Johannesburg’s Ring of Fire

After the uprising in Tunisia, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi declared that Johannesburg is surrounded by a “ring of fire” and that bold measures must be taken by the government to prevent a similar situation as Tunisia Egypt and Yemen (Business Day July, 2011). What is this “ring of fire” you might ask? It is made up of scores of unemployed youths in townships around the city sitting around doing nothing- feeling helpless, hopeless and useless (the three adjectives common to persons with suicidal tendencies). These youths are also feeling angry and the streets of London have shown us today where anger can lead. South Africa is currently not scrambling fast enough to prevent the “walls being breached”. The walls of middle-upper class South Africa that is.

In today’s news headlines it was reported that unemployment rates have decreased again (for the third consecutive month) with a prediction that South Africa will lose another 468,192 jobs in the remaining months of 2011 and in 2012. In the same news flash it was advised that South Africans should not travel to London for safety reasons.

I found it incredibly ironic that these two stories were reported back-to-back with no e-news commentary in between. Is the writing on the wall or what? But just like anywhere else, the employed people of Johannesburg continue to fill up their shiny SUV’s, blowing exhaust fumes all over the ring of fire while the domino effect of social justice demanding uprising continues across continents thick in the midst of a global economic crisis. London’s burning and it has everyones attention. Tunia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Israel- OK- revolution/uprising/riots is in the flesh and blood of Middle East and North Africa. But a 12 Monkey takeover of the streets of London in 2011…we are all left dazed, confused and in shock- how could this happen in one of the most ‘civilized’ cities in Europe?

“Those monstrous looters!” Tottenham and Johannesburg have a very important link: an extraordinarily high rate of unemployment. Coupled with feelings of hopelessness and with no where else to turn, violence is embraced- one explanation for the rampant and uber-violent nature of crime in this country (S.A). General Secretary Vavi said “we have an army of 6-million people who want to work but can’t find jobs.

Most of them are black, women and young without education and skills. They face a lifetime of poverty. This is what I have called a ticking bomb.” Recently my husband was approached to design software by a 20-something black South African man from one of the townships 2.5 hours away from Joburg. He was one of the lucky ones-he chose school over the life of a thug- got high marks and was offered a scholarship to attend university. He’s been in the workforce now and has been consistently employed since he graduated with reputable international companies.

Today, it is his dream to create an online portal to connect the future leaders of S.A with job prospects and potential employers. He told us that it pains him to go home and see his friends living a life of drugs and voilent crime because “they never got a chance for a job and they have no other option but to live a life of crime to survive.” “In the townships,” he said, “no one is waiting at home for you with a hot meal when you get home (especially in child-run households as the adults have all died of HIV-AIDS). No one cares about you. Maybe your relatives will feed you if they think one day you are going to make some money, get a job or are still in school. Otherwise you are on your own.”

The dream of this young man is to be able to help his friends find jobs because he knows how difficult it can be to get out of the vicious cycle of going nowhere fast. He also wants to use the website to encourage his friends and others from township communities to stay in school by connecting them with scholarship opportunities- so they too will have a chance. He is personally funding a part of this dream team from his own pockets-along with help from a close white (and Jewish) friend who believes strongly in his vision.

This special young man is what the literature would call a ‘social entrepreneur’- a term that Bill Drayton, the founder of Ashoka coined to describe “those individuals who combine the pragmatic goal-oriented methods of business with the aims of a social reformer.” I am studying this unique species and their potential contribution to society in South Africa for my thesis, towards an MA in development studies. A year ago, when I presented my research topic to the review panel I got glaring question mark faces staring back at me- they had never even heard of the term before. Today, social entrepreneurship has become a bit of a buzzword here- along with the trend of social enterprise. I am researching how the government of South Africa is taking on the social economy- after Minister of Economics Ebrahim Patel declared in 2009 that South Africa’s new growth path (ngp) is chucking the inherited neoliberal capitalistic trajectory of the apartheid government and embracing a more social and economically equitable one.

While General Secretary Vavi doesn’t believe that the new growth path is going to fix socio-economic problems, there are many on the top who believe that promoting the trends of social entrepreneurship and enterprise are the solutions to many of societies ills- including unemployment. I wonder in light of the world’s recent uprisings, if service delivery protests, strikes and other potential incitements fueled by societies demand for basic needs will increase and if the ring of fire will erupt like the streets of London. Or have recent incentives taken by the South African government to create jobs like the recently launched ‘jobs fund’ help to quell the flames. Will the walls of Johannesburg be breached by the fiery masses or will South Africans join the people on the streets of Tel Aviv- rallying for social justice in a peaceful non-voilent groundswell? To be sure, something is on it’s way- I pray that South Africa will find the courage to follow Israel’s example this time around.


