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This is a community worth fighting for

By: Wendy Kahn

“The celebrations this week were not just for 75 years of Israel. They were also celebrations of South African Jewry.”

I often get asked by community members why I am still at the SAJBD 20 years later (in my current job for 17 years). I never miss a beat in responding that it is truly a privilege working for this remarkable South African Jewish community.

When I attend conferences with my fellow community leaders from around the world, I realise more and more how blessed I am to work with such remarkable people. I also love hosting my international colleagues and showing off what we have here. Over the past month I have felt this even more. My family celebrated the wedding of our son and I truly felt that the simcha was as much a community celebration as it was for our family. There was a genuine feeling of joy and elation from those around us.

On the other side, several people close to me have experienced ill health and bereavements in the past month and again these people felt a genuine sense that these tough times were shared by the community around them and they were never alone. All felt carried by this caring and loving community.

Earlier this week I attended the Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony in Johannesburg. As I walked to the event, I was astounded by the hoards of people surrounding me also on route to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is estimated that nearly 10% of Johannesburg Jewry came together to celebrate Israel’s 75th birthday. I looked around and saw young families, older people, teenagers, religious, secular, and so many facets of SA Jewry. What I loved was that at one event there were the religious Zionist community in the Mizrachi shul singing Hallel with zeal, there were the SAUJS students together with SRC members from Wits, UJ, and UP having a raucous party, there were parents waiting in line for their children to climb on the rides at the fun fair, the more traditional members of the community were listening to the inspiring speeches on the stage, and EVERYBODY was enjoying the incredible range of food by the many kosher eateries in our city.

Where else in the world would such a function take place? So many different groups coming together on one campus to celebrate in one unified event. At 8:30ish the families started heading home to put their little ones to bed, tired after an exhilarating evening. The teenagers and University folk then arrived, fired up to party with the Kiffness. The whole field lit up with song and dance. What an extraordinary night to be a part of.

The following day I made my way to King David to participate in an event combining their schools from around Johannesburg. A field of blue and white. Over 2 500 kids plus their teachers and the SABJE leadership. I left uplifted and inspired by these exuberant and talented young community members.

The SAJBD runs an electronic communal diary. The idea is that organisations let us know their events so that we can make sure that there are no major clashes of dates. We are always amazed not only by the quantity of events continuously making their way to the communal calendar, but also the diversity and the ingenuity of these incredible functions.

The celebrations this week were not just for 75 years of Israel. They were also celebrations of South African Jewry.

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