Stay home or go home: a disservice to the SA Jewish community

by Maskil on 4 Feb 2008

This piece was prompted by a letter (Don’t Help Them Pack for Sydney) to the editor of the SA Jewish Report from Michael Bagraim (formerly of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD)) on 30 November 2007, in which he took the Australian Jewish community to task for attempting to capitalise on (and even encourage?) Jewish emigration from SA. The editor of the SAJR responded by refusing in principle to censor such ads, while at the same time stating that “the Jewish Report, editorially, will never advocate emigration, except to make Aliyah”. Bagraim’s letter (as published) read as follows:

It has been brought to my attention that the Australian Jewish News has announced a rather unpleasant programme to market Sydney’s North Shore to South Africans considering immigration.
They are adding all sorts of incentives to convince South African Jews to immigrate in the next 10 years.
The project has made some spurious estimates of a further 30 000 who would immigrate within the next 10 years. Clearly this negative conjecture is based on nonsense.
As a Jewish community we have always said either stay home or go home and we should stand together in this situation.

The “stay home or go home” position taken by both Bagraim and the SAJR appear to be commendable, both patriotic (in SA terms) and in line with Zionism. It is also totally out of step with the factors someone might take into account when contemplating leaving SA permanently.

First the “stay home” option. We would all like to think that our noble commitment to remaining in SA and making it a better place to live will make a difference. In reality, however, Jews are a small, shrinking minority within a larger, also shrinking minority (the so-called White population) and, despite all our good intentions, there is little we can do to prevent SA’s gradual (but accelerating) slide into becoming Just Another Failed African State (JAFAS). This is not at all Hitler’s Germany; there is no credible or specific threat to Jews as Jews in SA. The fate of SA Jewry is, however, tied to that of the Whites, increasingly under economic and physical pressure from all the ills afflicting SA, including rampant violent crime, corruption at the highest levels, “affirmative action”, the breakdown of education, health and policing systems and our crumbling transport, energy and basic municipal services infrastructures. When making their go/stay choices, individuals are quite rightly taking these factors into account, and so should those who presume to advise or speak in the name of SA Jewry. This is not the time or place for pointless flag-waving and Proudly Jewish SA slogans. If there is no long-term future for SA Jewry, we need to acknowledge this, even if only behind closed doors.

Next the “go home” option, i.e. Aliyah? Go for it! If you’re a committed Zionist, and you believe the time or circumstances are right, then Mazal Tov! I firmly believe, however, that 21st Century Zionism no longer requires the negation of the Diaspora. In fact, given the unique shift in the population balance between the Diaspora and Israel over the last 60 years, one could make the case that it is the Diaspora that is in need of strengthening, not Israel. I believe that Israel no longer “needs” immigrants in the way that it did in earlier decades. Unless there is a physical threat to a Jewish community requiring evacuation, Aliyah should now be a matter of personal fulfillment, not the needs of the state.

So should those be the only options available to SA Jews? In reality, most of those leaving SA will end up choosing the “third option”, emigrating to one of the English-speaking western democracies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK or the US). They will in time no doubt contribute substantially to their adopted countries and to the strengthening of the Jewish communities there.

The representatives of the organized Jewish community in SA obviously have their own agenda, e.g. keeping their communities viable, not offending the government of the day, etc. These considerations are not, however, top of mind for those contemplating a life-changing move such as emigration. So, while the “third option” might not suit our leadership, people should not be subjected to an outdated and misplaced patriotism for making decisions based on the best interests of themselves and their loved ones. (Given the ill-fated history of attempted Jewish emigration during the 20th Century, we should be the last to place obstacles in our own path.)

In a nutshell, the long-term viability of the SA Jewish community is at best questionable. Individuals and families need to evaluate the options (tough it out, emigrate, or make Aliyah) based on their own best interests and should not be subjected to ideological or moral bullying, jingoism or guilt-trips from those in leadership positions. Emigration needs to be seen as a legitimate and realistic option for many, not as something that may not even be spoken of.

South African Jewish Newspaper – Jewish Community News

(The Eskom electricity supply crisis in SA has severely impacted the operations of this Blog and the activities of this writer since mid-December 2007, in terms of lost productivity and damaged PC and networking equipment. At the peak of the so-called load-shedding, power was being interrupted 4-6 times per day, for 2-4 hours at a time. I apologise to both my readers for the lengthy hiatus, originally intended to be only a week at the seaside.)

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