Creating a conscious community

Keynote speaker Nigel Savage addresses the crowd at the 2022 SAJBD Cape Council AGM and Conference.

By Craig Nudelman

“You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it” (Pirkei Avot – 2:21). 

These were the words that encapsulated the 2022 Cape SAJBD’s AGM and Conference entitled Community for Change: Creating a Sustainable Environment. Throughout the event, which took place on Sunday 18 September, over 100 attendees saw the continuous hard work ethic that we, as a Board and a Jewish community, continue to perform.

Tzvi Brivik’s Chairperson’s report addressed the immense work that the Board has done since September 2021 through to now. Areas of advocacy, social justice, and community engagement stood out, as he told of our engagement with stakeholders in provincial and local government, foreign consulates, academic institutions, faith- and community-based organisations, and various NGOs. Our collaboration demonstrated how we, as the umbrella body for Jewish communal organisations, are committed to creating an inclusive and just South African society for all within it. From planting trees on Tu BiShvat with Herzlia students, to addressing claims of antisemitism, the Board members of the Cape Council from 2020 to 2022 were praised for their achievements. Hopefully, we can sustain the outcomes from our successful projects moving into the new year.

Environmental sustainability was the main theme of the Conference, and keynote speaker Nigel Savage, Global Ambassador from Hazon, the largest faith-based environmental organisation in the United States, presented a powerful address to galvanise our community to becoming change-makers in the fight against climate change. He spoke about how we often see the climate crisis as something which is too large an issue to respond to; and how we as individuals and as a community should focus on the goal, and face these challenges head-on. We may become despondent and disillusioned and as a result, end up avoiding the issue and burying our heads in the sand. However, Nigel identified a way to respond to and manage these challenges on three different levels. We must educate those around us, action what we can do, and advocate on what the crisis is and how to respond, in our roles as individuals, members of our immediate family and of the institutions to which we belong, and our broader communities.

Our excellent panel reiterated and added on to these points. Journalist extraordinaire Chris Gibbons, former host of the Midday Report on Cape Talk, moderated the panel which included Nigel, Dalit Anstey, an associate at ENS dealing with ESG and sustainability matters, and Francesca de Gasparis, Executive Director of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI). They commented on the important role that we, as Jews in South Africa, can play in directing our communal organisations towards being more sustainable within our organisations and the country itself. They presented ideas to transform the community and to ensure that our vision shifts, from the internal to the external, to opportunities rather than threats. 

This year, we honoured two incredible women with the Eliot and Myra Osrin Awards, one for Jewish Vision, the other for Transformation. The Jewish Vision Award went to Li Boiskin, whose contribution to Cape Jewry has created the vibrant and inclusive community we see today. From her youth, she had the vision to ensure Jewish communal organisations continue to thrive. Her involvement in Wizo, the Mensch Network, and notably the Cape SAJBD, where she served two terms as Chair, made her a most worthy candidate for the award. 

The Transformation award went to Sylvia Schrire, a stalwart of social justice for South Africans. From her days running a night school as a UCT student in the docks until the apartheid government shut it down, to assisting and upskilling underprivileged people in townships for the organisation Grassroots, she has impacted the lives of so many individuals over the past six decades. She also, in 2000, introduced the University of the Third Age (U3A) to South Africa and is still an active member in Cape Town. The organisation now has 29 branches through the country with over 10 000 members and eight branches in Cape Town. At 88 years old, she is still active and involved in changing lives for the betterment of South Africans. 

Our community has the potential to grow and become sustainable for our future generations, be it the environment, our organisations, or our community in general. Rabbi Oshy Feldman began the conference speaking about how we must change our thought process from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’ and ensure that our conversations and discussions with each other are respectful; debates l’shem Shamayim (for the sake of heaven). Rabbi Emma Gottlieb followed on this theme, ending the conference by saying that we must not just think about ourselves, but of the Cape Jewry as a whole, to create debates l’shem Kehilah (for the sake of the community). We must strive to create one which is inclusive, filled with love for all people within it, be they Orthodox or Progressive, straight or gay, young or old. 

The incoming members of the Cape Council for 2022 to 2024 will use the knowledge learned from the conference and apply it to ensure that the Cape SAJBD creates a sustainable and conscious Jewish community in our broader South African family. 

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

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