ROI-Investing in Jewish Innovators

Many of you have requested I blog about the 2011 ROI Summit I recently returned from in Jerusalem-a truly remarkable trip to be sure. It was an honor and absolute privilege to have been invited to attend this very unusual gathering- one that was so difficult to get my head around when I first heard about it that I actually reconsidered going. I wondered if it would be worth my time, if disrupting another re-acclimation back to gangster’s paradise (aka Johannesburg) was a good idea- and now into the fieldwork component of my thesis- a compelling reason to stay put and pass the opportunity by.

Sometimes- it’s exactly what you don’t know- that is exactly what you need
I learned this during my experience with the ROI community. It is hard to describe what the 2011 Summit looked like-but I will try- and share about the impact it has had on me since returning to my South African abode.

Imagine being in an incubator for 5 days with an international cadre of fellow Jewish thinkers, doers, movers and shakers. You are given an opportunity to hone your skills, share your best practices and network with some of the best and brightest in the Jewish world. Your schedule is packed with workshops, panel discussions, open space dialogues, skill sessions, master classes, meetings and nightly celebrations. In the sacred and buzzing space that is created, new ideas are born, new connections are made and creation ‘ex-nihilo’ occurs at a magical velocity.

A trend of Jewish philanthropy in the past decade has been “investing in leaders”. When consulting with people who have big ideas and are in process setting up new initiatives and looking for funding I tell them that funders are really looking to invest in the individual behind the project. Lynn Schusterman (of the Charles & Lynn Schusterman Foundation), aka the Wizard of Oz behind ROI- took the idea one step further- by investing en masse in an entire network of individuals working on innovative initiatives. The vision of the ROI community is to increase the impact of these world-changing individuals by fostering lasting friendships within a fertile environment of idealism, communication and collaboration.

Why, might you be ask, is it important to invest in Jewish innovators? The bottom line is that Judaism in the 21st century lies at a crossroads. In both the diaspora and in Israel, many of the old structures are not meeting the needs of the community. New forms of expression have emerged that often fall on the deaf ears of mainstream establishment. There is a whole new generation of boundary pushers and explorers who are manifesting new ways to engage and searching for creative ways of connecting to their Judaism. And often these Jewish innovators are leading alone-or in serious isolation from the mainstream. The investment in the creation of a supportive and empowering network is what the ROI summit was all about.

This network was what I didn’t know I needed- a team.

I have thus returned from the 2011 ROI Summit inspired to continue the conversation of the role of Jewish innovation in South Africa. As an open minded liberal California gal- the conservatism (with a capitol C) of the kehillah, I must admit, has been more than frustrating. I’ve held back at many shabbat tables in this town from speaking up when certain ideas were questioned and certain communities of Jews were put down. As a ‘newcomer’, I had lacked the courage to go there.

What I wanted to ask at those shabbat tables was: what role do you think we can play in contributing to the larger arena of Tikkun Olam both in and outside of the Jewish community? It is a question that requires reaching out to ‘the other’ and into the deep recesses of our sacred selves towards a more compassionate and inclusive whole. And I think we all want that- just don’t know how to get there- and this is where Jewish innovation comes in.

Like in every Jewish community, the divisions run deep. Like in every century, the challenges facing the people of the book are many. I am by no means advocating to throw the baby (Torah) out with the bathwater- rather, I am driven by the belief that unless we can create an open and safe space to explore the periphery that lies just outside- we will atrophy. I know this is a much larger debate- but as it is written, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Perhaps this conversation has been here all along- we just needed to find the collective courage to go there. I hope one day the establishment of Jewish Johannesburg (JJ) will find that courage as well.

Thank you to the ROI community and to Lynn Schusterman for allowing me to reclaim mine.

Home, Just Now

Last night as I tried to get comfortable on a Turkish Airlines non-stop full-steam ahead Amsterdam-Johannesburg flight (unsuccessful) I realized that I was looking forward to going home. Home being a word of shifting connotations post-marriage. Kind of like the words ‘I’, now interchanged with ‘us’ and the term ‘me’ often becoming replaced with ‘we’.

