A poem I have written to commemorate September 11th 2013.
Twelve years have passed and I still remember that day like it was yesterday…
Please Read, Comment and Share…
May we know only times of joy from here on and always!
Remember Remeber that Fateful September
Do you remember? Do you remember?
that fateful September?
September 11 2001…
A shake, a shock, the world just stopped.
We looked to the sky
how could so many innocent’s die?
we did not sleep, we could not eat,
We only did cry…
So many bright souls, their lives forever on hold
We could not think of tomorrow -
So full of sorrow
we could not be consoled.
But then we saw
with a glimmering light
such true bravery was a great sight
Strength beyond measure,
love beyond leisure
Big and small
there were great Heroes galore
doing all they could to help those in mortal peril.
Restored faith in humanity brought back our sanity
We prayed for peace, we cried for hope
we clung to life, full of a deep strife
Alas we will prevail for we are strong and full of gale
we do not bow to evil!
we will not bow to evil…
For it is said “woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness…”
we will remember…
we will never forget…
the countless lives stolen…
the many tears fallen.
Yes we do remember
Yes we will always remember
that tragic day
in that fateful September.
In the wake of the Wits protest that took place on 28th August 2013 against the Daniel Zamir concert, many people across the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, were shocked when a number of BDS protestors and its’ affiliates sang “Dhubule iJuda” – in English, “Shoot the Jew.”
The song which is based on the Apartheid struggle song, “Shoot the Boer” was deemed as hate speech by Judge Collin Lamont in the Southern Gauteng High Court in September 2011. Judge Lamont made it clear that this song is racist, unethical and goes against “a number of local and international laws” that protect human dignity.
However, despite the blatant Anti-Semitism shown by these protestors, BDS South Africa’s Commander-in-Chief Muhammad Desai defended the song by stating that “the whole idea anti-Semitism is blown out of proportion.” Desai claimed that they did not literally mean “Jews” when the song was sung. Furthermore he stated that “just like you would say kill the Boer at [a] funeral during the eighties [and] it wasn’t about killing white people, it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime.”
It was only after Desai’s defence of this Anti-Semitic song almost two days later that top BDS members began to distance themselves from this song; until then, not a word of condemnation was said by any BDS member or leader. Furthermore it took the BDS-SA movement five days to release a statement condemning this racist act. The lack of immediate condemnation and distancing makes it very clear that a large portion of BDS-SA is in-fact focused on, as SAJBD National Chair Mary Kluk said, inciting “hatred, and possibly even violence, against Jewish South Africans.”
The fact of the matter is; this incident has proven that in today’s day and age members of BDS and the like do not differentiate between Judaism and Zionism and moreover they are not taught to do so. In fact they are encouraged to see it all as one in the same – in both the members and their leader’s eyes. If members of BDS defend racial slurs like “Shoot the Jew”, then how much more so can we accept these slurs to start being accepted in society. It is clear that Anti-Semitism is blatantly back and it is rearing its’ ugly head through organizations that claim to be focused solely on Human Rights.
On a more positive note; reports that members of BDS who were planted in the Wits Great Hall to disrupt the concert were seen clapping, dancing and enjoying the concert together with the other 1100 patrons. The Daniel Zamir Concert can be described as a wonderful and inspiring event by all who attended. Daniel Zamir and his Jazz Quartet are known Peace Activists who, throughout the concert, continuously chanted “Peace, Love and Unity.” During the concert Zamir also called for “love of all humanity.”
On Monday evening, April 15th, attempts to sabotage the Israeli Independence day celebrations at the Gold Reef City Lyric Theatre were carried out by over one hundred BDS, COSATU, PSC and MSA members.
The members of these groups together with collaborators began to protest outside of the venue from 6pm. They were shouting, “Down with Israel” slogans, singing and blowing vuvuzelas. One speaker at the event made it clear that these movements are “going to make it so uncomfortable for Zionists to exist in this country” (South Africa) and another speaker stated that, “this will be the last year that they will be celebrating Israeli Independence.” (Which can be viewed as a direct threat to most Jews in SA). From there, certain members of BDS, the MSA and the SRC’s from three Gauteng universities tried to get into the event as people were arriving. A source has said that “they managed to call the Lyric Theater office and bought tickets; they even managed to get into the venue however some were stopped at the door by the heavy security (supplied by both the Jewish Community and Gold Reef City) as they looked suspicious.”
A second source has reported that some of the members of the Anti-Israel groups who were stopped at the door by Security (CSO) at the venue, began to cause a fuss saying that “being denied entry is pure racism and unjust” even though these BDS members had a plan to disrupt the concert. “They used the race card against us even though they were planning something sinister” says the source.
However, security measures did not prevail as an hour into the show, a group of the BDS/MSA/PSC ruffians made it into the venue intimidating members of the audience and shouting swear words, “down with Apartheid-Israel – Free Palestine” and “You suck” to the current performer. Security forces managed to remove them but a sense of uneasiness had already begun to settle within the crowd, “An elderly lady behind me fell to the floor in shock as these guys started intimidating the audience. Her husband had to console her throughout the rest of the concert. It was terrible” says one witness.
Another witness, close to the commotion stated that he had to help settle a shocked woman down. “She was quite a heavily pregnant lady and she started having cramps and pain as a result of the fright caused from the commotion. It was in such bad taste.”
