Reflecting on courageous leadership, chutzpah and resilience

By Adrienne Jacobson, Chairperson, Cape SAJBD

One thing I am learning fast about community leadership in the political and interfaith space is that speaking up takes courage, carefully curated words and a fair amount of chutzpah.  

Also, that forgiveness, faith, hope and dreams underpin resilience. Three events in the closing of 2022 resonated deeply with me and informed my observation.

Sitting on the National SAJBD Exec has been an incredible privilege, under the inspired and erudite leadership of National Chair, Karen Milner. I feel a deep sense of pride in the work we do — fighting antisemitism, hatred and prejudice; and building relationships in the national and international arena. 

Karen’s riveting report-back at our last national executive meeting, on the recent World Jewish Congress Conference in Rome, included an account of an historic invitation from the Vatican, and an audience with Pope Francis.

Strong words were delivered by Noemi de Sengi, Head of the Italian Jewish Community, in her powerful opening address in the inner sanctum of the Vatican. “In a place that represents the heart of the heart of the Catholic faith, these majestic walls of the Vatican City have always represented an insurmountable boundary. Prejudice, persecution, accusations, forced conversions, silences… and I wonder from ‘65 to today… how much effort has been made to convince that these walls instead represent solidarity and protection, translating defensiveness into closure, persecution into recognition, silence into dialogue.”

Noemi went on to say, “And if today the Catholic Church were to announce the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, it would really be a gesture, an extraordinary act of far-sighted awareness of the church’s own authority, responsibility and ability to turn the wheel of antisemitic hatred in the opposite direction.” Finally she added, “I have a dream… that every Holy place; synagogue, church, mosque and temple becomes a place of serene prayer and never of massacre and terror.”

Karen Milner’s role in the South African Jewish community was further entrenched at the ANC National Conference at Nasrec in December where, representing National SAJBD, she gave a most meaningful opening prayer before the conference began. Her immaculately chosen words called on ANC leadership “to strengthen their commitment to build a just, peaceful and prosperous society, founded on the ideals of equality, human dignity and freedom for all”, and for “the moral strength and wisdom to make this a reality.” She asked of HaShem that “the task of leading the nation be imbued with insight and moral vision to realise the ideals of good, compassionate and ethical leadership.”

My hope is that we as the Board of Deputies continue to impact these leadership spaces with the same integrity and courage, whether globally, nationally or locally.

Closer to home, Jordy Sank’s award winning documentary I Am Here tells the story of our beloved Ella Blumenthal’s survival of the Holocaust with poignant sensitivity and empathy. At a time when antisemitism is escalating and Holocaust narrative is being distorted across the political spectrum, and hatred abounds on social media, Ella’s message of forgiveness, hope, transformation and resilience needs to be shared. Those who know Ella are inspired by the translation of forgiveness into her zest for life and enjoyment of a good party —  she is the last to leave the dance floor at a simcha and her joy is infectious.

Adar is almost upon us, and we are reminded mi shenichnas beAdar marbim be’simcha. Wishing everyone a Chag Purim Sameach, joyous times and happy celebrations, the unmasking and unfolding of all that is good and true, and the realising of our deepest hidden potential. May the teachings of Malka Esther (archetype of courageous female leadership) that are mirrored in the remarkable women mentioned above, be an inspiration to speak up in overcoming hatred and prejudice with words of faith, hope, strength… and chutzpah too if you need it!

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

• Published in the February 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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