Wendy Kahn

A day in THE LIFE. Getting down to business with the SA Jewish Board of Deputies

When my children were in primary school, they had no idea what their Mum did as a job.  I didn’t fit in the mould as a doctor, lawyer, speech therapist or teacher.  When it came to careers’ day in grade 2 they asked me to come in and talk to the kids but my talk was met with blank stares.  I never handed out surgical masks or Nandos burgers. I was just a lady with a complicated story.
Sadly, I even now get the same blank stare from most of my friends. No one is quite sure how I fill my working day.  So I thought I’d try and fill in some of the confusion about what keeps us busy at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

One of our primary functions as the 114 year old representative body of SA Jewry is to be the interface between our community and the broader SA.  On behalf of our community, we interact with government, civil society, other interfaith groups, the media and international Jewry.  If there is a security threat facing us, we arrange for meetings with State Security or the relevant policing body and will include the CSO.  If the issue is Israel related off we will go to the Department of International Relations with the SAZF.  When we had issues regarding Jewish Burial we went to the Department of Home Affairs with the Chevra Kadisha.  At the time of a challenge to our Jewish schools the SA Board of Jewish Education accompanied us to see the President and Minister of Basic Education.
Our job however is not just to arrange engagement when a particular issue has arisen. It is more important for us to develop these relationships in a proactive manner.  We have ongoing interactions with all levels of government, attending their events and inviting them to ours. National commemorations such as last year’s Human Rights Day memorial gathering at Sharpeville or the June the 16th wreath laying provide us with important opportunities to interact on matters of importance to us as South Africans.
We have a liaison officer in Parliament, who provides us with access to this important area of our democracy.  Through the relationships she is building across the political parties, we are able to understand the issues better and can engage more effectively.  We also use this opportunity to engage with key issues of debate, having made 5 written submissions last year as well as addressing the Communications Portfolio Committee on Cyberhate and the International Relations Portfolio Committee on the Israeli Palestinian situation.

The SAJBD also monitors antisemitism in the country and responds when needed, including taking up cases with the SA Human Rights Commission or Equality Court. When we embark on this type of action, it must be noted that these cases can take many years to resolve.  We took Bongani Masuku to the SAHRC in 2009 for threats he made to our students on Wits Campus and our complaint of hate speech was upheld.  Masuku refused to comply with the remedy of an apology and the HRC took him to the Equality Court.  The case was finally heard in February 2017.  We have cases ongoing from 2012 and several from 2014.  Addressing instances of hate in the social media has also become an important issue we deal with.
Over the past years the BDS organization in SA have contributed greatly to incidents of antisemitism and it is an area we take seriously.

The SAJBD has many other responsibilities, including engaging with the Universities and Jewish students when hostility results on campus, including during the notorious `Israel Apartheid Week’ and in resolving clashes around exams on Jewish holidays and Shabbat.
Representing our community in the media is an important task of the SAJBD on an assortment of issues.  Our leadership talk and write regularly on a variety of topics.
Our interaction with international Jewry is pivotal to the wellbeing of the community.  SAJBD National President Mary Kluk sits on the executive of the World Jewish Congress and I represent SA on the National Directors’ Forum.  We also work closely with organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Try explain this to 7 year olds…

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