During the closing ceremony of the concert, while world-renown singer Yaniv D’Or’s performed “Eli-Eli”, a Holocaust song written by Hannah Senesh, one of the female protesters who had managed to infiltrate the concert got up and ran on stage screaming “free Palestine” slogans. She together with other members, who had managed to gain access to the concert as well, began to set off stink bombs around the venue, shouting “Israel-Apartheid stinks.” At this point Yaniv who had very bravely carried on his performance hoping that they would leave, made the heroic decision to pick up the protester and removed her off the stage while continuing to sing. He handed her over to security forces that were waiting by the stage.
A number of BDS members were arrested on the scene after this disruption, including the daughter of a senior COSATU official. They spent Monday evening in jail and were released at 4am the next morning.
“Yes the concert was able to carry on which is a triumph in itself (referring to the Yossi Reshef debacle), but in my opinion, it really did upset the vibe. People started becoming a little anxious and it ended on a bit of a bad note. It could have been prevented had security properly searched and scrutinized the patrons coming into the venue. It was an oversight on their part,” says one source.
It seems as if security was once again the problem at the Israeli Independence Day concert and as a result these disgusting events were given an opportunity to unfold. The security matter needs to be seriously examined and a new plan should be implemented to strengthen security at these events. However, in response to claims by BDS/COSATU/MSA and PSC members that protestors who were removed from the venue were thrown down escalators and physically abused, I can confidently refute this and state that these claims are lies. These protesters were removed in the most humane way possible. Witnesses have stated that they were “gently escorted” out of the venue.
This entire event organized by BDS is actively against the South African constitution. Once again, these “freedom fighters” have attempted to silence Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion – three core principles of the constitution. Action must be taken against those who go against these principles and moreover those who against the South African Constitution. This event once again shows the aggression and blatant hate for Jews by BDS and the like.
On a more positive note, celebrations at the Wits Yom Ha’atzmaut party were not disrupted at all as the university implemented a ban on any members of these groups coming anywhere near the festivities. They were threatened with serious disciplinary action. There was also a large contingent of security around the event which deterred any unruly action from taking place. A wonderful time was had by all.
Overall, the above events can be seen as a total failure for the BDS campaign.
Side Note: Israeli Independence Day celebrations have been taking place for decades within the Jewish community of South Africa. Yom Ha’atzmaut is a day many Jews celebrate across the globe as a means of being thankful and appreciating the miracle of receiving a Jewish State on May 14th (5 Iyar) 1948. It is also celebrated because a few hours after the State of Israel was created, War was declared on Israel by the six surrounding Arab States. Miraculously, the war was won and Israel made it through what today is known as the War of Independence.
(Photo Courtesy: Sarah Garrun, Channel 24)
I had the absolute honour of attending the premiere of ‘Olympus has Fallen’ in Johannesburg last night.(8 April)
The chain of events that got me there is most intriguing as I did not have plans to set foot near the premiere until two hours before the event, never mind not having tickets.
On Sunday evening after hearing about the Johannesburg Olympus has Fallen premiere and got myself into an absolute excited panic, I just had to go! I looked everywhere for tickets but to no avail. I began to feel so disappointed that I was going to miss out on such an incredible opportunity: My two favourite actors, Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler were here and there was no way for me to meet them. First thing Monday morning I called Ster-Kinekor and Nu-Metro and both said their events for the two A-Lister’s was sold out. I was quite miserable and kept consoling myself with the fact that there would be other opportunities in the future.
About three hours before the event, I had been informed that there would be a low-key Red Carpet event for fans at the Black-Tie affair on that Monday evening. It had not been overtly advertised as Tuesday night’s event was a planned for fans. In an absolute huff, I decided I was going to go, even to just catch a glimpse of the boys would be worth it. I took my notepad and pen for autographs and headed out the door unsure of what to expect. Nothing would prepare me for what was to come. By 4pm
At the event
At 5:30 I went to find a comfy spot at the front of the red carpet area so that I would hopefully be guaranteed a set spot to see them. Although the event had not been advertised too much, I was worried hundreds of fans would arrive and swamp the area. While standing there, I met three other die-hard fans and together we began chatting and became acquainted with each other.
I explained that I’d been a huge fan of Aaron Eckhart’s ever since I’d seen him in the film ‘Possession’ with Gwyneth Paltrow at age eleven. (You can all figure out how old I am now!) As I grew older, I felt as if his movie career was growing with me. I sincerely enjoyed his method of acting, whether it be as an action hero in ‘The Core’ or ‘Battle Los Angeles’, a romantic in ‘No Reservation‘ and ‘Love Happens‘, a grieving parent in Rabbit Hole or Harvey Dent in ‘The Dark Knight’, his films were an integral part of my growing up. The same can be said for Gerard Butler. As a teenager, I was quite smitten with the man’s good looks and charm. His musical talents shone brightly in The Phantom of The Opera which was the first film of his that truly caught my eye. I’d seen him in ‘Tomb Raider’ and had enjoyed his performance in ‘Timeline’ but it was ‘Phantom…’ that I’d loved the most. I cried like a baby when his character Gerry died in P.S. I love you and laughed hard during his comedies, ‘The Ugly Truth’ and ‘The Bounty Hunter’. His action films such as Law Abiding Citizen and Gamer always kept me on the edge of my seat. So meet these incredible actors would definitely be a big tick on my Bucket List.
