Rabbi Margaret Holub Explores Life During and After Apartheid

Jsmalltown jews4My dear friend and colleague Rabbi Margaret Holub (who recently joined me as co-chair of the JVP Rabbinical Council) has just traveled to South Africa to spend the next six weeks in Cape Town. It’s her second sojourn there and in addition to reconnecting with old friends, she’ll be spending her time interviewing clergy in the Dutch Reformed Church about their life during and after the fall of apartheid.

The DRC is the Afrikaans-speaking church which was famous – or notorious – for more or less inventing apartheid and upholding it all the way through to its end in the 1990s.  The Church has come a long way since then – their leaders recanted the doctrine of apartheid, appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to publicly ask forgiveness and have made moves to integrate their churches.

As a self-described rabbi “edging into the world of organizing about ending Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” Margaret is particularly interested in learning more about the experience of white South African clergy:

What was it like, I wonder, for the rest of them as the world’s banks and universities and entertainers boycotted South Africa, as other churches condemned and isolated the DRC?  What was it like as it became clear that white rule and the separation of the races were going to end?  Did they feel cornered?  Did these ministers have misgivings about their church’s teachings?  Did they  feel like they had to defend them even so?  Were their certain messages that penetrated their defenses?  What would they say to rabbis today, twenty years after apartheid ended, about being on the wrong side of history?  Maybe, with all this hindsight, they’d even have some advice…  I really don’t know, but I look forward to asking.

The quote above came from Margaret’s blog, “Summer in Winter,” in which she promises to faithfully chronicle her experiences on this amazing trip. I plan to follow her adventures faithfully and recommend that you do too!

2 thoughts on “Rabbi Margaret Holub Explores Life During and After Apartheid

  1. Gail Nestel

    Rabbi, I have been following your blog and I share your views on Palestinian self determination; but since I am writing my thesis on Diaspora Jews and Palestinians, here is one problem with the Israeli Apartheid narrative. It forgets that the Arab leaders never wanted an Israel in the first place. It forgets that Nelson Mandela only initially thought of a South Africa without Whites, unlike Hamas or Hezballah or Egypt or Iran has done toward Jews or Israel. In turn, Jews have convinced themselves that Palestinians are Arabs and all Arabs are enemies. The state paints Iran with the same cultural brush. We must educated ourselves and others differently…but to use the word apartheid or to research it in order to apply it to the Israel/Palestine conflict, is to compare our Jewish history in the Arab world, to the history of White South Africa…and our histories or the reasons we live there are rooted in exile, history and original homeland. That the evolution of Zionism has oppressed the Palestinians is because Palestinian leadership has in turn preached and acted against us. There are no innocent hands here and all in the entire region, including Israel are accountable. That said, one very important point as I spoke with Palestinians in my research is that while in exile from Palestine, they were often denied full citizenship elsewhere in the middle-east and treated like second class citizens at best- all the while pointing fingers at Israel for every ill. Now Hamas is considering a two state solution:.www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/report-meshal-says-hamas-accepts-a-two-state-solution.premium-1.500390

    Will this finally work or will the situation default to this?:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/world/middleeast/egypts-leader-morsi-made-anti-jewish-slurs.html

    In my view, the Israeli State and the Arab World do not know how to live together in mutual respect but Israel has also responded to the trauma of never being accepted and yes the state has reacted with some of the same violence its members have experienced in Europe…a very different experience than White South Africans. I urge you and your colleagues to find a different term than Apartheid to describe this mess, and different solutions because the history and development of our conflicts are entirely different and allows for essentialization and stereotypes where anyone can join the anti-apartheid bandwagon without knowing their history. It is also important to note that Apartheid is over for the few. There is still a huge divide in opportunity between most whites and blacks so I hesitate when it is characterized as a paradise we can learn from. As frustrated as I am with Israeli treatment of ordinary Palestinians, I think that under BDS, Israelis will feel attacked once more and make it worse for Palestinians. In turn, Israel will also suffer. On both points, I hope I am wrong.


    Gail Nestel
    Victoria, BC, Canada


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