Inside South Africa: Connected Through Diversity

posted April 5, 2024 by Allan Dobros, Marion Lemesh Fellowship Recipient

I had read about South Africa’s interesting but complicated history and met great people from the South African Jewish community, so I felt that I really wanted to experience this place myself. You can imagine how excited I was to hear that I was selected to travel with JDC Entwine as a Marion Lemesh Fellow!

This was my first trip with JDC Entwine so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew already before the trip that JDC supports my local Jewish community in Estonia and does the same in many other countries. But I was really surprised to learn about the efforts that JDC puts into helping people outside of Jewish communities. We got to learn about the urban farming project in one of the oldest townships of Cape Town and hear about the bee keeping project, both aimed at local women who want to be more independent and support their families. I understood the approach of JDC to provide the means for local communities to support themselves. People do not just want to be helped: they want to have the chance to help themselves. There are millions of people in need in this country so I hope that these projects, although small in numbers, can be a catalyst of change and give hope to other people not directly involved. The saying goes: when other people are doing well, then the Jewish people are doing well.

I had strong emotions during our visits to the museums: the District Six museum described how many South Africans had to pack up their life in a suitcase and leave their home in a matter of hours. That is something that my family has also experienced during the occupations of two evil regimes. 
The Jewish Museum was also very fascinating, and I was surprised to learn that most of the South African Jews came from Lithuania which is close to my roots. Think about the courage of these people to choose the farthest part of the world and venture into the unknown. It was very interesting to read that the Jews played a big part in the founding of South Africa’s biggest city of Johannesburg, or how it was sometimes called back then – Jewburg. 
These are just some of the things that make the South African Jewish community so unique. The current community is under pressure from emigration, but I hope it can withstand it and continue their amazing story.

I am glad that my memory of South Africa is not about the Apartheid but the rich cultures of the different people making up the Rainbow Nation. I will remember the sound of the Xhosa language and the feeling of Ubuntu – being connected with others through humanity. On our last day we visited the harsh coastline at the Cape of Good Hope and this name to me is very symbolic of the country itself. South Africa is a beautiful place with a lot of challenges, but the people are resilient and will sail through the rocks. 

I am very grateful to be selected for the Marion Lemesh Fellowship and thankful to JDC Entwine and their local partners for this truly impactful trip. I hope that many other young Jewish professionals will get a chance to visit this incredible country and experience it the same way as I did.

The Marion Lemesh Fellowship, endowed in memory of Marion Lemesh z”l, is designed to strengthen links between communities around the world by providing young adults the experience to travel, learn, and explore the world in an impactful and meaningful way.