By this time it was 6:15pm, guests were arriving and things were getting busy. Out of the blue, a very formal looking man from Nigeria introduced himself to us. He explained that he had three extra tickets as his guests were unable to join him and asked if we would like to come instead. I explained that I had no money to pay him for the tickets and his response was “Well dear, it’s your lucky day, you can have the tickets for free. There would be no point in wasting them.”
I cautiously agreed to take them, nervous as South Africa is not the safest place in the world and I had heard some strange stories about taking “free gifts.” However the man truly seemed legit and I thanked him deeply, received my armband and ticket and was in absolute shock. I was actually going to a Premiere, a real movie premiere with lots of celebrities, while wearing dark Denim and a black collared shirt (hardly black-tie in my books). Moreover I realized that I had a real chance to meet my acting heroes. I was beyond excited!
7:15pm came along and I heard that the boys had finally arrived, most guests went upstairs but I decided to wait for the guys downstairs and greet them on the Red Carpet. I looked down as I moved down the escalator and spotted the boys coming down, kindly meeting and greeting all the fans. I made my way to a nice spot on the edge of the carpet and waited excitedly. The first to come down was Aaron. My heart literally skipped a beat, he was meeting fans, talking and just being himself. Finally he came to me, large smile and had hand out. He was the sweetest person, he is literally one of the nicest guys in the world. We chatted and I had some photo’s, got a few hugs and a kiss on my cheek. (Yes!!! Dream come true!) He asked my name and I told him ‘Ilanit.” He asked about it as he had never heard of it before and I told him I was Jewish and he said “Oh wow, it’s hebrew?” He then proceeded to tell me that it’s the most beautiful name he has ever heard and that if he ever has a daughter he’s going to name her after me. (I nearly fainted at that point.) I thanked him and told him how honoured I am and he then replied that “the honour is all mine sweetheart” proceeding to put his arm around me. (Ahhhh!!)
He then signed an autograph for me; I’d told him I loved his portrayal of Harvey Dent and low and behold he drew a “Two-Face” picture for me that also spelled out “ya” – proceeding to write my name and draw a large heart next to the “Two-Face” figure with his signature underneath. (Ilanit, Love ya, Aaron Eckhart) He said that we’d chat later and made his way upstairs.
Then came Gerrard, a tall, rugged and well-built figure. His scottish accent and an unruly smile on the tip of his lips. He came over and I said, “Gerry! Gerry!” in my best attempt at a Scottish accent, he laughed and said “Nice try darling!” We spoke briefly and I told him that his Twitter posts always make me laugh, he asked if I’d seen the new one of his “Crazy busy, no time to shave” and his “kid weights.” I had seen both and told him that’s exactly why they’re hilarious. We then had a picture, my camera started acting out and in a very humorous way Gerry went on a mild swearing trip. We then had picture together with all my friends and Gerry on his own phone. It was very exciting! He is most certainly a BFG – (Big Friendly Giant) of the most gentlest kind.
Finally we all went up, I shouted for him to “Say something in Scottish Gerry…!” while having photo’s in the press area, his response was a pout and he then pulled a most hilarious face at me. In-between photo’s he said to me in his most heavy Scottish accent, “How ’bout NO Lass.” We both just laughed (Freek-out, I shared a moment with Gerry Butler!) and after his walk on the press carpet we had a “Blue-Steel” photo together.
Then, the boys then went off for the pre-film screening interview with Anele. I got a big wave and an “I know you!” as Aaron Eckhart made his way towards the stage. Anele’s interview was fantastic. She asked many a few questions that received answers which had the crowd in stitches of laughter. The best two parts of the interview – when Gerry did his famous line from 300, “This is Spaaarrttaaa!” and when Anele asked Aaron what his best part of South Africa is and he responded “The Smell!” meaning that “Africa has the most invigorating and unique smell. It’s just this precious smell. The minute you get off the plane and you open the door you know that you’re in Africa.”
The Film: Olympus has Fallen
The interview ended and we all went toward our delegated Cinema’s. I went in and there were complementary popcorn’s and drinks for all patrons. I was excited to have a snack seeing as in all the hype I hadn’t eaten a thing since 1:00pm. I looked forward to the movie, in the trailer it looked absolutely thrilling. I wasn’t disappointed. Throughout the entire film I was literally on the edge of my seat, Aaron played a very brave and very noble U.S. President and Gerry a very strong willed, big muscled “knight in shining armour” (figuratively) It was a clever and most plausible plot line (albeit ‘mildly’ violent – but that was to be expected) that had a fair few pithy lines that had the audience chuckling here and there. It was filed with action and even a tiny drop of romance. I must say, I was most impressed. I also found it quite ironic that the movie was due out now during a time when there are issues and instabilities taking place in the Korean region and the movie itself (SPOILER ALERT!) deals with the attack of N. Korean’s on the the White-house after US intervention in the region. The movie was filmed months before the current issues erupted and Gerard Butler himself said that “it just shows how life can imitate art.”