Home all of a sudden is in Johannesburg, whereas before we tied the knot-my home was where my family lived-in Jerusalem. Wherever it was I took myself, I always knew that I would eventually make it back to the source where Mom, Dad, Eliana and Avital (my two phenomenal sisters) were waiting for me. Now, after being home with my family over the Passover holidays I was on the return component of my itinerary. I now have two homes, and they play separate but unique roles. In my Jerusalem home, the love and craziness of being a family reigns. In my Johannesburg home, I have time and space to focus on my dreams and to play in the sacred silence of the life the new ‘we’ are in the process of creating. It is all about balance.

Our time in Jerusalem was a whirlwind of holiday energy, full of depth and challenges and confronting moments. Israel has a funny way of bringing everything to the surface, like a pressure cooker full of cholent. Heavy yet rich and satisfying with a tantalizing aroma and a bit of spice. Ephraim and I spent time reconnecting with the people that are dear to us and to our own souls, reclaiming our places as Jews within a nation of living Judaism and finding our spiritual voices again.

Israel through my new Johannesburg lenses was a stark contrast between life in Jewish South Africa, where the Jews represent a small but strong minority. We realized that although the pull to return to our Jerusalem home is gaining in momentum, South Africa is currently where our now shared destiny is pulling us on an exciting path of creativity and growth. When people asked us when we are coming home to Jerusalem I smiled and thought ‘just now’ a South African term of reference which can mean anything from: ‘in a few hours’ to ‘someday soon’.

We had an amazing adventure in Amsterdam en route home. We spent the days pounding the pavements oooing and ahhing over the old Dutch architecture and the canals and the evenings enjoying the city nightlife. I have always loved Amsterdam, but this trip was the first time since moving to South Africa that I had visited and it was even more interesting than ever before. The Dutch were the first ‘whities’ to arrive in South Africa, when the Dutch East India company sailed into Cape Town in 1652 establishing a refueling stop (aka the old-school 7/11). Many employees decided to leave the company and become pioneers- coining themselves the ‘chosen people’. This started the era of the ‘great trek’ where the Dutch halutzim made their way up the country, colonizing as they went along. Afrikaans, or ‘baby Dutch’ as it is sometimes called sounds a lot like the real thing and the bits of the dialect I have managed to pick up here helped me get by in Amsterdam as I actually understood bits of small talk like hello, good morning and thank you.

Both of our journeys this trip were homecomings of sorts-back into the bastion of the modern Jewish people and a visit to Amsterdam where it all began for cross-cultural South Africa. After the royal wedding and the announcement that O.B.L had been killed the first piece of news on the radio in the cab back from the airport was a report on the days high-jacking and fast car chase shootout in Greenstone.

And then a few hours later, another story of a high-jacking shootout in Glenhazel, or the Jewish ghetto as the neighborhood is known here. And then three more stories today emerged from the ‘what we missed while we were away’ news brief, all involving police and their miserable ‘shoot to kill’ policy- three innocent people shot/beaten dead by the people sworn to protect them.

It’s taking me a bit of time to make the switch back to vigilante after a very carefree holiday, but it’s coming. I’m back in gangsters paradise behind our walls and barbed wire armed with my trustworthy night time panic button, with the faith that our angels will protect us here at the bottom of Africa. Transitioning as well out of the outward focus of our time away and turning back towards each other. I will miss waking up in the morning and leaving by foot to explore the city, running spontaneously into old friends and having unexpected adventures. Life between South Africa and the rest of the world is another kind of balance- that of being able to turn inwards again-where the greatest adventures lie.

A Post-Tsunami Check In and Love from Anne in Sendai

The traffic was horrendous this morning, made even worse by the fact that every single traffic light (or robot as they are called here) was out for a few mile radius. Being a new driver I nervously inched my way forward expecting the worst as I neared the freeway exit. Anticipating chaotic bumper car road rage and a lot of ‘hooting’ I was mesmerized by the almost graceful order of drivers who on their own initiative were being hyper consciences of every car around them. There was no one cutting each-other off, no hooting, no aggressive arm gestures or evil eyes being thrown. Even the combi taxis were driving peacefully next to me-performing no death defying road acrobatics in search of their next 7 Rand customer (thats a dollar for all you non-SAfricans and the cheapest ride in town).

