• Capetown, South Africa. The Jewish communities in Johannesburg, Capetown, and Durban are home to more than 61,000 Jews.

    Photo: Marlin Jackson/Unsplash
  • Students from the King David School in Johannesburg prepare for an assembly.

    , The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
  • Jewish Agency CEO & Director General Alan Hoffmann meets with high school students from the King David School.

    , The Jewish Agency for Israel ©
Inside the Jewish Agency

From the Field

Strengthening the Jewish Story in South Africa

By Alan Hoffmann, CEO & Director General, The Jewish Agency for Israel

We are in a period of transitions and new beginnings for the Jewish people and The Jewish Agency. Last month I had the pleasure of returning to my native South Africa to accompany our new Israeli emissary there, Liat Haran. She is taking the place of Aviad Sela, who returned home to Israel after four years of service. While in South Africa, I also had the privilege to visit the Jewish communities in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.>
At a time when a leader of one of South Africa's largest political parties has made baseless comments accusing Jews of training his political adversaries to murder members of his party, The Jewish Agency for Israel is working to strengthen Jewish connection in the country. 

South African Jews are feeling the effects of antisemitism and rising crime rates. And the decline of the South African rand has also made life more difficult for South Africa's Jewish community. 

Together these communities total more than 61,000 Jews, and they are enthusiastically Zionist. I was proud to see The Jewish Agency’s role in actively encouraging Israel engagement and Aliyah in all three of those cities.

While in Johannesburg, I visited the King David school, where I met with students and teachers. It was a great sight to see how, despite the challenges, these children were able to go to school feeling secure and empowered as Jews and as friends of Israel.

In recent years our Security Assistance Fund has installed cameras in the King David School and fences around Jewish summer camps in South Africa. The program also fortified synagogue and community center exteriors around the country, and increased training for security officers who guard Jewish institutions.

It was inspiring also to witness how The Jewish Agency is engaging in informal Jewish education through our many Youth Movement and Service Year Shlichim (Israeli emissaries) in South Africa. The Youth Movements benefit from high South African enrollment in our Machon leadership program in Israel for youth movement counselors. And our Jewish Agency Israel Fellow posted in Cape Town is working to confront the rampant delegitimization of Israel on college campuses in the area. 

The Jewish community in South Africa is deeply connected to Israel. South Africa's Jewish community is partnered with the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh and the Mateh Yehudah region in central Israel. This partnership is made possible through our Partnership2Gether platform. The program builds a living bridge between the community and Israel through face to face meetings, exchanges,  twinned schools, and joint trips to Poland and Israel.

There has been a dramatic increase in Aliyah from South Africa. Last year, more than 330 people from South Africa chose to make Israel their home, the highest number of immigrants to Israel from South Africa in nine years.

When I visited Durban, I met with The Jewish Agency's volunteers at our Project TEN center. Here, young-adult Jews from Israel and around the world help communities in distress. My trip to Project TEN in Durban renewed my conviction that the global reach of The Jewish Agency and the passion of the young participants of our programs, work best when local Jewish communities also invest their energy, skills and resources to bring our efforts to fruition.
The work we're doing together with the community in South Africa makes me proud, both as the head of The Jewish Agency, and also as an ex-South African. I thank all the community leaders of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who hosted me with warmth and with a mutual commitment to strengthen the Jewish story.

17 Sep 2018 / 8 Tishrei 5779 0
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