We are only free when we are all free By Michael Bagraim

As we, as the Jewish people all over the world, celebrate our freedom we need to look very strongly at the freedom of everyone else and in particular the community within which we live.

The political kingdom was obtained by a democratic revolution in 1994. Unfortunately this did not translate into economic freedom which makes the revolution a hollow one. In order to live a decent and free, meaningful life people need to have jobs and need to have their families secure in an economic sense. Political freedom without the ability to sustain one’s self and one’s family is not viable and will lead to all the troubles that we are seeing both in the streets of the towns through service delivery protests and at the educational institutions through destructive behaviour.

The lack of the freedom of the people amongst whom we live threatens our freedom as we all are sailing in ship South Africa together.

It is therefore vital for us as a people and in particular our Jewish community to ensure that we do everything that we can to ensure everyone attains true freedom.

Obviously we need to live within the morals and values of our Jewish law and within these values we will find much of it guiding us to help those in need. Clearly tzedakah is a priority.

This does not only mean that we need to distribute funds but that we should be helping in any which way we can. This help in terms of our principles clearly not only helps others but also ourselves. We all understand that the majority of our citizens in South Africa today are vulnerable and we are in a unique position where many of us can actually reach out and help. Our specific Jewish institutions are indeed doing much institutional work which institutional work has been recorded and we are in the process of drawing up a full and complete list of all the institutional work that has been done to ensure that others can gain their true freedom. Not only is this work valuable in the true sense of tzedakah it is also work that places our own community in a much more secure environment for our own future.

We have to look at what being a Jew means in our unique circumstances in South Africa in particular in Cape Town. We need to take our responsibilities seriously as whether we like it or not, we come from a politically privileged background. The previously disadvantaged communities look at us in a rather peculiar light. Unfortunately not only have we been defined as being coming from the privileged background but we are often defined as being well off. There are many in our community that need our help and it is our duty to ensure that charity does begin at home. This does not mean that we should ignore the other. Our tradition points us in the direction of justice and righteousness. We all fully understand that this poverty does create extreme vulnerability and we are obliged to alleviate this vulnerability in the best way we can.

Our community, especially in Cape Town, has an incredibly good track record in the sense that we have been supporting welfare from our inception. More often than not the welfare support we give is not recognised and often we choose not to advertise it. It is understood that we don’t want to shout from the roof tops about our charity but I think it is incredibly important in the current political milieu that we do at least chronicle efforts in trying to help the community at large. I suspect that as the recession bites deeper the call for more effort on behalf of our tiny community will be a louder one. That call has to be answered and, I strongly believe, that the answer must be loudly heard. We do need to advertise the fact that our outreach work is done without reward and extensively. As we celebrate Pesach and our freedom we need to ensure the freedom of others. One of the most moving accounts of the Pesach Seder was the Haggadah which outlined what took place during the Holocaust and the uprising. A vivid account was described of how the brave and starving members of the community took a decision to stage a defensive uprising for our people’s freedom.

The emotional aspect of Pesach was palpable and ones mere reading of the uprising during the first night of Pesach brings out a whole host of emotions. The fact that each ‘soldier’ took a small piece of matzah when they went into battle, tells us the enormity of the situation in which they found themselves, and also our people’s bond to both freedom and life. We as a people value our freedom sometimes even more so than our own safety.

This drive and passion is more often than not translated into helping others, and we get reminded of this every year as we read the Haggadah. Our celebration of our freedom is probably one of the most closely observed festivals in our diary. Every Jew worldwide makes enormous effort to participate in the Seder and all the rituals that go with it. Many of us recall our childhood Siddurim with our extended families, and every year we restore our faith in humanity whilst participating in the Pesach meal. Our true freedom is only gained when everyone surrounding us is likewise free in every sense of the word.

The golden thread that runs through our psyche and identity is one of remembrance of what has happened to us as a people and how we can use that memory to not only ensure that the horrors of the holocaust never happen again but also that we understand and remind ourselves that we too experienced oppression and slavery.

This leads us to ensuring that we don’t stand idly by when the other is experiencing hardship and oppression. Our identity is everything to us and we need to relate it to everything we do and to ensure we follow the ethics of our fathers. To quote from Natan Shransky “only a person who is connected to his past, his people, and to his roots can be free, and only a free person has the strength to act for the benefit of the rest of humanity.”

No matter how religious or secular we might be each one of us has a duty to remind ourselves over Pesach that being Jewish is more than just chicken soup but it is our duty to ensure that all of humanity deserves to be free.


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