When my eldest son was elected head of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) on Wits campus, he had great plans. He wanted to re introduce kosher food to campus, create a Jewish learning centre and programs for Jews and non-Jews alike to engage and debate in lofty intellectual subjects but provide a safe social structure for Jewish students. Instead, he spent his year fighting boycotts, negotiating rules of engagements for Israel Apartheid Week and ensuring that racism, in the form of anti-Semitism didn’t become the norm on a hostile campus.
One of the “successes” of the BDS movement has been that it has forced us to focus us on only one aspect of our faith. It reduces us to a limited dimension and in doing so undermines so much more than our love for Israel. And that for me is one of the most striking aspects of The Sinai Indaba that was celebrated in South African over the last week.
For one weekend, and for the past Sunday in particular, the Jewish community, and anyone else wishing to attend, is treated to a bouquet of speakers on subjects that engage many aspects of faith and practice, and for a short period are able to focus on the richness and depth of what it means to be Jewish.
The annual Sinai Indaba is in its 5th year. Conceived and birthed by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, it has become one of the highlights of the South African Jewish calendar with events in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. It is attended by around 5000 in Johannesburg and close to 2000 in Cape Town and draws from the Orthodox as well as the traditional, but non-observant community. The choice of speakers and subjects is varied with around 12 speakers and musicians attending.
Speakers at this year’s Indaba included Chief Rabbi David Lau, Rabbi Mordecahi Becher, Miriam Kosman, Rabbi Dr Tzi Weinreb, Rabbi Doniel Katz, Rabbi Shais Taub, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, Saul Blinkoff, Rabbi David Grosman, Dr Efraim Zurrof and musicians Alex Claire and Yonatan Razel.
The Johannesburg Indaba took place at the Sandton Convention Centre. The venue, a week prior had been the host of the now infamous African Union Summit. This is where Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President was protected, lauded and then spirited out of the country, with a nod and a wink by the South African Government. All in contravention of a Court ruling prohibiting him from leaving. And as I listened to Dr Efraim Zuroff, the Nazi Hunter, describing his life’s work, a life dedicated to restoring justice to the world, I was overwhelmed by the irony and the juxtaposition.
The AU, Chaired by none other than the corrupt Robert Mugabe, had conspired with its morally bankrupt cohorts to deny the victims and their families any hope of closure and retribution. Only seven days divided the events, and I could not have been more grateful as which gathering I was attending.
The lessons of Sinai are many. Textual Torah, Gender issues, Jewish History, meditation, parenting, inspiration and music and celebration of worship are placed alongside each other to give some sense at least as to the riches of our faith. But for me it was also a reminder that we are so much more than we are told we are. That we are not just about Israel and Zionism and that letting anyone convince us that we are, would be to allow them their greatest victory.
The Sinai Indaba was for me a much-needed vacation. It reminded me how deliberately limiting the fight for the legitimacy of Israel can be. But like any good holiday, it also allowed me to breath and to gain perspective and to be able to focus on the very things that makes that fight so important.