I took note of this new rhythm around the city all day today. It is resonate with the general feeling that has been quietly building here and inside of me since the Tsunami in Japan and seemingly worldwide epidemic of earth-quaking. Since my last blog post I have been feeling for the first time…drumroll please..SAFE (!!!) in my new home at the Southern tip of Africa. Feeling that the ground beneath my feet is secure and ( g-d forbid, knock on wood, Om Mane Padme Om) if I am destined to have an encounter with the darkness in the form of an axe wielding human in this lifetime-hey, I can handle it!

All these earth quakes bring up strong memories for me of my childhood spent in Northern California-the San Francisco Bay Area to be exact- and one earth quake in particular. Back in 1989 it was me and the entire Temple Beth Abraham Hebrew school in the Succah, eating pizza and listening to a lady in a clown suit tell us about the etrog spaceship landing on the earth with a massive shaking of the lulavs. Or something like that. What I remember really clearly though is that at that very moment the earth starting shaking-for real-then rolling-then rattling and bumping so hard that I was paralyzed and as a young girl child realized (first deep thought of many more to come) that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop the earth from shaking. The Succah was jumping up and down having a trance party of it’s own and my wide eyes couldn’t take it anymore. I could put out a fire. Swim away from a shark. But when the earth is shaking? Only a bird was safe. I watched motionless as all the Hebrew school kids ran past me out of the succah screaming and looking for a doorway or desk to hide under (us California kids are trained well). The quake probably lasted only a few seconds or minutes but it felt like eternity and the spaceship had definitely landed as the S.F bay area had been turned into a post-Mars attack scene. People had died and there were fires burning. It was mayhem all around. When we returned to our home high in the Oakland hills later that evening, I was surprised to find our house intact- only a picture frame had fallen to the floor.

My parents explained to us that this was because while the fault line lay directly beneath us our home was build on ‘bedrock’. I made a mental note at that moment to forever live on bedrock and if the earth should ever open up again, I would make sure to reinforce my picture frames.

But seriously, back to South Africa and this newfound feeling of safety- I was surprised to discover that it was shared by a native S.A’er who encouraged me to write about it. “Isn’t it amazing” he beamed with excitement, “I have also been feeling a sense of safety like never before here in South Africa since the Tsunami.” Here in Johannesburg, we live on bedrock-the earth is solid beneath our feet and the ocean is miles away with no fault lines running through town. Our main environmental threat these days (besides ourselves) is the buildup of poisonous toxic water in the empty gold-mines beneath our feet. This water has turned into a serious issue as it is quickly reaching it’s point beyond no return line- meaning this water is about to flood our streets, poison our drinking supply and kill all the agriculture in the region. But hey- we can handle that!

Silly University of Johannesburg for cutting ties with Ben Gurion University. Guess you are not interested in Isra-alien technology of turning poison water into mayim chayim- the living waters.

I was just forwarded this email from a lady named Susan who has been circulating her cousin Anne’s email sharing of life post-tsunami in Sendai, Japan. We have all been affected by these recent events-some of us in huge ways others in more hidden recesses of self. One of my dearest friends asked if she could circulate my last posting to her email list- I said with pleasure-but then life took over and it was forgotten. She apologized for not sending it and my first thought was “don’t you worry, there will be more”. More earth quakes that is in many shapes and forms, molding us into a new species of heart centered being-ness. More news events to attempt to process, more tears to shed. Here in South Africa, it feels like our hearts are being worn on our outsides and it feels safe. How has your heart shifted post-tsunami and assorted other shakings? I look forward to hearing your heart-thoughts and the invitation to post replies is open to all!

Love, Michalya

On Mar 13, 2011, at 9:59 AM, SUSAN wrote:

From my cousin Anne in Sendai, Japan where she has lived for the past decade teaching English. Very moving!!

Hello My Lovely Family and Friends,

First I want to thank you so very much for your concern for me. I am very
Touched. I also wish to apologize for a generic message to you all. But it seems
The best way at the moment to get my message to you.

Things here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have
Wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy
Of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water,
Food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight,
Share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in
Their cars, looking at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get
Drinking water when a source is open. If someone has water running in their
Home, they put out sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.

Utterly amazingly where I am there has been no looting, no pushing in lines.
People leave their front door open, as it is safer when an earthquake strikes.
People keep saying, “Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone
Helped one another.”

Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are
Constant and helicopters pass overhead often.

We got water for a few hours in our homes last night, and now it is for half a
Day. Electricity came on this afternoon. Gas has not yet come on. But all of
This is by area. Some people have these things, others do not. No one has washed
For several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns
Than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully
On the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for
Survival, not just of me, but of the entire group.

