Leveraging our past to create a better future!

By Tzvi Brivik, Chairperson, Cape SAJBD

Last month I travelled to Spain with my family, and had the opportunity to visit the historical Jewish quarters in most of the major cities. 

It was an eye-opening experience, and one which reminded me of the luxury of our current rights as Jews. These spaces were often densely built, and separated from the city and its ‘local’ inhabitants, with many limitations on how the communities could interact with each other. 

One such limitation, for instance, was that no shul was allowed to be larger than a church. Most of these quarters had access restricted, with gates that were locked at night and only opened during the day. The Jews who lived here were restricted from performing certain trades which were deemed lucrative at the time, such as working with stone or metal; and were limited to those forms of commercial enterprise that the local Christian inhabitants were unwilling to involve themselves in. 

Having been separated from their fellow inhabitants and other communities, the Jews were less likely to be afflicted by transmissible diseases such as the black plague. In addition, the religious requirement of washing hands before meals, and other hygienic practices served to protect the Jewish population as well. However, protection from diseases failed to protect the Jewish communities from the mistrust and suspicion of others that resulted from what appeared to be ‘lower’ infection rates, which although still high, were lower than gentile communities. Europeans reacted with unfounded allegations, such as that the Jews were poisoning the water and that the Jews were behind any disease or affliction that they had suffered. This was borne out of a lack of knowledge of the Jewish community, and a resultant mistrust of the ‘other’.

Based on our collective history and understanding of prejudice as a Jewish people, the Cape SAJBD work hard to dispel any such mistrust. Through the associate relations and interfaith and intercommunity subcommittees, we have highlighted our community and its values to our broader society through social programmes and communications. In this way, we hope to bridge gaps between our community and others, promoting collaboration to overcome challenges facing society. We are inextricably bound with our neighbours and sister communities, and we must work together to secure constitutional rights for all, with the freedom to practice one’s religion and to live free from prejudice.

The core mandate of the Cape SAJBD is to confront anti-semitism, be it in-person or online. We are in the midst of our 2022 election (see page 10), where 15 new Board members will be elected — five from the public ballot and ten from the affiliate ballot. This provides the successful members with a platform to be heard on social issues facing the community and the opportunity to guide the values, responses and strategies the Board develops. 

These members will help us to ensure that Jewish life and the Jewish way of life are protected, respected and promoted by engaging with civil society and local government to advance the rights and interests of the community. 

We look forward to welcoming this new Board in September 2022, and with that the opportunity to leverage a wealth of institutional and communal knowledge.

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

• Published in the August 2022 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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