Know your Board

Jacqui Benson and Justin Asher

We decided it’s high time we spotlight the individuals who make up our Board! After all, they are there to represent you and ensure your voice is heard when engaging with leading figures in the political, media and administrative spheres. Each month, two Board members will answer a series of questions that shed light on their reasons for serving on the Board, and their response to key issues relevant to our community. So, keep an eye out, and get to know your Board!

Justin Asher – Chairperson of our Generation Next subcommittee

Why did you join the Board?
I joined the Board with the idea that any small change I could make would create a long-lasting impact on the youth within the community. At times — more often than not — I felt somewhat detached from the Cape Town Jewish community, and believed that there are likely many more my age who may feel the same. In previous years, I had participated in community-driven leadership initiatives whereby I had the privilege of learning more about how our community functions, and it was off the back of those interactions that I felt it necessary to become more involved so that I could empower others, like myself, to become more active within the community.

What do you hope to achieve during your term of office?
I believe that there are many young members of our community who have no idea what work the Board does or how it can be of assistance to Cape Town Jews when it becomes necessary. I hope that my time on the Board will offer me the opportunity to inspire others to get more involved with Jewish Community organisations and gain a better understanding of the work the Board does behind the scenes in advocating for the local community.

What other community organisations are you involved in?
I am not involved in any other Jewish organisations at this stage as my time is taken up by my involvement as Chairman of Rygersdal Football Club and my role as General Secretary of the Cape Town Tygerberg Football Association.

What are your passions?
I am passionate about community, but more specifically sport, as I find it is often the one place where people find common ground no matter one’s religion, cultural background or social standing. I am driven by a desire to create safe communal spaces within the context of sport as I find it to be an outlet for many who experience hardships in their personal lives. I also firmly believe that these safe socio-cultural spaces allow one to escape reality and inspire hope.

What is your vision for the community?
I would love to see a community that is not fearful to tolerate each other’s beliefs and opinions. One where everyone can come together and feel welcomed and inspired to grow the community; continuing to add value to it over the long term, by growing our thought-leaders and encouraging and empowering our younger generation to get involved and become part of the future.

What do you think is unique about our Jewish community?
Without a doubt, our most unique asset is our ability to come together for Shabbat, Chagim and other festivities. There is no other community that I have come across who come together, religiously or traditionally, every Friday evening for a meal with family and friends — this alone makes us unique. So unique that whenever I meet a non-Jewish person they always ask, “Can I come for Shabbat and eat that awesome bread with you?”.

Jacqui Benson – Chairperson of our Social Justice subcommittee

Why did you join the Board?
In 2019 a young man by the name of Adam Seef took his own life. I was deeply disturbed that on ‘my watch’ someone Jewish would feel so at odds with his sexuality that this was his only solution. It galvanised me to become more vociferous in raising my voice within my community, and this brought me into contact with Stuart Diamond (then Executive Director of the Cape SAJBD). I was inspired by his vision to create a truly representative Board, that was willing to engage and listen to all its members and address the divergent views within our community. I believed I could contribute to that vision (and in 2020, it was long overdue for the Board to have an openly Queer representative).

What do you hope to achieve during your term of office?
To bring awareness that ‘being Jewish’ does not confine you to any kind of box based on gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, ethnicity, race, religious views, views on Israel/Palestine, education, occupation, and even which part of Cape Town you live in. We are not one homogenous community, and I don’t think we should try to be. We should rather celebrate our diversity and welcome debate and robust engagement to bring about new ideas and new ways to take the community forward. We are a privileged community, and we should take our responsibility as South African citizens seriously, by playing a vital role to empower other communities and being a resource to make a real difference — not just financially, but with the skills, networks and experiences we have. I believe that by reaching out in deep, meaningful ways, we can contribute to nation-building and in this way counter intolerance and discrimination, such as antisemitism. This means participating in the projects of others, showing up consistently and most importantly having conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they might be. This is why I stepped up to Chair the Social Justice subcommittee, which was newly formed in 2021.

What other community organisations are you involved in?
2021 was an incredibly busy year for me. For years I’ve been involved in the Pride Shabbat at Temple Israel, and this last year, working with the Rabbinic leadership, we have established a Pride Taskforce made up of members of the community, focusing on not just one Shabbat a year, but on the needs and issues facing LGBTQIA+ Jews. Whilst so many are not in the Progressive community, to date it has only been the Progressive Rabbis who are currently active in this conversation. I was also accepted into the Nahum Goldman Fellowship online and have been able to engage with other Jewish thought igniters and changemakers across the globe. This past year, I became more involved in the Mensch Network, and seeing the amazing work being done by incredible changemakers is inspiring. I was blessed to be able to participate in the 1st LIFT Leadership cohort that took place in the final quarter of the year.

What is your vision for the community?
That no person in communal leadership should be in a position for longer than five or six years, and every communal body should be mandated to have at least 33% of its executive under 35. For too long the decisions of the community have rested in the same hands, and whilst this may have served the community well to date, the community needs fresh, new views that are unhindered by the past, to take us forward into the future.

What do you think is unique about our Jewish community?
We are resourceful, highly entrepreneurial, and very well connected, across the world. I think the phrase ‘we punch above our weight class’ fits us perfectly.

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

• Published in the PDF edition of the February 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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