By Martine Alperstein
A few days ago I had a really lovely zoom call with Nomvuyo, known by most as Nhonho (pronounced Nono). Nhonho is a very dedicated and pious Christian, and Zionist. Her love for Israel and the Jewish people is incredible. It was a lovely conversation, and hopefully the first of many.
I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa right in the middle of the apartheid era.
We were a regular middle class traditional Jewish family and we had (what in those days was called) a maid. Her name is Nomalizo Priscilla Zonke, Mama Zonke to her church, but we called her Priscilla. Priscilla had a husband, Elliot, one son, Theophelus and three daughters – Sylvia, Cynthia and Henrietta.
When I was about 11, Priscilla came to tell us that she was leaving. She had decided to go back upcountry to the Ciskei, to build a house in the village where she came from. I was heartbroken. Literally sobbed for weeks.
We lost touch for a few years. We had no way to keep in touch while she was in the Ciskei.
And then one day about five years later, Priscilla got in touch with my Mom. I don’t remember the details but she came back to help us three days a week. I was ecstatic. It was during this time that I really got to know Priscilla. We would talk for hours, and hours. She taught me so much. She was super smart, super intuitive and super forward thinking. Her religion and her G-d meant everything to her. As did her family. She was super proud of her daughters, and of her grandchildren. Her son, unfortunately, passed away young from an illness. And she loved and adored me as much as I did her. She named me NOMSA.
Twenty-three years ago I made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel). My parents joined me just under three years later and my brothers both moved to Johannesburg. Priscilla and I kept in touch over the years. I would call her every few months. When I got married, she travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg to celebrate with us. She was my 2nd mother.
And then one day, her phone number was out of order. I kept trying to call her but to no avail! Eventually, one day about three years later, the phone rang and someone answered. I was super excited only to be told that I had called the number of a shop. The number I had was no longer hers! I kept trying every phone number that I had. No luck.
Fast forward a few years to April 2020.
I see a DM in my messenger inbox from someone named Thandi Hlobo. I had no clue who it was and normally I would just delete the message without reading it, assuming it was spam.
But something made me read the message and jumped up shrieking with excitement.
I knew Thandi Hlobo. I knew her well.
I knew her as Sylvia Zonke, Priscilla’s oldest daughter. Priscilla had moved in with her during the lockdown and they were chatting about us. Thandi decided to look for me on Facebook, found me and sent me a message. We quickly moved to WhatsApp messenger and video calls. Thank G-d Priscilla is doing well and keeping safe and healthy. I have since also connected with two of Priscilla’s grandchildren who I knew as little kids.
Thandi and I started talking a lot. She is religious. She is pious. And she is an ardent Zionist. We have had some very interesting conversations. Thandi recently reached out to me, telling me that her friend Nhonho would like to connect with me, and asked if it would be okay to give her my number. Nhonho got in touch and we arranged a time to talk over zoom. And talk we did.
Nhonho wants to start the conversation. She just wants to talk. We have to start somewhere and with what we have. The bridges will be built slowly. We have set up a weekly call, which I am already looking forward to. Respectful dialogue to learn from each other, to discuss differences and similarities, to learn to trust. Nhonho is a Black African Christian Zionist and I am a White ex South African Israeli Religious Jew. We can only start small with us.
But as we all know the power of a butterfly’s wings, maybe us will be enough.
About the writer:
Martine Maron Alperstein made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.
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