By Beverley Price, November 2018
For my generation, Jewish pride and Zionist identity was a fait accompli.
Despite Apartheid, there was minimal Antisemitism and a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards Jews. This is not the case today in South Africa nor internationally. ON the one hand, if one is an Orthodox Jew, the connection to Israel is inextricable because many mitzvoth are contingent on the land of Israel. However we 21st Century Jews are challenged by the distortions of BDS, perversions of the United Nations resolutions and growing antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism.
These ideas have been wedged into our thinking.
There is no guarantee that at the end of the 21st century our young people of today will love Israel.
This is where the JNF (Jewish National Fund) can help play a vital role in helping to form a bridge between Israel and diaspora communities as it makes it possible to have direct engagement with Israel through our land, water and tree projects.
The JNF has been present in South Africa since 1901, since its establishment at the 5th Zionist congress in Basel and is 47 years older than the State.
The JNF are dedicated to education and have projects that teach Jewish children how to engage with Israel.
In July 2017 I was delighted to be appointed as Education Officer for the JNF in Johannesburg. I work with the Jewish nursery schools teaching about the Jewish National Fund’s activities. The target age range is 3-6 year olds. In 2019 I will work with the junior-primary and primary schools.
One of the highlights is the activities we have in place for Tu’Bishvat, the birthday of the trees. Last year ecologist and activist, Dr Jeunesse Park, as well as Benji Shulman, past JNF Deputy Director and seasoned geographer, spoke to the Jewish high school students and eco clubs about the JNF projects in South Africa and in Israel.
It is so important to teach little children how to have an appreciation of the land and the hard work of the early pioneers who built infrastructure before the State of Israel was formally declared. The “green” and thriving Israel as we know it today was once a barren wilderness. Fast forward to today; the JNF in now looks after the country’s ecology as an elder custodian enjoying the role of ‘a gentle loving gardener’.
Most of us grew up with the iconic little blue box in our homes and knew that the coins we faithfully deposited went towards buying tress in Israel. I remember our Blue Box lady in Observatory, Johannesburg who would come and collect the boxes when full. I also remember filling many money-cards with coins to hand in at King David School to buy trees. My late Polish-Jewish immigrant grandparents had a JNF Golden Book of Honour certificate in their lounge and so the JNF has become a major part of my life.
I could not be more delighted to be an education officer for the JNF and wanted to try and find a way to bring the iconic blue box into the lives of our children. With this in mind, I devised “The Blue Box” game.
The late psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory says that human development is shaped by the interaction between an individual and his/ her environment– including parents, friends, culture and nationwide cultural forces. I felt that this theory was perfect for my JNF ‘tree-water-earth’ programme.
Putting theory into practice:
The children have the opportunity to express themselves creatively while falling in love with Israel.
I start by laying a large map of Israel on the floor. The children sit around the map. I place a large cardboard Blue Box at the head of the map and each child gets a large colour-coded coin representing the 3 elements of the Keren Kayemet – JNF’s projects – blue, green, brown.
The intention of the Blue Box game is to teach concepts including chessed (kindness and generosity), looking after things outside of yourself, tsedakah (giving money to charity), that it is possible to help a country even though you are so far away. They also learn the importance of looking after small things and are shown pictures of cities in Israel and our JNF projects related to water, earth and trees. I explain how giving money in South Africa to a Blue Box can reach Israelis and that there are people there who go out and buy the trees for us, treat the water and bring it back to the desert for growing. I compare the lushness of South Africa with the barrenness of Israel and its lack of natural resources. I bring in the notions of miracle, kadosh (holiness) and that Hashem looks after the land and brings rain even though it is a desert region. We speak about what it means to look after something that you love. (“What do you love at home – who loves you?”). During the course of the game each child inserts their big coin into the big Blue Box – a special tsedakah box. “Why is it Blue? Is blue a Jewish colour?”
I teach reciprocal gratitude – hakarat hatov – that we like to thank the Israeli people at the JNF for looking after Israel for us, and that they thank our South African Jewish children for being so kind and for staying connected to the land, water and trees of Israel by sending our donations via the Blue Box.
Sometimes our names are written into big books in Jerusalem for eternity (the KKL Honour Books). Our chessed is connected with their chessed – the devoted people at the JNF look after the land, water and trees on behalf of us while we are so far away. They do this because they care for us and know it is our Jewish homeland too and so important to us. Even though our real homes are in South Africa, Israel is our special home because we are Jews.
Finally each child gets to put a real coin into a small Blue Box which remains in the classroom for them to sustain what we have learned.
In the end we are all involved in teaching our Jewish children about one more entity to love: Israel – and in so doing to love themselves and their Jewish identity, more.
Beverley Price. First generation Jewish South African of Polish and Lithuanian descent, grew up during apartheid, educated at King David School, Linksfield and Wits University ( Speech Therapy). Made Aliyah in 1983 to Kibbutz Alonim ( Tivon) , moved to Jerusalem. Studied our religion at Pardes and Yediat Ha’aretz at Kfar Etzion. Worked at Shaarei Tseddek hospital in Cleft Palate unit (speech therapy) and Language unit with Arab-Israeli children. Worked with Mickey Blumberg IUA ( Magbit Drom Afrika) for Ofaqim. Studied Jewellery design (hasavat miktsoah) at the Kuzari Centre in Shchunat Habucharin, Jerusalem. Moved to London to further Jewellery studies. Worked as Speech Therapist in Golders Green Jewish Home ( Rela Goldhill Lodge). Organised and led trip to Israel for 7 residents with disabilities. Returned to live in Israel, shared jewellery studio for 2 years in Jerusalem, returned to post-apartheid South Africa in 1995. Lived in Ixopo, rural KZN for 3 years, (Had my jewellery studio there and learned to speak Zulu) , returned to Johannesburg – post graduate fine arts degree at Wits with distinction, began working as sculptor and developing my successful picture-jewellery range, large work exhibited and collected locally and internationally . Looked after my late mother for 4 years. Honorary appointment by American jewellery association – ArtJewelryForum- as their ambassador for contemporary jewellery in South Africa. Began working for JNF in July 2017 as Education Officer in part time capacity.