Hiding away the things we find uncomfortable

The almost total shutdown of public transport during the recent taxi strike had a hugely negative impact in Cape Town, including at Highlands House, since nurses, care workers and cleaning staff could not get to work, leaving many of the elderly residents in an extremely vulnerable position.

I decided to volunteer to assist in the newly opened Memory Care Unit at Highlands House. The short time I spent there brought me into a world I know very little about. I learned how difficult it must be to work in an environment like this – with so many people completely dependent on able-bodied and mentally healthy staff to get them through every day. When the familiar faces of these staff members weren’t there, it was unsettling for many residents.

I was impacted by this visit. I have seldom had contact with people suffering from dementia – or, the other ravages that old age may bring. It struck me while there that, if we do not have a close family member like this, we know very little about this demographic. As a society, we struggle to deal with people who behave ’differently’, and so we push these people away from wider society, out of sight in places like Highlands House. 

Highlands House, and other care homes, provide a crucial service but the residents are isolated from the rest of society – because society chooses this. Yet, those who work there are the anchors that the residents rely on. It was clear that the few staff present bring warmth to the residents, whom they know and understand well. 

It’s certainly upsetting to see people who lived active lives in previous years diminished to a state of such total dependence. They would have been active citizens and successful in their professional lives – yet today their ability to function at the most basic levels has become extremely limited. It’s tragic – but it’s a reality of life.

With the High Holidays around the corner, the visit has made me think about the need to be more mindful about my fellow human beings. So, I hope to volunteer at Highlands House again because I realise that acknowledging and interacting with these people is an element of understanding society more fully. After all, anyone I know – myself included – could one day be a resident there. Would I be comfortable if the world forgot about me?

In this month’s edition, you’ll see content about reflections during the High Holiday period on our behaviour and on how to treat others. 

Another focus is the ongoing internal strife in Israel. Yet again, our regular correspondent, Julian Resnick, laments the situation and the potential future of the country (here). Writing from Johannesburg, Oshy Tugendhaft provides a scholarly view that questions the validity of the judicial reforms the current government is trying to implement (here). 

You’ll also see a range of expert views on various topics – from health, to the law, to business success. Our sincere thanks to the members of the community who so willingly share their expertise. 

Lastly, my sincere thanks to Stella Cohen, an expert on the Sephardi food traditions from the island of Rhodos, who shared wonderful photographs for use in this edition. Stella is a well-known and much-loved figure among her fellow descendants of the Rhodesli Sephardic community, many of whom live in Cape Town.

Wishing you all a Shana Tovah and Well over the Fast!

• Published in the September 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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