Apartheid and South African Jewry
Some time ago, while shuffling through a pile of magazines at the home of a friend, I came across the January number of COMMENTARY and turned with some interest to an article in it by Dan Jacobson on “The Jews of South Africa.” When I put the magazine down again, I felt cheated somehow and angry. But it was a good anger, for it forced me to reconsider my moral judgment of the South African Jewish community.
I am, like Mr. Jacobson, a South African Jew. My parents were both communal leaders: my father head of the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies until his death, and my mother for many years the leader of the Women’s Zionist Organization in Cape Town. My home was in all fundamentals a passionately Jewish one and I was brought up from the beginning to believe that being a Jew entailed unavoidable responsibilities and duties—superficially toward the community and the wider society of which I was a part, basically toward broad principles of justice and generosity. One’s first duty was to one’s own, but it did not stop there. And so my father, as head of the Jewish Board of Deputies, was automatically an executive member of the Cape Community Chest, an interracial, intersectarian charity guild. The one followed hot on the heels of the other. If the mass of South African Jews brought anything with them from Lithuania, I was told, and myself perceived, it was the moral hypersensitivity of the long afflicted. The centuries of Passovers and pogroms had sharpened their horror of oppression and unreason to the finest point.
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