An Exclusive launch for Mensches in the Trenches

Tzvi Brivik, Erica Elk and Jonathan Ancer

by Craig Nudelman

In the prologue for Mensches in the Trenches, former President Thabo Mbeki stated that “they (Jews) were moved by an unshakeable understanding that as human beings we must act together, regardless of colour, race or gender, to shape a common destiny”. 

This was certainly the running theme when the Cape SAJBD hosted the book launch on 10 May at Exclusive Books V&A for Jonathan Ancer’s compilation of Jewish struggle heroes in the anti-apartheid movement. Moderated by chairperson, Tzvi Brivik, the conversation between Ancer and Erica Elk, one of the activists mentioned in the book, was riveting. 

Elk’s involvement in the struggle dated back to her gap year in Ithaca, New York, where her more radical host ‘brother’ took her to anti-apartheid protests. Once she returned home to Johannesburg, she knew she had to become active against the oppressive regime and joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). She described her involvement in NUSAS and her days as an activist, speaking with her comrades at all hours of the night while her mother provided tea and biscuits in her house in Cyrildene (typical of a Jewish mother).

Among the many anecdotes told by Ancer, the origin for the name of the book was particularly funny, with his mother, upon hearing the name of the book, commenting that the actual plural for mensch is menschen! Due to this, Ancer said that perhaps the next book would be called ‘Honourable Menschen’. He also stated how humbled he was to interview these Jewish heroes, whose humility and lack of ego were inspirational.

While the book provides a historical overview of the known and unknown Jewish heroes who were part of the struggle against apartheid, Menches in the Trenches gives an important insight into how we can become active in today’s issues within our beautiful country.

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• Published in the PDF edition of the June 2022 issue – Click here to read it.

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