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The Jewish Report Editorial

Being a part of the world Jewish club

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When I was in Israel towards the end of last year, and had the chance to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu one question, I left feeling slighted. I asked him what Israel was doing to help the South African Jewish community at the heart of the “new anti-Semitism” (traditional anti-Semitism intertwined with the delegitimisation of Israel) who were feeling the brunt of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. He made light of it, as did the Israeli media.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Aug 01, 2019

This experience certainly didn’t engender a feeling of solidarity, nor a belief that Israel was on our side. In fact, I came home feeling that, to a large degree, we were on our own on the southern tip of Africa.

I tell you this now, simply because meeting Jewish Agency leader Isaac Herzog this week gave me new perspective. I now have a sense of being part of a much larger Jewish world.

I feel like South African Jewry is actually an important cog in the Jewish wheel. Since meeting him, I believe that in terms of world Jewry – with its headquarters in Israel – we are very much part of the club. And it feels great.

I believe Israel is aware of us, and fighting for us to be able to live freely as Jews in South Africa, without needing to hide who we are and what’s important to us.

What changed, you may ask. Well, quite simply, here was an important Israeli leader who did his homework on South African Jewry before he got here. He was here – as you might be aware by now – as a guest of the South African Zionist Federation’s conference last weekend.

After he arrived, he spoke to many influential people, and has since made it known that he is determined to do what he can to help us.

His visit also showed me what the Jewish Agency is already doing to protect us in terms of financial assistance, security, and various other issues pertaining to our stability in South Africa.

He didn’t come here to convince us to make aliyah – although he wouldn’t turn us away if we did. In his quiet but forceful way, he made it clear he’s determined to ensure that we can hold our head high as Jews in South Africa, and as people with a close affinity to the holy land. How refreshing that is!

We certainly get many fascinating visitors from Israel, and we have a wonderful Israeli ambassador, Israel Centre (under the auspices of the Jewish Agency), and shlichim (emissaries) involved in various Jewish organisations. So, this bond and support has perhaps been there all the time. I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been working hard to keep us in the Jewish world loop, but I certainly didn’t feel it quite as much as I do now following Herzog’s visit.

Somehow, I believe he has the ear of Israeli leadership, and he seems to have the power to make a tangible difference.

What’s also interesting for me is that for many years, South African Jewry dug deep into their pockets to give money to Israel, and I know we still do. We did what we could to help build this homeland, in spite of the fact that most of us were happy at home in South Africa. It was what we always did because, as Jews, Israel was and still is important to us.

Now, it appears that Israel – the economically thriving metropolis – is helping us. Again, while it isn’t really a surprise, it was never said in so many words. Not that I like us being on the receiving end (I always prefer to be giving), but it certainly feels like there is a familial and loving bond behind this.

Herzog said something else that astonished me. He was talking about the future of the Jewish nation, and how the Jewish Agency looks after Jews, no matter what they wear on their heads or how and if they daven.

While he is clearly concerned about Jews turning away from the Jewish world, he is so open to accepting people who believe they are Jewish, and want to be a part of our community.

This is such a new idea for me, and one I’m sure our orthodox rabbis wouldn’t approve of. However, he made the point that there are 60 million human beings out there that identify as Jewish, and we shouldn’t turn our backs on them.

Following the difficult debate that we had in this newspaper over the attendance of orthodox rabbis at Limmud, this is surely food for thought. Especially considering that Herzog has conferred with top rabbonim in Israel over this.

I can’t imagine they love this idea, and I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it, but it’s surely something to ponder when looking to our future.

With great respect to the Zionist Fed team, they brought out some great minds and speakers to inspire our community. Kol Hakavod to the SAZF! We have devoted a substantial space in this newspaper to covering what was said at the conference as it is worth reading. As we bid farewell to the dedicated team of Ben Swartz and Nicci Raz at the helm of the organisation, I would like to congratulate Rowan Polovin for taking on the SAZF leadership mantle. We wish you the best of luck! I would also like to congratulate Benji Shulman for his award – it is so well deserved. From our perspective on this newspaper, the work he does for the community is huge.

Shabbat Shalom!

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