Overall, I had a most wondrous experience along with many of South Africa’s top celebrities. A few who I had the honour of meeting after the film. It was a fantastic evening that was just pure, clean fun. A huge thank you must go out to ALL those involved in putting this event together especially to Ettiene and the entire Crystal Brook Distribution team for bringing Aaron and Gerard out – without you this would not have been possible. A massive well done to Ster-Kinekor and The Zone at Rosebank for brilliant organization and for getting together such a stunning event overall!
Thank you again to my amazing Nigerian friend who sponsored my ticket and allowing me to enjoy this amazing event.
Olympus has Fallen will be out in cinemas nationwide on 12 April 2013.
Dear Readers and Friends,
I received this email on Friday Afternoon and felt that it must be shared to all those who were affected by the aggression of Israel-Apartheid Week and the Yossi Reshef debacle.
It gave me a lot of strength and I wish to share this with you:
Shabbat Shalom. Chag Pesach Sameach v’Kasher
World renowned pianist Yossi Reshef was born in Israel but has lived in Berlin, Germany for many years. He is a critically acclaimed musical maestro who has received many awards for his musical talents. He has played all over the world including Britain, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Germany, Poland, Croatia, Spain, Russia and the United States of America.
On the evening of Tuesday March 12th 2013, Yossi was scheduled to play a paid recital at Wits University which was open to the public and fully booked. However, when he arrived at the concert hall on Wits East Campus he was met by a delegation of Sixty plus Anti-Israel and Anti-Zionist protestors which included members of the PSC, the Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) and the MSA. He was quickly ushered in by security that was guarding the entrance to the building. When guests began to arrive, the protestors started to become restless and rowdy toward them.
According to eye-witnesses there were a number of unruly incidents that took place, where guests were accosted by the members of the so-called “silent” protest. Among those accosted was a lecturer from the Wits Music Department who was apparently pushed and kicked as he attempted to enter the concert hall. Security had to use minor force to help both the lecturer and a number of other guests get into the hall without being injured by the protesters.
Eventually all the doors were closed and the concert was finally allowed to begin. However, as Mr Reshef began to play the protestors outside were blowing vuvuzelas and chanting loudly as a means of trying to disrupt the piano recital. During this time, the security remained outside to guard the main door. After some time, things became quiet. Suddenly, while Mr Reshef was in middle of playing Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, another door within the concert hall burst open. The protestors started streaming into the venue whilst chanting and making loud noises as they attempted to sabotage the recital. It was later discovered that the protesters had actually broken into a fire exit and come in through that door. Security swiftly arrived on the scene and managed to push the protesters out of the hall for a time. Nevertheless, the protestors became so forceful that the security officers were actually pushed backward and once again they came into the main hall screaming, jumping and blowing vuvuzelas. Yossi Reshef was ushered out of the venue very quickly as chaos began to reign within the hall. An eyewitness who wished to remain anonymous even stated he saw the Vice-President of the Wits SRC, cheer one of the protestors who began to violently hit the piano keys of a Steinway Piano that was being used by Mr Reshef. One of the music professor’s, who was truly horrified by what was taking place quickly, ran over to close this very expensive piece of musical equipment.
By this time, five members of the Wits SRC, including the President were present in the hall watching this all take place but were doing nothing to put a stop to it. The guests were all forced to leave as security was unable to get a handle on the pandemonium taking place within the venue. As the guests left in a hurry, the protesters began to shout in unison “down with Israel.”
Eyewitnesses have described the protestors as “hooligans” who were purposefully trying to destroy a beautiful evening that was supposed to be memorable; unfortunately for the wrong reasons. It must be noted that Yossi Reshef resides in Berlin and is not in any way politically affiliated with Israel. This hate action against Mr Reshef and the guests was done purely because he was just born in Israel.
In light of the fact that Mr Reshef is a renowned concert pianist, this behaviour will do much to harm the reputation of the University of the Witwatersrand, which represents the bastion of freedom of expression and freedom of speech that is outlined in the South African constitution. It is in poor taste that once again the minority extremists were allowed to gain the upper-hand over the majority of peace loving lecturers and guests alike who were present at this event. The security measures seem to have been woefully inadequate and the whole fiasco was poorly handled. Extra measures should have been implemented to ensure the safety of all the patrons involved, but this was obviously not the case.
A thorough investigation of this incident should be implemented with immediate effect and disciplinary action should be instituted against all those involved in causing this unfortunate incident.
Below is an apology and statement released by the Wits University:
“STATEMENT FROM THE VICE-CHANCELLOR AND PRINCIPAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND, JOHANNESBURG
The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, deeply regrets that a concert held on its campus last night was disrupted by some members of the University community and representatives of external organisations.
In light of this incident, the University takes this opportunity to issue a public apology to all those who attended the concert. The disruption of this event points to intolerance on the part of some members of the University community and goes against the core values espoused by the University. The University is investigating this matter and will take the necessary action based on its policies, processes and procedures.
The University reiterates that the views and opinions expressed by the Students’ Representative Council or any other student groups on campus do not represent the official views of the University, nor are they necessarily an accurate reflection of the views of the majority of students, staff and alumni.
Wits University is a leading institution on the African continent renowned for encouraging dialogue and debate on often diverse and conflicting views confronting society. It provides a platform for different constituencies to express their views and opinions through considered debate and intellectual engagement in the spirit of tolerance, respect and openness.
