Mishpacha, Sifrei Torah and Yiddishkeit

By Daniel Bloch, Executive Director, Cape SAJBD

In the past few weeks, I have been inundated with good wishes on my appointment as the Executive Director of the Cape SAJBD.

The numerous offers of support and words of encouragement from our community have been heartfelt and so welcoming that the transition into my new role has been an easy one. I feel that this warmth epitomises the unique characteristic of our Jewish community — a feeling of mishpacha or family. Just like families encourage, support, and protect the ones they love, so does our community, and recent events are indicative of this community spirit.

During the raging and almost unstoppable fires that rocked Cape Town towards the end of April, destroying parts of UCT, burning down the famous Rhodes Memorial restaurant, incinerating a large portion of our beautiful mountain, and causing many people to evacuate their homes — our mishpacha rallied together. Whilst our brave firefighters were battling the fires, various Jewish organisations, as well as countless individuals, collaborated to raise funds and gather up supplies which were donated to the firefighters and students who were displaced from their homes. Social media was abuzz with photos of people delivering water, food and other essential items, to fire stations across the Cape.

Amidst this turmoil, several Sifrei Torah were rescued from both the Kaplan Centre and the Herzlia Highlands Campus. Whilst some would try to save photo albums and other material items, our community focused on our Yiddishkeit and history. Saving the Sifrei Torah illustrates how the Jewish community, despite adversity, remains connected and committed to its roots. Just as the Torah connects us to Judaism, so too does the Cape SAJBD, whose function it is to provide information to our community and connect people.

Recently we received a request from a researcher who had some letters written by Jerry Berman, a civil engineer who had found a job building bridges in Ukraine in the 1930s. This was during the time of the Holodomor, a man-made famine imposed on the Ukrainians by Stalin to punish them for their nationalism. Jerry’s letters are among the few first-person narratives that exist. A British PhD researcher plans to make a short animated film based on the Berman letters, and Kyiv’s Holodomor Museum wants to hold an exhibition based on this collection. The Board was asked to assist in finding out if Jerry had any relatives in Cape Town, and of course, we jumped at the opportunity to assist! A wonderful connection was made between Jerry’s son living in Cape Town and the previously unknown letters of his father. All in a day’s work for the Cape SAJBD.

The incredible collaborative efforts within this Jewish community must never be taken for granted. They have not only ensured precious items connecting our religion were rescued but that Jews from different parts of the world were able to connect and find lost family.

I would love to share more stories of how our community has collaborated in the past, what connections have been made and what the future opportunities are. Email me at danielb@ctjc.co.za and share your stories.

Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies website: www.capesajbd.org, Instagram, and Facebook page.

• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2021 issue – Download here.

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