Some things just can’t be bought
By Chandrea Serebro
We Jews don’t know what sacrifice is these days…at least not since the Second Temple was destroyed anyways. Modern living has made Shabbos the heart and soul of Jewish life, so central to Jewish life that it takes precedence over everything, but Jewish life itself; so easy that we never really have to lack for much or feel like we are giving up too much either. With our Shabbos lamps, our Shabbos alarm clocks, our Shabbos lifts, our Shabbos belts, and timer switches, we’ve pretty much invented a way to do just about everything we need to do on Shabbos so that we can truly enjoy the day the way we should. But still, even for those Baal Teshuvas who might have felt like they had to sacrifice some of the sunnier parts of non-Sabbath observance for their new, Sabbath-observant lifestyle, luckily the extra neshama we’re given on Shabbos should put a short stop to that. In fact, I imagine many soon may even find themselves thanking their lucky stars that they don’t have to wander the trafficked aisles of Sandton City aimlessly or fight for parking at Melrose Arch anymore. That said, thanks to the conveniences of the modern world and the world’s fixation on constitutional rights, few truly have to make a great stand anymore when it comes to Shabbos observance – so when you hear a story about someone having to do this, it really stands out as heroic.
I was lucky enough this week to meet a most humble Rebbetzin, Winnie Gourarie, whom many of you might know from the local Jewish community, but fewer might remember from her one-time wonder place in the hall-of-fame of the local papers in 1955. In fact, her fame wasn’t restricted to the Jewish Times or the Zionist Record, Rebbetzin Gourarie made no less than the front page of the Rand Daily Mail and featured prominently on the paper’s street pole ads around Johannesburg, featured in the Cape Argus, The Star, and even further afield to Australia, New York, and Israel.
“It was 1955,” she says, “they obviously didn’t have much news to report on then,” she laughs. The headline? “Girl won’t leave Jan Smuts Airport.” Was Rebbetzin Gourarie staging a political demonstration, was she protesting the status quo? She was standing by her Shabbos commitment, and refused to break it, no matter what. “I am a stateless person until Monday, or whenever the immigration authorities make up their minds to return my passport, which they have impounded,” she said in The Star of Saturday, September 10 1955 – stuck at the airport for Shabbos because she was remaining “true to the ancient traditions of her faith”, as the paper put it then. Arriving home to Johannesburg from Israel after being away from home for six months, Rebbetzin Gourarie’s close-to-Shabbos entry was further delayed because her immigration form had not been completed. Needing to sign the document once Shabbos was already in, Rebbetzin Gourarie refused, a moral stance that for her, the daughter of the Dayan and much-loved Rabbi Yirmiyahu Aloy, ztz”l, was nothing special, she says…she was just doing what she did.
“I am an orthodox Jewess,” she told the Sunday Express, “and I feel that if we all believe deeply and practice what we preach, life will be easier for us.” She spent the night in the airport ‘crash’ room, everyone treated her very well, she remembers, and she still wonders what the hype was about. The media took hold of the story, this Jewish girl from the tip of Africa who could stand true to her beliefs in so strong a way, with a flurry of reports. One that Rebbetzin Gourarie herself particularly liked, she says, was the Southern Cross, a Catholic publication, which wrote of “the Jewish lady who sacrificed 24 hours waiting at an airport rather than break her Sabbath by attending to some travel formalities. She did not try to make her views on the Sabbath a restriction on anybody else, but quietly made a personal sacrifice for her religious principles. This contrasts well with those Christians who cannot make the small sacrifices of a few minutes to be in good time for church on a Sunday morning.”
“Nothing we do for Shabbos is a sacrifice, rather everything that we do is for Shabbos,” says Kivi Bernhard, a South African living abroad and a business entrepreneur, international Keynote speaker, and the author of the highly acclaimed business book LeopardologyTM, the basis of which has been incorporated into the MBA programmes of some top universities in the USA. “The whole world compromises for us so that we can keep Shabbos.” And he is talking from personal experience. Kivi was invited to deliver the opening address at a “very important” Microsoft conference. Hundreds of important international figures key to Microsoft’s business were slated to be there, including Bill Gates himself.
Immediately realising that the conference fell on Shabbos, Kivi told the speaker bureau, “You know I don’t work on a Saturday.” A senior VP of Microsoft called Kivi up and offered him double, even triple the rate to appear at the conference. He said to Kivi, “What do you need? We’ll send you the cheque, you write it.” But nothing they could do would sway Kivi. Son of much -oved Rabbi Nachman Meir Bernhard, ztz”l, Kivi’s entire view on life is different, including the way he sees Shabbos – a very important distinction that his father made for him early on growing up.
“The Talmud teaches that Hashem began creating the world with Shabbos, and it took six days to get there. Shabbos is the raison d’être for the world, not a result of it.” Kivi doesn’t believe a person becomes shomer Shabbos, rather, he says, Shabbos becomes the person; the very essence of what makes us a Jew. “And when you go out into the workplace,” he says, “and you have an issue with Shabbos observance, it’s because the intrinsic value of Shabbos is not in place within you. Most companies, when faced with the question of you or Shabbos, will choose you – and that is the magic. If it is a value for which you live and die, no matter who, what, when, or how – then the universe will accommodate you.”
Kivi relates this to any person entering the workplace in the world today, 2017, in what he calls this “seemingly G-dless, soulless” environment. “People are embarrassed by Shabbos and hide it in the interview and hiring process. They think it is a liability to employment. Truth is, they have it totally inverted. It’s a huge asset and major differentiator between you and the competition for that job. It’s a massive asset. It immediately tells human Resource Management that you are a person who lives and works by a set of values that are not negotiable. And in today’s day and age, this is immeasurable.
This commitment, this value system, this principled life, Kivi says, can “transcend any Harvard degree or PhD”. And if only we, as Jews, would stop being embarrassed by it and start realising that these values are our single biggest asset, we would be able to move mountains, and even Microsoft conferences. “The Senior VP called me some months later and told me he was on a private jet with Bill Gates, where they were discussing the conference which Gates was not able to attend because the dates had been changed to accommodate Shabbos and Kivi. Gates’ response? ‘That is what happens when you have something that money can’t buy.’”