We value the diverse views of all our staff, students and alumni regardless of their race, religion, gender, culture, language, ideology or otherwise, provided that they do not exceed the limitations explicated in our Constitution.
The diversity of people, programmes and ideas at Wits leads to the richness and robustness of the institution. This is indeed one of the greatest qualities of excellent higher education institutions, and one which Wits cherishes.
Prof. Loyiso Nongxa
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
13 March 2013”
The hustle and bustle between these four walls began to become mildly overwhelming. I could not believe I was back. Three and a half months of pure relaxation – well nearly any way – had got me use to “this worriless lifestyle.”
I wondered what fascinating things this year would bring. Last year was a little more eventful than I could handle but nonetheless I managed to actually get through the hardships by the skin of my teeth; basically unscathed. So in retrospect I knew that the time had come to tackle a new year and moreover, a new start. But I still wanted to moan and groan for the comfort of my bed.
Third Year… Final Year… One step away from having an actual degree under my belt… Yes… “Gosh, I hope so…” is all I can think of. As usual the small anxieties that come with knowing that the end is neigh definitely have a way of taking one by surprise when one least expects it. As day one continues to pulsate and I finally manage to gather my thoughts, get all my times, buy all my books and make my way out toward the parking lot; something catches my eye and distracts me. Something I would never expect, well not here anyway.
A young boy… his eyes gaunt with hunger scrounging through one of the dustbins just off the University campus, he has no shoes and his clothes are torn. He cannot be more than nine or ten. This site strikes a chord within me… Not again… This poverty – it’s everywhere; they stand by nearly every traffic light in Town. It is sad and disturbing. Out of nowhere anger begins to pulsate through me. Pain grips me, knowing that our “beloved” Head of States build a home with billions and this little boy and so many others cannot get a morsel of food. Live on less than a dollar a day. How degrading it must be to have to dig inside a dustbin just to find something. Anger strikes through me again.
Without thinking I run toward my car, speeding as fast as I can; the wind whipping through my hair. I promptly press the unlock button. “Where is it…? Where is it?” There…I see it! I see it! Excitement starts to flood through me. I pick it up and run toward the pedestrian gate as I see the boy walking away from the trash can with something small held tightly within his hand, as if life itself depends on it. I swipe my card and run out. “Hey! Hey!” I call. I run out toward him trying to grab his attention forgetting the many dangers that lie outside the University walls, “little boy! Wait…” I finally catch up to him. “Here – it’s all I have on me but I hope it helps.” I smile at him.
He snatches the chip packet and water hungrily and is about to turn away when suddenly a smile spreads across his face; completely changing his distorted bony features for just a minute. “Siabonga Sissie.” He says quietly and turns away. As I walk back towards the University gate I hear a loud shout, “Sissie…Sissie!” I turn around and feel a pair of arms grip my waist holding tightly, “Siabonga! Siabonga!” says the muffled voice. He lets go and hot, wet tears stream down my face. His beautiful smile rains down on me. “No cry Sissie… No cry!” He hugs me again and leaves me standing there mildly in shock.
I slowly let myself back into the University wishing I had more to give but relieved that I was able to help even a little bit. Grateful for the things I have… grateful for the fact that I am lucky enough, by the grace of G-d that I have hot meals every day, grateful for the roof over my head and grateful that I am being afforded the opportunity to have an education. A sense of guilt comes over me as I realize how often I take all the wonderful things that I am blessed with in my life for granted. Something that many of us, me included, are guilty of almost every day.
As I drive out of the university toward the main street, I catch a glimpse of the little boy with three or four children surrounding him. I have just a second to watch him hand out some chips and water to them with that stunning smile still plastered to his face. I am gobsmacked that this young man is so willing to give and share something so small with so many others so that they can share in this pleasure too.
It gets me thinking and makes me realize that we can all make a difference, no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us has a part to play in this world that we call “our own.” Moreover each of us has the ability to change a life even if it is just for a minute, an hour or a day – For one never can tell the rippling effect that may come out from doing just the smallest act of kindness.
An icon that is permanently etched in my mind is an image, at the corner of the television screen of an enormous plane exploding into the Twin-Towers. I was nine and I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. Whether in New York, Los Angeles, Beunos Aires, London and even Johannesburg, the memory of where you were and what you were doing lives within you forever.
Slam! “I’m late, I’m going to miss it, Mommy open the door, somebody open the door!”
“How many times must I tell you to stop slamming the car door?” calls my mom from behind me. “Sorry!”
It is pouring. It’s been raining all day.
Now that I think back on it, it was fitting for what was to come.
Ding dong, Ding dong! The gate opens. Crash, my bag drops, whatever is in there has definitely broken but I’ll worry about it later. The worry of my mom’s reaction does not phase me, even if it is the honey-jar that I have made for the High-Holy Days. My destination…The T.V…and fast!
Click. On goes the TV, “I want to travel across the land searching far and wide, to catch them is my real test, and to train them is my cause, POKEMON!”
“Yes I didn’t miss it! Whoah!” I throw my hands in the air.
“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you breaking news.”
Ah man, what is this rubbish? What could be so important that can’t wait until after my T.V. show? I’ve been waiting all week for this episode!
“A plane has reportedly crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in addition to the Pentagon.”
