Showing Solidarity in South Africa

Lynne Raphaely from the Union of Jewish Women in South Africa reports on three important interfaith projects with South Africa’s Chinese and Muslim communities.

Showing solidarity with the Chinese Community

In March 2020, members of the Johannesburg Jewish community prepared for the upcoming Purim festival in a unique way by doing their pre-Purim shopping at the China Mall. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (of which the Union of Jewish Women is an affiliate) organised this initiative as a gesture of solidarity with the Chinese community, following the upsurge of unjust and irrational sentiment against South Africans of Chinese origin resulting from the Coronavirus epidemic.

Wendy Kahn, National Director of SAJBD, and her delegation, which included members of UJW, met with leaders of the Chinese community at the entrance to the Mall. She said that they had chosen the festival of Purim, which has its own lessons of hate and discrimination, as an opportunity to highlight the unjust discrimination that Asian communities were experiencing. The Chairman of the Chinese Association warmly welcomed the delegation.

Wendy explained to the Chinese community that Purim was intrinsically bound up with the themes of human rights, anti-racism and acceptance of diversity. “Purim is based on the Book of Esther, which relates how the Jews of ancient Persia were threatened with annihilation by their enemies, but were eventually saved. Its lessons are universal in that they show the evils of prejudice, whether based on race, religion or other such grounds, and what such prejudice can lead to if left unchecked” she said.

She added that another important theme of Purim is that one of the most effective ways of combating hatred is by fostering bridges of friendship and understanding between people, regardless of what their backgrounds might be. She said that one of the practical ways in which this is achieved was through the practice of exchanging gifts with one another.

Jewish Chinese Solidarity
Hamantaschen Purim cookies were presented to leaders of the Chinese community.

“Our aim with this pre-Purim shopping visit at the China Mall is to express our support and extend a hand of friendship to our Chinese fellow citizens” Kahn said.

Chanukah at the Open Mosque

On 26 December the Open Mosque in Cape Town hosted members of the Jewish community at an exceptional event to mark Chanukah. This ground-breaking function was explicitly designed to enhance interfaith relations between Jews and Muslims in the Western Cape.

In addition to the reciting of traditional prayers and the lighting of the menorah, customary Chanukah songs were sung, and a brief talk was given about the significance of historical Chanukah artefacts.

The Open Mosque provided a fully kosher dinner for all guests. 

Jewish-Muslim Women’s Friendship Group

This Cape Town group was formed as a result of being unable to get to know one another during apartheid, and a quarter of a century later still having little opportunity to do so. The aim of the group is to learn from each another, share common concerns, embrace our common humanity, grow our friendship group, promote understanding between different faiths and increase acceptance and tolerance.

Meetings are held in members’ homes. At the last meeting held on 1 March (South Africa went into Covid-19 lockdown on 27 March), the refusal of Jewish husbands to give their wives a Jewish divorce was discussed, and a Muslim lawyer spoke on the need for legislation to protect women married by Muslim law.