Giving Thanks

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Using my Nudel

By Craig Nudelman

My last column about the ‘community’ in which we live was significant for me. It made me think about how we’ve come about, who we are; what is important to us and what makes us, as a collective, tick.

I have been a Jewish professional for most of my working career. From an Oxford Shul chorister to my radio days on ChaiFM in Johannesburg, from the Cape Board of Deputies to my current position at Herzlia in Cape Town, this current phase of my life has been spent (hopefully) assisting the growth and development of the community. I have also volunteered my time and effort to the community’s growth through Limmud and other communal organisations. And believe me, I’m not the only one. There are many in this community who have dedicated their lives to uplifting and evolving the community. But I often feel that there is no recognition for the blood, sweat and tears that go into making this community as thriving as it is.
I have just been to Limmud Cape Town (my 15th Limmud Conference in total). Unlike previous years, this year I was not involved in the making of this grand show. A small group of people worked day and night to offer a weekend filled with an exorbitant amount of food, a wonderfully comfortable room and, most importantly, a riveting programme. Heidi-Jane Esakov-Jacobson, Karen Kallmann and Nancy Krisch, as well as the whole executive, ran a Limmud that was seamless and perfect from start to finish. It was an incredible success. But will they be recognised by the greater Cape Town Jewish community?

Often, recognition in our community is based around those who give money. Once a year the ‘Top Donor’s Dinner’ event showcases the most generous people in Cape Jewry. Held at a beautiful venue, the guests are treated to an amazing guest speaker, and of course incredible food. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to recognise those who give charity to our Jewish community. On the contrary, without them, our schools, our community service organisations and our Jewish institutions, like the Zionist Federation and our Youth Movements, the Cape Board of Deputies and the United Jewish Campaign would cease to run. But is there a ‘Top Volunteer’s Dinner’ showcasing those who make this community great by donating things other than money — like skills, time and commitment? The simple answer is no, but there should be. There is a need to highlight how much work goes on behind the scenes to make the Jewish community the active and vibrant one which it is.

Institutions like Limmud, Mensch, Melton, and many more, offer rich programmes for Jews of all ages, denominations and genders. And we should extend our outlook to those who dedicate their time and effort to helping the broader community. They should also get kudos for their important work. But this begs the question; if they aren’t recognised, why keep on doing it?

The London School of Economics studied the connection between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults. They found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. The article states that “[c]ompared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being ‘very happy’ rose 7% among those who volunteered monthly and 12% for people who volunteered every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy — a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75 000–$100 000 versus $20 000”. That is a truly incredible statistic. Helpguide.org also lists benefits, saying that it “connects you to others; it is good for your mind and body; can advance your career, and brings fun and fulfilment to your life.”

Now, this is not an advertisement to make you volunteer, but it really does help to make for a happier life.Settling in Cape Town was difficult even though I did have my amazing and supportive girlfriend (now my wife). I also had some friends from Jo’burg who lived here and I was studying at UCT. But it was as a Limmud volunteer that I was given the opportunity to make new friends. This helped to create a sense of belonging in this strange and different city. The connections I had made as a volunteer for Limmud back in Jo’burg paved the way for a relatively easy transition into my life as a ‘semigrant’.

So if volunteering offers all these benefits, why is there a need for recognition? Well, recognition makes you feel good! When someone comments that they really enjoyed a column I wrote, I feel so grateful. When a delegate thanked me for Limmud, I felt over the moon.

I would love to see a special event to say thank you to the dedicated people who give of their time to community events and organisations. A ‘Top Volunteers Dinner’ would an incredible thing for the community. Perhaps your New Year’s resolution could be to volunteer for an organisation of your choice. Or volunteer to organise the ‘Top Volunteers Dinner’. What a wonderful way to start off 5778.

Chag Sameach and an inspirational Yom Tov.

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