The ceasefire was already in place last week when we flew to Israel from Johannesburg. It was a short 4 day trip, with just enough time to attend the wedding we were traveling for, see some family and friends, have a few coffees and croissants too many, and then to return to Johannesburg where no war had been raging.
And yet it would not be unreasonable to confuse which country had indeed been in combat. The positive energy and upbeat environment that we found in Israel was baffling. Certainly with many of our friends’ sons having just returned from Gaza there was much talk of what had transpired, the nature of the peace and the horrors of Isis but it was clear that the focus was to get on with lives as those living there had done for decades. It was also clear to me that the war had taken its toll on tourism as well as other commercial arenas and there was a sense of relief that this could now be rectified.
And then we flew back to Johannesburg. The brown winter terrain, the thin layer of pollution that settles around the city this time of year somehow seemed apt as we landed back in the city that still seemed to be reeling from what had happened in the Middle East. At the airport I again became self-conscious of the kippah on my head and I wondered if I was being too sensitive or if the negativity did still hang in the air like the winter smog. That day Woolworths, a local chain of stores that refused to bullied by the BDS was “pipe bombed” and protesters were reported to have shut one of their stores down a few days prior for refusing to take Israeli products off the shelves. I was not imagining the situation.
Later that day my 16 year old son returned from school with talk of increased security given the nervousness of the community and it was clear to me that for us the war was far from over. In fact it seemed to have intensified.
South African Jewish leadership has been working furiously in front and behind the scenes to ensure that relationships between Government and the Jewish community remains intact, even given the visible strains. And on the most part they are achieving success. Thankfully, if any government in the world has experienced and seen first hand what racism is about, it is indeed the South African Government and despite the repeated attempts of likes of the BDS and their cronies to highjack the notion and claim prejudice as the sole right of the Gazan people, Jewish leadership and inherent decent of human rights, has kept everyone relatively sane. At the same time there is no doubting that even given the cessation of the rocket fire in the Israel, no one is able to let their guard down in this neck of the burning woods.
A visiting Rabbi from Israel recently asked me how we can live in such a hostile environment? This, coming from a person who was friends with the families of our 3 boys who were kidnapped and murdered in the Gush, and I was floored by the question. I thought it seemed a little rich to be asking me that of me, given his current environment and experience. But when I landed back in Johannesburg last week it became clear. The war that we are fighting is unrelenting and subversive and often subtle. It has no beginning and no end. It is in the air that we breathe, the news that we listen to and the people that we meet. It is being waged at Universities and on talk shows and in the stores and on the streets. But we have no iron dome to protect us and our battlefield is undefined. We don’t know when to go to the “bomb shelters” or run for our lives, because there are no sirens to tell us. We are not even clear whom it is that we are fighting.
And yet we continue to do so. And we fight hard. We write and we talk and we challenge and we educate. We do it for Israel, we do it for ourselves and for our children. And although South Africans might not appreciate it yet, we do it for this country too. Because if anti-Semitism and racial prejudice are allowed to win this battle, it will be more than just the Jews who lose.