exploring the concerns of the South african jewish community
Rozanne Sack and Wendy Hendler, co-founders of Koleinu SA, write about the challenges of confronting sexual abuse against males in the South African Jewish community.
Koleinu SA spotlights male sexual abuse in the Jewish community
David*, a member of the Johannesburg Jewish community, is a survivor of early childhood sexual abuse. He is one of very few men to come forward and report his abuse to Koleinu SA. For victims of sexual abuse, especially those from smaller communities such as ours, where the perpetrator is usually well known to the victim and an active member of the community, reporting sexual abuse is inhibited by both fear and shame.
Founded in 2012, Koleinu SA was established as a helpline for victims of abuse in the South African Jewish Community. It has since grown to become an advocacy and training organisation in the areas of gender-based violence (GBV) and child sexual abuse. Although Koleinu SA’s helpline has taken hundreds of calls over the past eight years, the vast majority have been from women. Not because GBV and sexual abuse does not happen to men and boys in the Jewish community. Rather, because of the compounded shame and humiliation that male victims experience. We have some understanding of the huge barriers that women and girls have to overcome in order to come forward. For males it is doubly difficult. Most will suffer lifelong consequences and carry their secret to the grave.
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
Maya Schkolne suggests that despite the many positives of Jewish community schools in South Africa, their lack of diversity -- particularly racially and socio-economically -- can leave students ill-equipped to contribute meaningfully to broader South African society.
Schkolne suggests community schools leave students "ill-equipped to consciously converse" with students from different backgrounds (Photo courtesy of Facebook, UCT, Rhodes Must Fall).
The twelve years of my formal schooling was at Jewish community schools. First, I attended Herzlia Milnerton Primary, which has since closed, transferred to Herzlia Highlands Primary, continued to Herzlia Middle School, and, in 2006, I matriculated from Herzlia High School. As a student, I was challenged to grow academically within an excellence-driven environment. I enjoyed Art, Drama and History as well as the communal seders and school plays. Like many of my fellow students, I had some extracurriculars outside of school. And, yet, when I reflect back on the twelve years of formal education that I received, despite the many positives, there was a stark disconnect from what I was exposed to during my time at school and to the experiences and lived realities of the majority in South Africa.
"But there was a key component missing in our school’s resourceful environment: diversity".
exploring the concerns of the south african jewish community
Having sent all three of her children to Jewish community schools, Natalie Barnett reflects on the pros and cons of sending children to a private, faith-based, predominantly white school within the South African context.
TO my utmost delight I no longer find myself schlepping my kids to and from school every day. This is not because of lockdown but rather, as of last year, all three of my children have now matriculated, each having spent every year, from preschool to grade 12, at a community Jewish day school. If recent research on the South African Jewish community is anything to go by, this may be unremarkable to some and quite expected by others. But for me it wasn’t what I had originally envisaged for my offspring. My husband, however, was determined that they follow in his footsteps at United Herzlia Schools.
According to the 2019 Jewish Community Survey of South Africa (JCSSA), 75% of school-aged Jewish children in South Africa currently attend Jewish schools.
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."