Response to the war in Israel

Stephen D. Smith is CEO of StoryFile and Executive Director Emeritus at USC Shoah Foundation.

Well known to many in Cape Town, Stephen Smith MBE is a respected expert on the Holocaust and genocide. He hails from the United Kingdom, where he grew up in a strongly Christian household, and he himself studied Christian theology. 

Together with his brother, he founded the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire in the UK, and subsequently served as a consultant when Cape Town’s own Holocaust & Genocide Centre (CTHGC) was being planned. He is still a Patron of the CTHGC.

Stephen served for a number of years as the Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, which is the repository of Holocaust survivor testimonies, a project initiated by Steven Spielberg.

Very recently, Stephen converted to Judaism.

He is passionate about the Jewish people, and has written an insightful piece reflecting his view of the Hamas war on Israel. Patron of the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre and recent convert to Judaism, Stephen Smith MBE is passionate about the Jewish people, and has written an insightful piece reflecting his view of the Hamas war on Israel. He has kindly allowed the Cape Jewish Chronicle to republish the article first published in the Jewish Journal.

Time to fight

By Stephen Smith

As my first High Holy days as a new Jew ended this weekend I was preparing to write to a personal private note to my Rabbis. Then our world changed. And so I write to them here:   

“Rabbis Kligfeld, Schatz, and Chorny, I hope your loved ones are safe and well. It was just four weeks ago I sat before you at my Bet Din, excited that my 30-year journey was culminating as I crossed the threshold to become part of the Jewish people. I had told you that the abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust had erased my own belief in deity. How could God allow such a thing? If indeed there was a God. Yet as I came out of the Mikveh and you blessed me, my faith was restored through the ancient covenant between God
and the Jews.

The warmth I received at Beth Am over the last few weeks was overwhelming. I was embraced, cradled like a newborn. You gave me my first Aliyah on Shabbat Shuvah, I had the honor of holding the Torah during Kol Nidre, and again during the Yizkor service, as El Maleh Rahamim was recited in remembrance of the Six Million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.  

As my Bet Din, I told you that last year I had stood at the Western Wall. I had just completed 30 years of service as a non-Jew, teaching and researching the Holocaust. I had been in a fight for three decades.  I had been fighting for memory, fighting against denial, fighting for education, fighting antisemites, and fighting for justice. I had just completed my term leading USC Shoah Foundation as I stood before the stones of the ancient Temple.  I realized that I was no longer fighting. It was my time to be — to be a Jew, be a learner, be part of Am Israel, the people of Israel.

After my first Aliyah you called to the bimah my surprise guest, partisan Aaron Bell, the last of the four Bielski brothers. He and his family fought back against the Nazis and rescued 1,200 Jews.  Today there are 40,000 Jews alive because of their courage in the face of genocidal murder. We stood together with the holy Torah, and I committed to Aaron that I would always fight for the Jewish people.

The fact that three weeks later, over 700 innocent Jews were massacred in broad daylight, in our homeland, seems inconceivable. My heart goes out to every parent, every child.

The memes circulating that harken back to our memory of the Holocaust are understandable. Genocidal killers – Nazis and Hamas alike – want us to quote the statistics of mass killing, it serves to further dehumanize their victims. What we must do now is honor every life. To honor their memory is to fight back. I am committing to know something about all 700 Jews that were murdered. 

There is a significant difference between the experience of the Jews of Europe in the 1940s, and our situation today. European Jews had no country to go to, no army to defend them, no weapons to fight with, no allies to come to their aid, no one to speak on their behalf.

Today we have a country, we have a world-class military, we have allies, who have now seen for themselves the genocidal intent of Hamas. We also have Jewish people around the world, ready to use our collective voice.

I do not doubt that the IDF will prevail militarily, and thank in advance the young men and women who will sacrifice their lives in the coming weeks.

Antisemitism has an endemic grip on our society and feeds the beast that murdered our fellow Jews before our eyes. We are stronger than they are, but only if we act in unison. 

But there is another war raging — the battle for hearts and minds.  As I write, Pro-Hamas protestors are out on the streets of San Diego.  

The biblical wisdom found in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 states, “there is a time for peace, and a time for war.” I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of peace, but now is the time for war. The murder of our fellow Jews calls all of us to avenge their deaths, to protect each other with our bodies, our minds, and our single-minded determination to overcome those who would seek to destroy us.

Thank you for your warm welcome to the Jewish people. I do not fully understand that millennial covenant I entered. But I do know it is worth fighting for.

I am here to fight.”

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

• To advertise in the Cape Jewish Chronicle and on this website – kindly contact Lynette Roodt on 021 464 6736 or email For more information and advertising rate card click here.

• Sign up for our newsletter and never miss another issue.

• Please support the Cape Jewish Chronicle with a voluntary Subscription for 2023. For payment info click here.

• Visit our Portal to the Jewish Community to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites.

Follow the Cape Jewish Chronicle: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here