There are strange parallel universes happening. Houses a mess in some places,
Yet then a house with futons or laundry out drying in the sun. People lining up
For water and food, and yet a few people out walking their dogs. All happening
At the same time.

Other unexpected touches of beauty are first, the silence at night. No cars. No
One out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I
Usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled. The mountains are
Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the
Sky magnificently.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check
On it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find
Food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is
There. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is
OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs
Of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no.

They tell us we can expect aftershocks, and even other major quakes, for
Another month or more. And we are getting constant tremors, rolls, shaking,
Rumbling. I am blessed in that I live in a part of Sendai that is a bit
Elevated, a bit more solid than other parts. So, so far this area is better off
Than others. Last night my friend’s husband came in from the country, bringing
Food and water. Blessed again.

Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an
Enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at
This moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I
Can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small
Because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something
Happening that much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is
Hard, and yet magnificent.

Thank you again for your care and Love of me,

With Love in return, to you all,

What is the Gematria of Tsunami?

I have no idea what the Gematria (numerical mystical value) of Tsunami is but my urge to know is to try and get my head around the seemingly inexplicable. The (some believe) ‘revealed’ codes hidden inside the body of ancient texts (Bible Codes)- beckon me with the promise of providing some understanding of WHY- not as if this knowing will make the situation any better by stopping the earth from shaking or rewinding the waves that decimated Japan and had ripple affects on the California coast and the Pacific island of Hawaii or prevent the murderers knife from slaying the throats of the Fogel family. Just as we are reeling from the intravolutions of the Middle East, the earthquake in New Zealand and from the apocalyptic images broadcasted from Japan comes this heinous news of a Jewish family murdered by terrorists in Itamar.

Sunday morning a moment of paralysis engulfed me. The buildup of news made it painful to breath. I did not know what to do with this information, this onslaught of “Oh My G-ds!”, this cascade of human sufferings upon human sufferings. I was conscious that I had become a vessel for grief and that this had almost knocked me out of my body. My husband Ephraim and I spent the rest of the day quiet at the park in separate spaces, him on a bench in the shade, me in the sun on the grass, feeling the earth beneath me re-grounding, breathing, coming back into myself and into life.

This weekend at synagogue the Rabbi spoke about the holiday of Purim, and how the mitzvah is “ad she lo yadah” “until I don’t know”. I had originally understood the mitzvah to be “consume alcoholic beverages ad she lo yadah”- until you cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman (good and evil/ light and dark) with most Purims ending up as a cornucopia of mad drunkenness with everyone passed out on the couch post-Purim seudah and gnarly hangovers the next day.

But the mitzvah of “ad she lo yadah” this year to me means “exist in a space where I don’t know” and challenges me to go above the limitations of my human mind, to try and ‘give up’ the need to know and to understand and to just accept recent events as the Universe’s divine plan (that I happen not to agree with and is the source of my ongoing existential crises). The control room seems to have quickly ascended again to a place just beyond our reach of knowing, controlling, understanding, making sense of anything. And just when we thought we were back in the game. The Hindus call this plane of existence the “Maya” or illusion. The impermanent world of form. I like to think of this earth as a kind of high-school, a temporary stopover on our infinite journeys as souls-in-body. I do not profess to know the lessons we are to learn here, but I do think we all have one lesson in common-the lesson of compassion.

Lets look back at some of the big events beginning in the year 2000. Sept 11, 2001, attack. December 2004, tsunami, August, 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Global Financial Crises, 2008. January, 2010 Earthquake, Haiti. And assorted other murders, oil spills, wars, revolutions/evolutions and -just three months into 2011-earthquakes in New Zealand, the earthquake/Tsunami combo in Japan and the gruesome, ugly and heartless murders this past Sabbath of the Fogel family, may their memories be a blessing. The bloody pictures of children’s slit throats to really make you blind with anger, hate and the inclination for a swift and speedy revenge or fantasy of a small nuclear bomb going off in the village the perpetrators made their angel of death walk back to after the attack.

In my previous blog entry I spoke about a post-apartheid post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) plaguing South Africa, allowing the frequency of fear to rule. Today I think this national PTSD is more universal. The message we are receiving in the era of globalization is that the world is a scary and dangerous place. That we are not in control! That someone else is in charge. Perhaps the PSTD we are reeling from as a planet today is a positive force, as we share this common ground. Perhaps living in such confusing times, of increasingly accelerated shiftings, is part of this divine plan to bring us even more in relationship to each other. As our realities break down, perhaps we will come closer together, and realize that we are here only temporarily, that our lives contain within them precious finite moments- where the point of life is to have our breaths taken away- not by knife but by heart-openings.

