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Op-eds

Imagine if I were sensitive?

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I am no stranger to hate mail. I have been photoshopped into gas chambers because I am Jewish. I have been called a baby murderer sympathiser because I support Israel. I have been threatened overtly, and I have had very dangerous looking people arrive at the door of the studio and wait for me to end my show.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jan 31, 2019

These haven’t bothered me at all. It is part of an expected response to what I do and to what I say. I would be naïve to assume that it won’t happen. Especially as I often take on and have uncomfortable conversations.

What I don’t expect is some of the personal and poisonous responses that I receive from within our own community. Constructive and robust debate has always been part of our ethos as Jews. The magnificence of the Talmud is elucidated in the process of debate, the conflict between the houses of Hillel and Shamai are well known, and scholars continue to disagree on just about everything. It might get heated and passionate, but lines are not crossed. So much so, that it is told that the children of Hillel and Shamai married.

Last week, there was an online response to an article I had written in the SA Jewish Report. In the original column, I told a story of how we had mistakenly moved into the wrong apartment during our vacation in Plett. I described the incident and what followed, when a not so happy family arrived to claim the same apartment. I made (tongue in cheek) assumptions that they were from Boksburg, Benoni, Springs, or Brakpan and apparently offended at least one member of the Jewish community. It is worth noting that I never suggested that the family was a member of such community, or even Jewish. Quite the contrary. Indeed, they might have been from Krugersdorp.

But that didn’t stop the letter writer from taking offence on behalf of every Jew who had ever travelled through the East Rand. He suggested that I was suffering from early dementia (not sure what qualifies him to suggest there is anything “early” about it) and revealed the dark secrets of my past – that I grew up in the “mink and manure” belt of Observatory. Truthfully, I do remember a lot of manure, but no so many minks. Clearly, I wasn’t paying enough attention.

The letter was bitter, personal, and biting. It was genuinely ugly, and reflected horribly on the anonymous writer – someone who lacked the courage to associate his or her name with it. But, given the names that it mentioned and the details it contained, it was clear that the writer came from within the religious community of Johannesburg.

Some time back I wrote an article for The Times of Israel about the conflict at the Kotel around the notion of an egalitarian prayer area. I suggested that we achieve so much more by “inviting people to Shabbat dinner than by throwing stones at them”. This, of course, being a metaphor for how I suggested it was dealt with. I didn’t expect people to agree with me, and welcomed the debate that I thought would follow. What I didn’t expect was to be told that I was a “self-hating Jew” and a traitor to my people. The writer, again, came from within my fellow religious world.

On my show, when discussing the gay pride march in Tel Aviv, I was told by a so-called religious person that to even discuss it was to “mock the legacy of your parents”. This person claimed that my (dear) late mother would have been ashamed of me.

Last week, I wrote an article about school fees (and other costs) that are crippling our community. I used the Maharsha school as an example of one that is trying its best to restore dignity to its parent-body. The response that I received from the less religious schools was to invite me to engage on the topic. The comments that I received from parents in the more religious schools shocked me. Baseless hatred doesn’t come close.

In no way do I suggest that everyone who aligns with the more observant communities is intolerant and vocal. On the contrary. I believe that we have a caring, kind, and truly religious community in South Africa. But that doesn’t mean that there is not an element that perhaps fails to remember that it is not only about the optics and looking the part, but also acting it.

I am vocal on many issues because I believe they need to be addressed. I do not expect, nor hope, that everyone will agree with everything I say, but I do wish for us to debate and argue with an element of respect, and to understand when something is tongue in cheek. Even if they come from Springs

1 Comment

  1. 1 Joan Struck 31 Jan
    i liked this article so much. Thank you.
    why are peole so defensive about their way of thinking and their way is just and correct? Why are they so nasty and defensive? Why can’t we all just listen, think about, ponder and work out which way we want to go with out slamming the other persons ways and ideas. Oy vey have we created from monsters!

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