My irritation fades into utter shock. I feel as if I am standing in the middle of a movie. No way, no way. The World Trade Center…The Pentagon…. I run fast, down the passage, adrenaline pumping, I watch my feet as they go… “Mommy Mommy!” I start to scream, “A plane has just crashed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center.”
“Lani, what rubbish are you watching? If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, you are too young to be watching all those ridiculous action movies!”
“I’m telling you, just take a look.”
“Ilanit Chernick, if this is another one of your silly jo-”
The TV is on. The glass of water my mom is holding smashes to the ground… slowly, slowly; it falls…falls…falls…smash…a precursor to the collapse of the Towers.
We are horrified. The blood drains from my Mother’s face.
Time stands still as we watch a second plane collide with the South Tower. The reporter is speechless. There is complete silence.
My family all converge on the T.V. in our lounge. There is a surge of pain…We are in a daze. We click to each news channel. All the news reporters repeat the same thing, “Three planes have crashed into United States landmarks, the fourth in Pennsylvania. It is believed to have been heading for the White House. President Bush is safe. He has condemned these attacks.” My father arrives home. He has heard the news. He is afraid, not just for us but for the world. What is to come? Is the world as we know it ending?
A high-pitched sound wakes us all from our deep trance. The phone. Somebody answer. It is a family friend, “My brother, he works in the Towers, I haven’t heard from him yet,” her voice begins to crack, “Wha-a-a-t…What should I do?”
My mom comforts her. Tells her, she is sure he is okay. They talk for a few minutes and the receiver is put down. It’s been almost two hours since the first plane hit and yet it feels like a lifetime has passed.
I hear screaming, loud shouts, I turn my head back to the screen. “I don’t believe what I’m seeing. This…this can’t be real.” My mom cries.
The first tower has crumbled, now the second begins to implode. There are sirens. Shrieks. A plume of smoke. And then… Nothing. A cold, deathly silence.
Pitch black darkness turns into a grey haze. “The towers are gone; I repeat the towers are gone.” He is back in view. “This is Martin O’Toole, I cannot believe this. The World Trade Center buildings have collapsed. I just…I cannot believe this. Oh my G-d, Oh my G-d. What about the people? There are thousands…still…trapped….I -” Martin O’Toole is speechless, he begins to cry on Live Television.
The night drags in slowly, we cannot tear ourselves away from the screen, the images…
A sick feeling creeps into my stomach. Every news report, in every language, ranging from Afrikaans to Zulu to French reports the destruction and terrorism that ripples through the world. For days, weeks and even months, new stories develop. Miracles of how people made it out alive.
Every day for the next two weeks we say Tehillim together for the safe return of all those trapped under the rubble. I find out our family friends brother had run late with his Morning Prayers. He was still in Shul when the plane hit his building. Many of his colleagues were not so lucky. We feel for all those lost. We are numb for days.
Soon new footage is released. It is of the Taliban, celebrating, singing, laughing and rejoicing. Every year while the world remembers and mourns, they celebrate this day as a victory in their history. Their horrific battle against the West. The World with America mourns the loss of thousands.
I am at a loss at the brutality of these events. I can still feel the pain…a screeching pain for those who have lost loved ones. A pain that will never cease. I cry when I see the video’s, the way that I remember. I am scarred. Life will never be the same.
Even now, as I look back on that tragic day I still think to myself… In those situations, does an individual ever come to terms with the blurred lines that we are presented with, those that represent what is fiction and what is reality? This concept is almost impossible to grasp.
*Note: For certain reasons, the name of the person in question has been changed to “Ralph.”
Place of residence has also not been specified.
It is a cold winter morning, the sun is barely seen beyond the horizon. The purple curtains in the room slowly begin to light up and I am forced to leave the warmth of my bed. The day begins as any other, nothing to remotely suggest that anything unusual is to happen. I say my morning prayers, dress and eat breakfast. My mother calls down the hall to check that I am ready to brace another day. Finally, we are off. We chat about what the new term, a Holocaust movie I watched and then I find myself moaning to her about the long, tiresome day a head. As we pull into the main entrance, she swipes the card and drives up the hill. As the traffic-light turns red, I jump out and make my way down the long, bricked pathway into the University.
The day gradually becomes fast-paced. I jump from a double History class to a double English and then to Psychology. The lesson drags and suddenly…the class start to fidget. They become increasingly rowdy, “well this noise tells me that it’s time for me to shut-up and for you to go. Tomorrow, don’t forget, our afternoon lecture is still on!” The entire class groans. “It’s the first week of the semester, can’t they give us a break?” a girl says loudly.
Finally, it’s lunch! I speed off to the Cafeteria determined to get a table. My favourite one is free. I set my things down and go to buy a glass of hot water. I pour it into my Israeli pre-packed pasta and wait five minutes. It is ready and I sit down, hungrily digging into this ‘delightful’ meal. While reading my set-work, Northanger Abbey, an elderly man in his early sixties asks if he can sit at my table. It’s the only table in the room not packed to the brim. I happily agree. Little do I know what is to come.
We begin to talk about my degree. While we chat, I notice that he has a strong European accent. I ask curiously where he is from, he is definitely not local. He tells me that he is originally from Germany but his family moved to South-West Africa after World War Two. I find this intriguing and the subject drastically changes to tolerance and religion. He states very carefully, “you are a Jew.” Very confidently say “Yes, how did you know?” He tells me bashfully that I have what they call “the look”.