Purim is a holiday about everything being turned upside down “Nahafochu” about raising in consciousness until we touch the “Ein Sof”, the infinite G-d. It is about dressing in costume, taking off the masks we wear everyday and donning our ‘true personas’. Its about revealing ourselves to the world and submitting to the unknown. Its also about letting go of our fears and internal battles and opening our hearts to each other by passing out yummy treats. It is about celebrating the victory of light over darkness.

My mother reminded me that right before Purim in Israel-it seems for the past many years-innocent blood has been spilled and the country has entered into a collective state of mourning. “Mar Adar” as I like to call it. The month that on the Jewish calendar is the month of joy ends up turning “mar”- bitter- fast. As Israel has yet again entered into this time and again the worlds eyes are on Israel a.k.a “The Eye of the Storm”, perhaps these eyes are looking towards us for understanding on how to heal, how to be compassionate, how to come together and comfort each other and become a light force stronger than any darkness in one of our yet another darkest moments as a nation. May the souls of the Fogel family bless us in this process, may their memory be a blessing.

Am Yisrael, Chai, Purim Sameach and oh-does anyone know the gematria of tsunami?

Bono, the Rebbe of ONE LOVE

It’s 2011 and it’s been 17 years since apartheid ended. Bono rocked the FNB stadium the other night and we were privileged to be a part of the largest concert in the history of South Africa. Every radio station was talking about the concert, almost as if it was the most exciting thing since sliced cheese. We drove into ‘town’ and parked at park station squishing into the shuttle trains like sardines, me having past life WWII flashbacks as I struggled to find a bit of air through a crack in the train window amidst squealing and sweaty fans.

We were surprised to note the mostly (I’d say 99.9%) white crowd of almost 100,000 people who were streaming into the stadium. Ephraim asked me why I thought that was-I said socioeconomic factors-obviously the majority black population of SA are not able to afford the steep price of concert tickets. Ephraim argued that it must be the cultural factor–U2 has obviously not succeeded in attracting black Africans to their fan base and then, right before the opening band started playing what looked like a token group of around 20 blacks were brought into the VIP “Red Section” and the stadium erupted in cheering.

While the rest of the world romanticizes South Africa as the nation that successfully made the non-violent transition to democracy, initiating a new era for its people, the harsh reality is that it is not all rainbows in the rainbow nation. South Africa has been rated today by the United Nations as the country with the largest gap between rich and poor. Other macro issues such as and HIV-AIDS pandemic, lack of ethical leadership, greed, corruption and civil unrest around service delivery related issues are just a few problems plaguing this new democracy.

Bono gets the dream and used his mega concert to celebrate South Africans and remind them by mirroring their present day reality: “Don’t forget where you came from and where you are going; Mandela, love, peace, democracy, change, Desmond Tutu, look: it’s Hugh Masekela and me up on stage together”. Bono loves South Africa and his heart strings were pouring out to us as he belted out hits like “With or Without You” and paying homage to the revolution in Egypt during “Sunday Bloody Sunday”. But what got me was the message of his song “One”. I realized my soul had been craving to be reminded of this truth, that we are all one, that we have one life, and that we are in this together, we must remember to love each other and not build electric fences around our hearts.

I decided that Bono is my new Rebbe (spiritual teacher and guide), and I’ve sure been needing a Rebbe in this town. Bono’s message of ‘One Love’ was a refreshing contrast to some of the messages I have been receiving from Jewish Johannesburg (JJ)–the message of “one love, but only if you walk this way”. The notion of “70 Panim l’Torah”, (70 faces of the Torah) has been unfortunately edited to mean “just one” where expressions of Jewish diversity are not met with acceptance from the klal (entirety) of Israel. The JJ community suffers in this way from many of the issues plaguing much of the Jewish world today: a cacophony of internal politics and a general lack of tolerance to diversities of mind, soulful expressions and authentic voices.

JJ is also a community that has very little to do with their black neighbors, although they would argue differently and say that they know about ‘the other’ through contact with their maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, butlers and other assorted all-black staff members. The truth is that JJ is not unique in that sense as most South African’s take their own color lines very seriously. Rarely do communities mingle- blacks stick together as do coloreds and Indians, whites of English descent and Afrikaners, Jews, Christians and Muslims. Separate but equal. Sort of but not really. The legacies of apartheid are many.

