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Op-eds

‘Dancing at Two Chuppahs’

  • Howard Feldman 2018
My late grandmother, who understood me well, was fond of telling me that I can’t “dance at two chuppas”. In essence, what she was trying desperately to tell me was that as much as I might want to be, I could not be in two places at once, and that it would best if I focused on one thing at a time. Millennials use the term “FOMO”, which is the fear of missing out, and for me it is pretty much the same thing. It explains why I find it difficult to switch off at night, knowing that the world is carrying on and I might be missing something, and why I leap frantically out of bed at 4am, eager to find out what I might have missed.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Nov 14, 2019

It’s exhausting.

Whereas I may have a particularly aggressive case of FOMO, most of us encounter this every day. It may be that our child is playing a soccer match that we are unable to attend because of a work commitment. Or, we may have two events happening at the same time and we need to choose between them. It’s simply part of living and prioritising.

But there is another area in which many diaspora Jews feel the pain more acutely. On Tuesday morning, when I began my radio show at 6am, the news of Israel’s assassination of the Islamic Jihad leader was just breaking. Within 10 minutes of being on air, news of sirens in the south of Israel came through, followed by (at that stage) another 25 rockets. Tel Aviv, we were told, was on alert: schools had been cancelled and businesses informed their staff to stay home near shelters.

My son lives and works in Tel Aviv. Still on air, I messaged him: “Ben, are you okay? Is work cancelled?” His response: “Fine, why? Why would it be?” Clearly, he was less up to date than I would have assumed. Less than a minute later, he had received notice from his company, and in no time at all he was running to a bomb shelter (which was still locked).

Each show has a prearranged plan for the entire three hours. On Tuesdays we get the latest updates from Australia, talk technology, and had a planned feature about the future of work. The show is designed to appeal to a cross-section of South Africans and people around the world. Many of my listeners are not Jewish, which has prompted us to introduce a sting, “Hashtag, you don’t have to be Jewish”, so that non-Jewish listeners know that this is a programme for them too.

All this resulted in Tuesday morning’s show being enormously difficult to navigate. With South African news hardly covering the attacks in Israel, if at all, many listeners are desperate for up-to-date and current information. For me, knowing that my son was there, made balancing the show an almost impossible task. No matter how hard I tried to focus on the local (which were really interesting and important), my heart kept pulling me elsewhere.

Although Tuesday might have been an extreme example, in essence, this is what it means to be a Jew in the diaspora. There are times when we are able to balance the tension better, but there are times when it becomes a massive challenge.

My grandmother passed away before social media became a thing. She never even got to see Facebook or Twitter, and never had to tell us to put our phones down at meals. But even back then she recognised that we are built to be restless. And though it might be that we can’t decide which wedding to attend, it is simply because, sometimes, our hearts and our bodies are in different places.

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