to view Judaism as a living and evolving religion with timeless teachings and truths supported by practices that could change with the times, when necessary. But never have I felt as close to Rabbi Yochanan and his students as I did in 2020.
"This past year, Jews of all denominations figured out how to adjust in the face of the pandemic."
As we enter 2021, Stuart Diamond reflects on how the South African Jewish community can hold on to the shared sense of purpose that helped it come together and navigate 2020.
OVER the past year, what we have grown to consider ‘normal life’ has been completely upended. From how we understand work-school-home life, to how we socialise, pray and interact as a community, no person has been unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Aside from health concerns and the tragic loss of life, 2020 has also brought economic hardship for many, and economic devastation for others. In South Africa, the number of households facing food insecurity has grown significantly. But 2020 also forced us to pause, reflect and adapt -- as individuals and as a community.
The challenges facing the Jewish community in 2020 have been extensive, with the pandemic and lockdown inevitably putting stress on communal resources. Yet adversity also brought out the best of what the Cape Jewish community can be when aligned with a shared purpose.
"The challenge now is, how do we hold on to the shared sense of purpose that helped us, as a community, come together and navigate 2020?"
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
In this article, Prof. Karen Milner looks at what the research suggests about antisemitism in South Africa, arguing that the data shows antisemitism to be relatively low.
IN 2019 the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), published a report identifying South Africa as the second most antisemitic country in the world. South Africa was second only to Poland and scored well above France, a country in which Jews fear being publicly identified as Jews and in which two elderly Jewish women were murdered in antisemitic attacks in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The ADL report caused a minor furore in the South African Jewish community, and its findings have been roundly challenged by the organised Jewish community (see here and here) and community members.
"... the ultimate test of levels of antisemitism in a country is the extent to which Jews can live their lives openly and authentically as Jews without being harassed, attacked or discriminated against. Anecdotal evidence suggests that South African Jews can and do live openly Jewish lives".
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
Drawing on the concept of 'alienation in language', Bryan Opert argues that to effectively engage with gender-based violence, interventions and rhetoric must reflect the specific challenges faced by the Jewish community
ADDRESSING the “surge” in gender-based violence and femicide since level 3 lockdown began in mid-July, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced three bills aimed at “help[ing] to restore the confidence of our country’s women that the law is indeed there to protect them”. The 2019/20 crime statistics, which were released on the 31 July, do not include this “surge” as the statistics don’t cover this period. Considering that the crime statistics already indicated a 1.7% increase in both sexual offences and rape, and a 0.6% rise in common assault against women, it is understandable that many would feel that the authorities have been ineffective in protecting victims of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa.
In 2012, in response to “the rising incidence of sexual and other forms of abuse in the Jewish Community”, Koleinu SA – a helpline for victims of abuse in the Jewish community – was established. Wendy Hendler, co-founder and board member of Koleinu SA, explains: “globally, we know that statistics of GBV within Jewish communities reflect those of the country in which the community is located. This, however, excludes South Africa with its horrific GBV statistics”. Hendler goes on, “while Koleinu SA has dealt with sexual assault, rape and date rape cases, the majority of cases from within the Jewish community are comprised of emotional, verbal, financial and religious abuse”.
"... when a young male from our community reads an article about GBV does he believe that it is personally relevant to him, or is it as foreign as world hunger? "