This week I received a letter suspending me from the SAJBD – this, just a few hours before a scheduled meeting of the board – I serve on the SAJBD and am also Chairman of the board of SACRED. SACRED and SAJBD have a long history on the subject of discrimination against women. Below is my side of the unfolding story:
Going back in time to 2013; at this time I was not serving on either board when this issue came to light, I was made aware of what I understood to be the last written communication between the two boards – SAJBD’s explicit refusal to compromise on the issue. Moving to present time, from the time I realised that legal proceedings were unavoidable, I attempted to schedule a meeting with Wendy Kahn and Charisse Zeifert (calling well in advance, and explaining the purposes of my requested meeting) which was primarily to keep the channels of communication open, as well as offer to excuse myself from the table, should the (legal) subject be on the board’s agenda for discussion etc. I was informed only an hour before this scheduled meeting that they were cancelling it, and thereafter I received a letter suspending me.
With respect to being “repeatedly invited to attend meetings of the SAJBD,” for over a year as “a guest…” that is certainly far from my understanding of the word “co-opted” onto a committee, though I admit that English is my 3rd language – so perhaps I am naive. Yes, they called my boss (Desmond Sweke) and asked that he replace me – he refused . I have letters of support from all over the world as well as from across the denominational spectrum, and right to the top of the WUPJ, there is naturally outspoken support.
SACREDs name; “South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity” speaks directly to its purpose, we have amongst other things; monthly evenings of interest, many of these inter-faith, often invite guest speakers, this month it was radio and TV personality Najma Khota. We try as an organisation to deepen our understanding of many faiths, the difficulties people face within their faiths etc. and yes, if we observe blatant discrimination, then we speak up, try to engage with whomever we need to, or as a last resort we can approach the HRC or the courts etc.
Specifically here this (discrimination) includes the ban imposed by the SAJBD on women singing at Yom Hashoah. This decision is based in principle and is, in no sense, personal. I am therefore deeply unhappy at the manner in which this matter has become personalized against me, rather than focusing on the key issues involved which are of great importance to the manner in which the SAJBD operates and its commitment to constitutional values – and equality in particular. In essence there was never a need to take such drastic action as “suspending me from the board,” they could have simply been open to talking, listened to what I had to say, and requested that I excuse myself if the matter was on the agenda, but perhaps it is I who does not understand their agenda? In conclusion the SAJBD is a secular organisation, organising a secular memorial to a secular tragedy, which tragedy stands for all of time as a warning against the evils of discrimination IN ANY FORM! Then it goes on to implement a policy that excludes half of the people it is supposed to represent from full participation. The “justification” – supposedly to “be more inclusive!” This policy of exclusion, now entering its 11th year, in my opinion should be completely unacceptable to any thinking Jew worthy of the name. To make our policy perfectly clear: SACRED respects and defends Orthodox practises, in Orthodox settings. Our interest has, and always will – stop at the Synagogue door. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Julia Margolis