JJ is also divided around the future of South Africa, with some flag waving patriots hopeful and positive about what is to come and excited to make a contribution and others extremely negative especially when conversations turn towards Julius Malema, a particularly problematic leader of the ruling ANC’s Youth League.

In our home we have electric fences and spikes along the parameters, burglar bars on every window and door and two panic buttons that can alert our paramilitary team, ex-militia men from assorted African countries to come to our rescue with bulging biceps and machine guns in case of a -God forbid-home invasion. It was actually quite surreal when three of these militia men and their guns suddenly stormed up our driveway while our in-laws were getting out of their car for a visit. “Sorry,” my husband grinned sheepishly, “we must have set the panic button off by mistake”.

There is indeed reason for being vigilant and hyper aware, as violent crime has an unfortunate and traumatic legacy in this place. But the FEAR factor is truly monstrous and as a newcomer it took me four months when I first arrived to get up the courage to walk alone through the park outside our flat. It was a WOW moment when I arrived home safe and sound, cheeks pink from being outside and thumb and forefinger numb and tingling after pressing down hard on my little bottle of pepper spray (just in case).

The problem with FEAR is that IT CLOSES HEARTS. I have found greater Johannesburg to be a place where hearts are surrounded by walls and crisscrossed by electric fences. Where most probably everyone suffers from some form of post-apartheid- PTSD. Where the Yiddish saying that if you “think good it will be good” rules but the message of ‘one love’ has been lost along the way, somewhere between the end of apartheid and the ANC turning into a party of sour grapes.

“How can I love the ‘other’ if he might shoot me in the head for a cellphone?” That’s the challenge of Johannesburg folks, and even more so, “How can I love the Jew that does not “walk the line?” Only if I can “mekarev” “bring him closer” to my way, for it is the highway.”

So Jewish Johannesburg it is a little behind, right along with the rest of the country. But you got to love this fascinating exilic Jewish community that knows how to take care of it’s own at the very bottom of Africa and does so really well. Now that Bono has come to town I’m re-inspired by his message of ONE. I intend to hold that message high while I am living here, and bring a more Carlebachian energy to my fellow Israelites and SA’ers.

I once asked my friend and mentor, the fabulous and fantastic Reb Mimi Feigelson, “If we all have our own personal Egypt (closed narrow straights) what would Gods Egypt be?” She didn’t even hesitate when she replied, “The closed human heart”.

It is time that we open our hearts to each other in the rainbow nation in an attempt to bridge the divides. A new future is beckoning.

Thank you Reb Bono, Reb Mimi and Reb Shlomo xx

F alse
E xpectations
A ppearing
R eal

Frequency Shifting: Madiba, Mubarak and Cape Town Weddings

Just back from an incredible wedding weekend in outrageous Cape Town. There is something truly otherworldly, as my husband Ephraim likes to say, about a city on the sea with a backdrop of majestic mountains behind. The geographical wonder of this dramatic contrast itself is more than breathtaking and it is almost as if I just can’t get enough: the sea, the air, the sun, the misty mountain mornings.

When I first arrived in South Africa I asked Ephraim where people go to convene with the divine, as Jewish synagogues particularly felt cold and unwelcoming in Johannesburg. No incense burning temples around every corner like in Kathmandu or orange-clad Tibetian monks wandering around Dharamshala to get your spiritual grooves on nor anything akin to the energy of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall.

I just couldn’t figure out how to connect, through which space and in what place. Ephraim told me that in South Africa, I would have to learn to connect to sacred space and mind through encounters with nature. It was an interesting idea at the time, but was still a foreign fantasy to this city girl.

My new life in the concrete compound called Joburg was daunting as I did not have a drivers license and with no public transportation to fall back on (they are working on it) I often felt stuck, like a caged bird with severely clipped and shorn wings.  I was a forlorn “poor me” newlywed, a bride with smeared mascara, no shoes and a broken crown. With friends and family far away and it was indeed a  time of “crash landing initiation”. I found myself 6 days after a higher-than-high wedding in Jerusalem on the lowest wrung of Johannesburgian despair. It took me a year and some to come out the other side of the eye of the needle. To loose myself in order to rediscover the divine “SHE” in me. But more on that later.

