The responsibility of the SAJBD is to ensure that every Jewish person feels free and comfortable to be part of its events, especially Yom Hashoah, says Mary Kluk.
The Sunday Independent last week carried an opinion piece on a court case that has been brought against the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Cape Council concerning the question of women singing solo at the annual Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Commemoration) ceremony. The sub headline read: “Hitler killed as many females as men.” [Read the article here]
This is a matter that has caused a great deal of heartache within our Jewish community, from all the different spectrums of Jewish life. To have provided a balanced and accurate perspective, the subhead should have read: “Hitler killed as many females as men, Hitler killed as many rabbis/religious people as non-religious people.”
That would have provided a truer reflection of the deep complexities of the situation and the unhappiness that many members are feeling because of it.
It is tempting to use this platform to expose the distortions and sometimes downright fabrications that have been disseminated in the past months, particularly in this article. An example is the sweeping charge that women are “muzzled” at Yom Hashoah, when in reality they act as keynote speakers, announcers and poetry readers and participate in all the communal singing.
Ultimately, however, I do not believe that pursuing this line of argument will in any way advance our real will to find a solution to this very painful situation. I would prefer instead to use this space to share the real complexities of the situation and how we are trying to resolve it in the South African way of negotiation and dialogue.
The responsibility of the SAJBD, as the representative body of South African Jewry, is to ensure that every Jewish person feels free and comfortable to be part of its events, including and perhaps, especially Yom Hashoah. Achieving maximum inclusivity is the essence of our work. As important as it is to strive to find a solution that is not seen as discriminating against women in our community, we likewise need to resolve the issue in a manner that shows tolerance towards the rabbis and religiously observant members of SA Jewry. The latter, too, are deserving of tolerance and respect, and we are seeing little if any of that coming through in some of the statements emanating from the other side.
The SAJBD recognises, and indeed celebrates, the fact that SA Jewry is a heterogeneous and diverse community. With this diversity, however, comes the challenge of ensuring that all members feel a part of this kaleidoscope of beliefs and traditions. With regard to Yom Hashoah, this means doing everything we can to develop a ceremony that provides comfort to all; cognisant of both the gender and religious requirements.
It has been deeply distressing to witness the hostility that has been levelled against the rabbinate in the past couple of months.
Whether one agrees or not with the halachic (Jewish legal) stance that the religious leadership has taken, that is immaterial to resolving the current impasse. We need to uphold the rights of certain religious members of our community to follow their beliefs and practices as much as we must protect women’s rights. Our religious community has as much right to be included as do women in the community.
All who genuinely care for the wellbeing of the community will be saddened to read such remarks. A zealous desire to remedy one issue within our community should not be allowed to escalate to the point where others feel belittled. This polarisation only serves to foster mistrust and create irreparable division. We need to find a more sustainable and constructive way.
In this regard we are encouraged by a mediation process under way in the Cape. It will take the form of a colloquium next month, in which all the stakeholders will be brought together in a spirit of inclusiveness in a bid to find a constructive solution. The SAJBD fervently believes in the principles of conciliation and the proposed attempt to bring together all interested parties to find sustainable solutions encourages the board. But we need the full support of the community. It will not be a simple process, however, it is the SAJBD's goal.
Two weeks ago record numbers of the Jewish community and fellow South Africans - religious and non-religious, Orthodox and Progressive, women and men, young and old - joined together in ceremonies across the country to commemorate the loss of the 6 million in the Holocaust. And that is ultimately what Yom Hashoah is about.
* Kluk is president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies. This is a response to Gilad Stern’s article carried by The Sunday Independent last week.