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interfaith activities in sa


When asked whether I would take the ICJW position as Vice Chairman of the portfolio “Interfaith and Intercultural” I thought of how this would this affect the UJW knowing that we only have a Jewish population of .02% in SA . 

The Union has been involved in this portfolio through their Outreach Programmes for nearly 85 years but I realised we need to do more—especially in the present situation in SA. 

I have been asked why is Interfaith so important— Ignorance fuels prejudice and lack of knowledge is a major contributory to anti-Semitism– This is where interfaith comes in but such meetings need to be carried out in an atmosphere of friendship, acceptance and a willingness to engage and to learn from each other with no attempt to convert but to respect each other’s religion or beliefs. Many of our indigent citizens still follow their tribal traditions and we also face language barriers as we have 11 official languages in SA.
In Cape Town we have the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative of which I am a member. Many years ago we hosted the Womens Day Interfaith meeting at the City Hall with all religions participating. Now this organisation organises programmes throughout the year with 12 different religions participating in the events. A colleague, Gwynne Robbins, Deputy Director JBOD started organising (Religious) bus tours on Heritage Day to different houses of worship and have had success in seeing the participants getting to know each other. It is now an annual event. Heritage Day should be more than beer, boerewors and braaivleis. At least those were the thoughts of the people who chose to spend the day exploring our diverse religious heritage. 

These days most of our own children attend Jewish day schools - so many SA children are unlikely to meet a Jew or have the opportunity to interact or correspond with children of other faiths. This is often termed the "Jewish bubble". However as charity is a prized mitzvah of Judaism , these schools tend to offer "outreach " initiatives which tend to be the main source of interaction these Jewish learners have with non Jewish learners—typically with "have nots". 

Marlene Silbert organises an interfaith intercultural course through the CTII where learners are given the opportunity to understand and speak to people from other religions. One learner said he had never met a Jew and never guessed he was Jewish because he had thought that they were very different. 

All of this structure is then massively destabilized when these children leave for university. UCT tends to take the bulk of Jewish students due to their locations and their strong academic records. The exposure is considered refreshing and interesting, it gives them an opportunity to learn and grow or simply meet new people. 

Many use their university years to totally break free from their Jewish identity and explore other aspects of themselves such as their gender, sexuality, ethical eating, political and economic views, causes or "activism ". They feel drawn to adopting different cultures and lifestyles . This of course is heavily influenced by both what they learn academically and what they gain from the life experiences of their new peers and friends on campus . However, many don't feel this transition into a diverse South African experience as necessarily important for them, and still chose to remain within close knit Jewish peer and friend groups, study similar degrees together living and remain active in the Jewish community. 

An important compounding factor to this, one that in the past year has caused much tension and radicalization of students choosing to either connect to this diversity or to refrain from it is the current wave of student protests , particularly on UCT campus . These protests, starting with the “RhodesMustFall “movement and feeding into the “FeesmustfFall” Etc among others have called for a mass "decolonization " of universities in South Africa on every level. The movement is radical, revolutionary, angry , and proudly black consciousness . These are one of the many challenges facing our SA Jewish community. 

As Jews we need to show that we have a right to our own beliefs and opinions and the need to teach others that we are all the same regardless of where or how we worship. We are exposed to the daily news in the media of people of different religions or beliefs, killing each other These are horrific images and stories. 

I would like to see the UJW work more with women of other faiths as women have a strong influence on society starting with their family. A good opportunity would be “Women’s Day” I would also like a more informative input from our International affiliates. 

When I was chairman of the Kimberley branch many years ago we produced “Fiddler on the Roof” which ran for two weeks in the main theatre. Actors were from different beliefs so we invited members of the cast to our Shabbat dinners so that they could have a better understanding of the Jewish culture and this proved very successful. 

Our Branches throughout the country are involved with many Interfaith projects through churches and religious homes of different races. The JHB Branch have a long –standing project the Alexander Aftercare and Feeding Scheme where they work with the Lutheran Church. Other worthy projects are partnerships with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Assembles of God the Lighthouse Church in Orange Grove and the Impact for Christ Ministries. This Branch has appeared in various Christian TV programmes and magazines. 

In CT there are numerous interfaith activities run by the CTII and recently I attended the “UN INTERFAITH HARMONY WEEK Celebrations “Praying for Peace for our City” which was held at the popular V & A Waterfront where 12 different religions and cultures participated by 
bringing their messages of peace. During the UN World Interfaith Harmony week the JBOD hosted a breakfast event inviting a panel of speakers to debate “Racism Ends with Me”. Leaza Cowan Chairman of the CT Branch attended this function. 

Leaza and CT branch members participated in a Mitzvah Day combined project with Rabbi Alexander from the CT Progressive Jewish Congregation. They painted a crèche in a disadvantage area and treated the children to refreshments and gifts. At the church next door they were pleasantly surprised by the warm reception when they sang Jewish songs to the congregants who clapped and danced in response. 

I was pleased to hear that EL members attended a Catholic Womens Guild meeting after the new Catholic priest had returned from Israel praising the Jewish people and reminded the meeting that all religions come from the Jewish Faith! I am sure is will inspire future activities! Durban Branch attended the opening of the Denis Hurly Centre and will be forming a partnership in alleviating poverty and supporting those in need at this centre. I am sure we will hear more about this programme. 

A message to our younger and newer members the— UJW Interfaith programmes have been instrumental in formulating many Service to Humanity programmes by building bridges for those in need regardless of race, colour or creed. Our history (which we must never forget) starting pre-war years is proof of our contribution to our communities. Now is the time to move forward as Women of Action in our country and leaders in our society as caring Jewish women.