I begin to feel mildly anxious at this response. He looks at me nervously and states that he rarely tells people this frightening fact: His father and his fathers brothers were all Nazi’s under Hitler during the War.
As I hear this, a great part of me wants to run away swiftly, but common courtesy holds me back. I am surprised and even mortified at the fact that he has shared this information with me, a Jew. Awkwardly, I nod my head and stutter a startled response. He proceeds to make the point that he is nothing like his father or his family. He is very ashamed of the terrible things that they did to so many innocent people.
I know that I am treading on shaky ground and very cautiously I ask if he is willing to tell me his story. He readily agrees.
He was born in 1947 in South-West Africa. He was the fourth of six children in a home which primarily spoke German – hence his strong accent. He knew that his entire family had left Germany immediately after the end of World War Two. Although, he was never told the reasoning for this. If he ever asked, he would be roughly handled by his father for even mentioning it. As he grew up, a strong stigma began to develop. He was ashamed of being German, he had known what Germany had done in the war and even more so, knew the destruction that they had caused. Yet his father, his uncle’s and at times, strange visitors would never mention anything about their actions or placement during the war. Ralph* proceeds to tell me how it was always covered up, “nobody was allowed to ask questions. My father would say that we are here now, we are to only focus on the present and our future.”
He tells me of the the many times when odd characters’ would come to his family home at unusual hours. “They would knock on the door, my father would open, they would be bustled into the house and go strait into my fathers study. They would talk for hours as if they were having an important business meeting. Afterward they would stay for a quick meal and my father would then take them to the harbour to catch a boat. I would sometimes join him.” Ralph* tells me that many of the boats were heading toward South America.
At times these men would even stay in the area for days, weeks and in one case, a man named “Uncle Jose” stayed in a small apartment nearby Ralphs* home for just under a year.
Uncle Jose, would come over to the house for supper twice a week. It became a customary ritual. Ralph* was about six or seven at the time. ‘Uncle Jose’ seemed nice and kind. He would always bring them presents like chocolate and other delicious treats… It is later discovered by Ralph* that this man was none other than the notorious Dr Josef Mengele – Commando of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the well-known mass murderer of Jews and Gypsies alike.
One morning at about four or five, a loud commotion is heard from down-stairs. It was ‘Uncle Jose,’ he and Ralph’s* father were arguing loudly about something. Then, they both just took him to the harbour. It seemed to be a matter of urgency. After that he was gone and Ralphs* family never heard from him again. As a teenager, Ralph* distinctly remembered that his father would sometimes have violent nightmares late into the night. He would sometimes scream so loudly that the children would be woken. Ralph* was never told the reasons behind this and when he would ask his mother, he would be scolded for bringing it up, she would act as if she did not know what they were talking about. To Ralph*, this all seemed very strange.
At age twenty-one, Ralph* was asked to help his family pack up and move into a smaller home as four of his six siblings had gotten married or had gone off to college. While sorting through boxes in the attic, he came across an old, medium sized box that was hidden in a corner behind a large cupboard. The cupboard itself had been purposely blocked by many other boxes in the past. Ralph* thought that this was strange and so he took the box out from its hiding place, behind the cupboard. He was not prepared for the horror of what he would find inside. As he slowly broke open the seal, he continued to find it odd how it had been hidden away so carefully for no one to find. Once opened, the blood from his faced drained very quickly. His worst nightmare had become a reality. Inside the box was a faded Nazi S.S. Uniform. There were medals, Swastika emblems, photo’s, fake passports and other Nazi memorabilia. Within the box there was a photo of his father with Josef Mengele and another unidentified Nazi official. I do not have the heart to actually asked Ralph* who the third man is.
Ralph* recalls how he frantically called down to my mother, and when she came up to the attic, he showed her his shameful discovery. He tells of how she looked mildly surprised and tells him very firmly to ask his father about it. Ralph* went down to his father’s study and barged into the room holding this uniform tightly in my hand. His father closed the door very calmly and told him to sit down. He explained to Ralph* that he had been quite a high-ranking Nazi Officer whom was involved in the running of the Camp: Auschwitz-Birkanau.
Ralph then talks of his fathers brothers, who had served at the front-lines for the Fuhrers army, they had served in the Luftwaffe and even at Dachau Camp in Germany, “my girl,” he cries to me, “I was disgusted and appalled at my family’s actions. I just wanted to leave this place and get as far away from my family as possible. I felt as if my entire life had been a lie.”
Upon hearing his father’s ‘testimony’, Ralph* left South-West Africa abruptly. He moved to South Africa and severed all contact with his father. He married a local girl, also of German decent and had four children. In the late 1980’s his father became desperately ill, “he was on his death-bed and I felt that I could not leave things as they were.” says Ralph*, “when I went back home, I begged him to tell me why he did what he did, I told him that he cannot claim to be a true Christian and then act so thoughtlessly by murdering so many innocent people who had done nothing to deserve their terrible fate.” His father just responded, as many other Nazi’s did, that he was just following orders. However, he voiced to Ralph* he knew what was coming to him. The words ‘I’m sorry’ never left his lips.
Ralph’s* father died a few days later on December 25th 1987. “A very ironic day for a Christian…”.
