Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Zimbabwe expats use reunion to plead cause of Jews peers

A reunion of 281 Zimbabwean expatriates living in Israel was held in Ra'anana last week to raise funds and awareness as to the precariousness of the situation in their former country. Ironically, the number represented more Zimbabwean Jews than in all of Zimbabwe today.

Dave Bloom, vice chairman of Telfed, the South-African Zionist Federation that also represents Zimbabwe, and himself a native of then Rhodesia (Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe in 1980 when Robert Mugabe became president), spoke to the crowd about a community in a "battle to maintain themselves in a country that's all but collapsed economically and politically."

He announced that $300,000 had been raised through the Joint Distribution Committee, World Jewish Relief and Chai South Africa, but that more was needed.

The African Jewish Congress (AJC) in Johannesburg has been at the forefront of these efforts and coordinates sending supplies and provisions by truck over the border.

Funds raised have gone towards buying generators and community upkeep, but mostly they are going towards buying food and basic provisions, like medicine, that are becoming increasingly scarce in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. However, a community member noted the cost of kosher meat and the ability of getting a kosher butcher from South Africa has made it increasingly rare in the recent past.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the AJC's spiritual leader and coordinator of its Zimbabwe efforts, explained the biggest concern was to ensure that the members of the Jewish community, and the people that work for them in their homes, are taken care of "in a manner that is respectful and sustainable." Asked if he was confident the AJC could meet this concern amid the current period of turmoil and uncertainty, he answered, "Absolutely."

Silberhaft noted, however, that raising money is becoming the biggest obstacle. "The demands on us are increasing on a weekly basis," he said.

Paul Hammer, who left Zimbabwe five years ago with his four daughters, explained at the reunion that it was the inability to obtain that quality of life and services that the AJC is trying to maintain that proved the tipping point in persuading him to say goodbye to the land of his childhood.

His daughters were not getting the quality of education or health care he felt appropriate, and blamed the country's failing economy. "All the professionals fled from the hyperinflation," he noted.

Still in touch with a few Jewish friends who have remained behind, Hammer calls the situation in Zimbabwe today "a disaster." Bloom explained those hardest hit were individuals, Jewish or other, living on fixed incomes.

"They are trapped by the fact that their money has disappeared," he said.

"But we live in hope," said Hammer, trying to sound upbeat that the present hardships would pass one day and that individuals and families still in Zimbabwe, Jewish or not, would overcome the present catastrophe.

However, he, along with Bloom said they did not feel the situation would change in the foreseeable future, economically or politically.

"I would be surprised if there would ever be any resuscitation of the community over there," said Bloom.

However, a community resident who plans to stay in Zimbabwe unless things become completely unbearable believes the backbone of a future community will be made up of mostly former Israelis who go to work temporarily in agriculture. "It won't be as when people lived their lives here," he said, "but there will be Jews." (JPOST)

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