The universe seems to have a funny way of leading me sometimes. It all did feel like a great cosmic joke at the time, like “Hey Michalya, we think it would be a great idea to drop you in a South African shark infested sea and see if you can swim!” But it wasn’t funny and most usually not fun at all. Instead of swimming I sank. Luckily just when I was about to hit the bottom I started to remember how to do the butterfly.

Cape Town has been a part of my healing. At a festival this weekend a wise new friend told me that table mountain used to be called “the place where god dwells” and that the spirits still pray and gather there. Indeed, I discovered that I was able to realign with my higher self high up there in the sky. Every opportunity I have to go to Cape Town I jump and this weekend proved again opportune. Although I did not make it up to table mountain this trip, I re-encountered the Shechina, this time at a wedding.

I shared with Shifra and Ben Getz, the bride and groom, that a testament to a good wedding is that we fall deeper in love with eachother and our partners, riding on the energy they generated together from beneath the chuppah. The beautiful setting, the good vibrations and dancing under the stars was a taste of the world to come, and I cherished and am grateful for every moment.

Rumors started flying that Nelson Mandela had died towards the end of the wedding. No one really knew what to do with this information except to uncomfortably contain it. The next morning we found out the rumor was false and that “Madiba” was in the hospital. The rumor of Mandela’s demise however had seen a drop in the South African stock market and a reshuffle of foreign investment. We all marveled at this great being’s ability to hold a certain frequency for South Africa, and wondered what is to come for this country once Mandela has passed on. His departure will leave a great void for Africa and the entire world.

The power of one.

That same day the uprising in Egypt began. We spent the day at a trance party and the drive back glued to our blackberry’s for news. Again, a frequency shift, this time initiated not by a rumored death but rather that of a nation demanding reform.

What is the parallel here that I see?

Both Mandela and Mubarak have been holding a certain frequency for almost the same period of time. One leader in North Africa manifested himself as a modern day Pharaoh, his people slaves to a suffocating regime. The other leader manifested himself in South Africa as THE present day Moses, liberating his people from slavery and initiating a new era for the entire world.

Madiba and Mubarak, present day archetypal masters of darkness and light: one chose the archetype of Pharaoh and the other chose the archetype of Moses. One embraced the mantra of “let my people go” and the other the path of a closed heart. Both are on the way out. Space is being created, shifting is occurring, ‘herstory’ is in the making.

But where does that leave us?

Between the pyramids and table mountain, “the place where god dwells.”  Blessings that we recognize that we have the power to choose what kind of leader we are being and to learn from the leadership examples that are shifting in and out of focus around us. May we keep our hearts open, choose to be carriers of the light and embrace and support each other through all these holy shiftings.

The power of one is that we are one. We are in this together!

Chapter 2011: South Africa

‘Siyabonga’ means thank you in Zulu. In post apartheid South Africa, a ‘siyabonga gakulu’ coming from a ‘whitie’ at the checkout counter of the local supermarket earns you a wide-eyed and earnest smile from the (black) teller and perhaps a giggle. It always brightens my day, this nano-attempt to bridge the invisible color/culture divide still alive and kicking in the rainbow nation.

Siyabonga was the first word in Zulu I learned and it is a testament to this new chapter of my life called South Africa–the most challenging place I have ever attempted to call home–but also the place I am growing in the most. I thank you Africa for allowing me to plant a new seed in your earth and to this red earth a.k.a “Mama Afrika” for allowing me to take root.

Rainbow nation was a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa after the first democratic election in 1994.

I have decided to create a blog to honor my current challenges, musings and transformations. Every single one of my identities (I’m a Gemini so I have many) has been confronted by this new place: I am a soul-seeking Jerusalemite in exilic Johannesburg, a liberal California girl in the twilight zone of a country attempting to  make the shift towards a radical new equal opportunity and open society, a sophisticated New Yorker excited by the trends of social entrepreneurship and social change at the grassroots level and a Jewish woman who has found herself in the midst of a Jewish community that from a sociological perspective is a ghetto–both physically and in its collective intellectual and spiritual evolution (in my humble feminist opinion).
What I have discovered is that fascinating South Africa, a country cut-off from the rest of the world during the era of Apartheid, has a lot of catching up to do in many areas, across many communities and regarding certain mindsets that do not serve the good. I look forward to being a part of her transformation as I undergo my own entering into my second year living here and share with you in the journey. Siyabonga Gakulu!

“Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” -Nelson Mandela