Many years later Ralph* decided to look his father up on Google, he read of many atrocities that his father had been involved in and discovered that he had been listed as missing as of 1950. No further inquiries had ever been made into his disappearance. The fake passports that he had found in the box that day were the reason behind how his father, his brothers and the rest of his family had evaded prosecution all these years.
Ralph* proceeds to ask if I have lost any family in the Holocaust. I tell him that much of my mothers family were killed in Auschwitz and Treblinka. That my grandparents had escaped to South Africa just before the war but the rest of the family were unfortunately not so lucky. I also continue to tell him something of my fathers family that we have recently discovered. I had a great-great Uncle, named Judel who had made it through the Lithuanian Forests, joined the Partisans, was captured, sent to Auschwitz and then moved to Dachau. He was liberated near Munich on a death-march in 1945 and survived to tell his tale. Much of my fathers family were also murdered, this included Judels entire family.
With tears in his eyes, he takes my hand gently, “My dear girl,” his voice is quivering, “can you ever forgive me? I am so sorry for what has been done… I am sorry for the terrible atrocities that my father and his family carried out on your family and your Jewish people. It was a crime beyond comprehension – no good deed in this world can ever take back what my father did… I am so sorry.”
He bows his head and droplets fall from his face. I look at him sadly and thank him for his comforting words. I firmly tell him that I cannot hold him responsible for crimes that he had no hand in committing. “You, sir, are not your father. You have done nothing wrong.” My heart aches. I cry.
We sit for what seems like hours, a deep silence between us. He later tells me that he keeps the photograph of his father and Mengele (from Auschwitz Camp) in his desk draw as a reminder of the person that he must never become. When he loses sight of things, he takes the photograph out of that draw and looks at it. It tells him to always accept all people for whom they are and what they are. That the human race have no right to judge or discriminate, that we are all the same, flesh and blood put on this Earth by God to do his work.
I look down at my watch, lunch break is almost over. I have to leave for my next class. We stand up, we shake hands. It turns into a hug, warm tears spill. I trudge off toward the lecture theater without looking back.
After this encounter I have very mixed feelings. There is shock, awe, pain and confusion. I am amazed; that of all the tables this man could have chosen, he chose to sit at mine – the table with the only Jew in the room. I know that this is something beyond co-incidence.
My shock gradually turns to fascination, this experience is truly enthralling. I abruptly remember: Poland… The places I have seen. The places where my people were brutally murdered – Auschwitz, Majadanek, Krakow, Treblinka, the Ghetto’s…. there I had been – sitting, talking, interacting with the son of a Nazi. A man, who’s father had most probably had a great hand in murdering so many of my relatives. And yet, unbelievably, there we were, together, having a civilized conversation – he the son of a Nazi and I the great-niece of a Holocaust survivor. This is the true meaning of tolerance. Acceptance is the key.
This time of the year is an especially auspicious one in the Jewish World. It is time of the year that on the one hand, I love and on the other, it instills a feeling of absolute fear within.
Why, you may wonder, do I juxtapose these two opposite feelings together?
Well on the one hand, the Southern Hemisphere is leaving the cold of winter behind and is moving on toward beautiful spring. This seasonal change is a subtle reminder that the time has come to start making a change. This entails doing the task of introspection and making “the” attempt to improve ourselves. It is this part that I love and fear. Realizing the good and more so the bad actions that I have committed or played a part in over this past year…
Elul, which is the final month of the Jewish Calendar brings along with it the blowing of the Shofar or Rams Horn. It is a piercing cry – a wake-up call that tells us that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – (The Jewish New Year and the Days of Atonement) are coming closer and so we need to rectify our mistakes and change our ways.
This piercing cry of the Shofar (blown every morning after Prayers) wakes us from our usual apathetic slumber of normality and jolts us into taking real action!
Unfortunately, for many of us, our wake-up call, came a little earlier and more painfully this year as a close friend, Channich (Youth Camper), brother and son passed away last week after fighting a battle with Leukemia.
Our community was shattered as everyone knew about this wonderful boy and the Mensch that he was…
After the passing of my dear Channich (youth camper), I realized that over the course of this year, I have been slowly slacking off in my morning Prayers and a little in my Religious studies and maybe even a little on my kindness to those around me too.
His tragic passing has woken me and made me realize that it is time to act; it is time to wake up and start thinking. It is time to do a little more Jewish Studies, time to act kindly and respectfully to those around me, time to appreciate and maybe even time to Pray harder – not just for this month but all year round so that we do not have to experience such a wake-up call like this again… To often we go through life in an automatic mode without giving much thought to our actions. My mission for Elul and the Days of Atonement – to change this!
Sometimes it is scary, when we have to look into ourselves and we realize that we have to rectify those things that need some fine tuning or improvement. Although, it can sometimes be a very daunting task – which, I might add, should be done carefully and in a step-by-step process – it is worth it in the end because we become better people for it!
So to all my readers I ask; look inside yourself, make the first step to being the improvement; do a good deed, give someone a smile, give a little charity, be kind to those around you, bad especially appreciate the ones you love.
You never know what life has in-store.
Remember: the tinniest of good deeds can go a very long way – just think about the “Pay it Forward” idea
May we know only hear of Peace and Happiness from here on out!
Through our merits and good thoughts, may this special boys’ Soul be elevated to the highest level!