Bearing witness

By Desrae Saacks, Editor Cape Jewish Chronicle

Last month, historian, activist and US special envoy Deborah Lipstadt gave an inspiring talk to our community. 

True to her dictum, to ‘come with a scalpel, not an axe’, she dissected the nature and roots of antisemitism with consumate skill and precision, explaining what antisemitism is — and what it’s not. (more on page 7 or here)

In his column on page 31 (or read it here), Julian Resnick references our wounded past in a discussion on the recent Israeli elections. He asks himself, “What are you? A prisoner of history?” and replies, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” He says, “…the wounds are still there, and when they are touched when those who know how to exploit the fear and anger manipulate these wounds, as those running for Knesset on the right did the old pain and anger surfaces. And then we vote as traumatised people”.

The Chronicle seems to have a life of its own, with each issue forming around a particular theme, whether or not by design.

This time, the theme that’s emerged is ‘bearing witness’. Rabbi Bryan Opert writes on page 29 (read here) about the importance of bearing witness, invoking a lesser-known and enigmatic character from our texts. And on page 30 (read here) we read of a hidden Jewish community in Portugal, dating back to the 15th century, and the surviving artefacts that bear witness to their story.

I recently watched a documentary about the ‘Paper Brigade’, a group of 40 Jewish writers and artists rounded up by the Nazis when they invaded Vilnius in 1941. The group was tasked with identifying items of value in the YIVO collection worthy of being looted, while the rest were to be destroyed. Instead, they risked their lives smuggling these items back into the ghetto and hiding them for future retrieval. Eight members of the group survived the war, and found meaning as deliverers of stories and culture on behalf of the dead. Today, YIVO Institute is continuing the work of preserving these cultural artefacts and by extension, the long and proud history of Lithuanian Jewish life. 

Three young men from our community rising stars in the world of art and fashion offered an interesting lense through which to view our heritage. At a recent gala evening, they stepped up, proudly proclaiming and owning their (our) Litvak heritage. They explained that the clothing they chose to wear (borrowed for the night from three local rabbis) would historically have been worn by all the men in the community on special occasions, as an expression of celebration and respect; and that this informed their choice to present themselves in this way at the event which was themed around opulence and identity. This was in fact, culturally appropriate ‘opulent’ attire. (see photo on page 1 and here)

The Cape Jewish Chronicle is here to showcase, record and bear witness to the ongoing history of our shared Cape Town Jewish community, in all its shades and shapes. 

From all of us at the CJC, we wish you a Chag Channukah Sameach and a happy 2023. See you in February.

• Published in the December 2022/January 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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