Des Says… What’s really important?

By Desrae Saacks, acting editor Cape Jewish Chronicle

This column has been a work-in-progress at the back of my mind for the whole month. Ideas, themes and concepts have formed and changed as content arrived in my inbox, and events unfolded around me.

By far the most recent and dramatic event was the April 18 fire that devoured precious vegetation, landmark buildings, archival material and infrastructure; and narrowly missed taking so much more. While some of it is lost forever, heartening scenes of green shoots on the mountainside, and burly firemen feeding water to an injured tortoise whose head is smaller than their finger-tips remind us that while loss and destruction are unavoidably part and parcel of our human condition, so too is the precious and transient gift of life.

On page 25, Nechama’s recent guest speaker, Carin Marcus, drives this point home when she guides us on how to talk to children about death. Central to her message is the fact that death is an intrinsic part of life, and understanding death is an essential factor in appreciating the wonder of life. (Read Nechama’s article.) In a letter to the editor on the same page, Lisa Michalson talks about the very same thing (Read Lisa Michalson’s article.)

Director Jordy Sank uses a novel documentary format to tell the life-affirming story of 99-year-old Cape Town resident and Holocaust survivor, Ella Blumenthal. Read more about I Am Here, and the amazing woman who inspired this work, on page 22. (Read more about I Am Here.)

Craig Nudelman’s piece on page 27 got me pondering the tension between tradition and progress, as he discusses, among other things, the iconic 1971 movie, Fiddler on the Roof. The movie asks, ‘how much can you move away from your traditions without losing yourself or your place in the world?’ (Read Using My Nudel.)

Those of us living in close proximity to the mountain were once again faced with the decision (as we are every few years) of what to save when evacuating our houses, just in case they actually do go up in flames this time. What are the most important things in our lives, that we absolutely cannot live without? Stress aside, it’s an interesting excercise.

In the most literal sense there’s nothing that absolutely can’t be done without or replaced. Documents, underwear, medications, laptop of course. (I don’t count pets as objects but rather as family — however they too need to be gathered up, packed into cars and accommodated).

One quickly realises that it’s the people (and animals) in your life that really matter. The thought of losing all one’s worldly possessions is overwhelming, if you stop to think about it. But the fact is, we’ll be ok, even if all the stuff is not there when we get back.

And still the theme of loss repeats.

I received a phone call late last week from Rabbi Gavi Ziegler of Phyllis Jowell Day School. He told me about a week-long campaign to be launched on 3 May in partnership with SAJBD, called #makethecall. This is a challenge to the whole community to reach out to someone with whom you’ve lost contact, pick up the phone, and talk to them.

COVID-19 is not yet behind us. At the time of writing this, we are waiting with bated breath for a third wave. Since COVID-19 hit our shores, our community has not been spared the devastating loss of life, and way of life, that the whole country and indeed world has suffered. COVID-19 has caused loss of income, loss of lifestyle options, and for many, loss of social connection. #Makethecall aims to reconnect our community on a person-to-person level, across the spectrum of age, religious observance and all the wonderful diversity that makes up the South African Jewish community; to rebuild, reconnect and restore relationship.

Loss of loved ones, loss of tradition, loss of lifestyle, loss of material posessions, loss of history, historical efforts and fruits of our labours. What’s really important? What will we miss? What will we survive? What do we learn from loss? How do we carry on? What do we need to hold onto so that we don’t lose ourselves? As individuals? As community? What is really important?

• Published in the print edition of the May 2021 issue. Download the May 2021 issue PDF here.

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