Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 19, 2012 Our first stay in Cape Town is over and we are heading to Kruger National Park for the 1st of our 2 safaris. There was so much to see and experience. Given it was only 5 days and we just scratched the surface I am overwhelmed by what we saw and how much we did. Two experiences stand out for me because of their contrast. Before we left there were 2 things that I absolutely wanted to do. Go to the Cape of Good Hope and visit Robben Island. The Cape of Good Hope will have to wait until we return to Cape Town next week. For those who don't know, Robben Island is the prison island and facillity that, in its last incarnation, held the anti-Apartheid activists including Nelson Mandela. He was imprisoned there for all but the last 2 years before he was released and peacefully led South Africans to equality and freedom. As one might imagine, Robben Island is a bleak place and yet after our tour we left with a sense of hope that chains can be riven and oppression can come to an end. Both our guides had been imprisoned on the Island and now they live and work there to preserve and teach the legacy and lessons. In many ways it reminded me of going to Yad VaShem in Israel. Their missions seem quite simmilar. On a personal level, being on Robben Island reinforced my commitment to ending oprression in my communities and whereever it still exists. Since we will be on Safari on Shabbat, 5 of the 6 of us decided to visit the Jewish Museum. The museum is in the old Orthodox synagogue plus a beautiful addition. While the exhibits depicting the history of the South African Jewish Community were interesting, there was a part of the exhibit that both inspired and depressed me. During the apartheid years I was always taught that the mid-20th Century Jewish community, for the most part, had sided with those fighting to end apartheid and the museum had a wonderful exhibit emphasizing that legacy. Central to the fight against apartheid was Helen Suzman (see: As a member of the South Aftrican Parlament she led a decades long fight for equality for all. There were many others as well but Ms. Suzman was the most prominent member of the Jewish community in the leadership of the struggle. When the new part of the museum was built Nelson Mandela came to participate in the dedication ceremonies. The Jewish community was so proud he attended that around the museum are quotes from his speech on that day. I cannot remember the exact quote they had up but the gist of it was: Jews were not as bad as other whites. The quote struck me as a chink in the armor of reconcilliation.

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