2018-12-05 / Voice at the Shore

What’s Jewish about Africa?

By JOSH CUTLER Program Director for the Milton & Betty Katz JCC in Margate


Travelers on the JCC’s South Africa adventure trip in September included: (seated, from left) Mary Goldenberg, Sandie Luber, Fran Lieb, Abbie Katz, Terry Masel-Auerbach, Alice Heller, Kathleen Lieb, Courtland Eptstein, (standing, from left) Vincent Barslow, Susan Steerman, Paul Steerman, Scottie VanDuyne, Karl Schechtman, Bonnie Bernett, Gary Bernett, Saundra Schecthman, Dolores Flinkman, Marna Cutler, Bernice Gelfont, Arthur Frank, Bonnie Steiner, Toby Frank, Lori Pasahow, Jerry Steiner, Michael Lieb, Britany Epstein, Cindy Baen, Dorene Derman, George Lieb, Andrew Rothstein, Samantha Lieb, Steven Derman and Josh Cutler. Travelers on the JCC’s South Africa adventure trip in September included: (seated, from left) Mary Goldenberg, Sandie Luber, Fran Lieb, Abbie Katz, Terry Masel-Auerbach, Alice Heller, Kathleen Lieb, Courtland Eptstein, (standing, from left) Vincent Barslow, Susan Steerman, Paul Steerman, Scottie VanDuyne, Karl Schechtman, Bonnie Bernett, Gary Bernett, Saundra Schecthman, Dolores Flinkman, Marna Cutler, Bernice Gelfont, Arthur Frank, Bonnie Steiner, Toby Frank, Lori Pasahow, Jerry Steiner, Michael Lieb, Britany Epstein, Cindy Baen, Dorene Derman, George Lieb, Andrew Rothstein, Samantha Lieb, Steven Derman and Josh Cutler. Have you always wanted to go on an African Safari? If so, now’s your chance to do that and more.

The JCC in Margate will be offering its second South Africa adventure trip, March 11-19, 2019. The trip features not one, but two safaris in Kruger National Park—one at night, to see nocturnal animals, and another during the day.

The JCC African Safari trip is truly unique. In addition to the safaris, the JCC trip allows you to see and experience the Jewish culture of South Africa, which is home to numerous synagogues, a Jewish museum, a Holocaust center with a uniquely South African focus, and a 150-year old Jewish community. What’s more, you can do this as part of a group of local community members and for an affordable package price.

If an African Safari trip is on your bucket list, you’re not alone. The JCC added Africa to our list of travel destinations due to popular demand. When we launched our Trips and Travel Department two years ago, we began with trips to Israel and Jewish sites across Central and Eastern Europe. Yet it wasn’t long before people asked us for trips to more exotic locations— with the African Safari at the top of the list.

This September, we ran our first Africa trip. The 36 available spots filled up right away with travelers from South Jersey, Philadelphia and Florida, whose ages ranged from 23 to 87. After everyone came back and posted their safari photos of elephants and lions, a slew of people began calling the JCC to find out when our next adventure to South Africa would be—which is why we are running another trip in March!

The itinerary for the upcoming trip will be much like the September trip, which began with several days exploring Cape Town. Even there, we witnessed the abundant natural wonders of South Africa’s mountainous landscape. We rode a cable car through the clouds of Cable Mountain (Named a Natural Wonder of the World in 2007) and saw wildlife ranging from wild penguins to baboons and ostriches. We also learned about South Africa’s turbulent history and saw the Dutch colonial influence on a day trip to Stellenbosch Township.

The Jewish portion of the tour included several highlights around Cape Town, especially the South African Jewish Museum, where we learned about the Jewish role in South African history and politics. We also learned how Jews came to South Africa: with migrations from England and Germany in the 19th century, a massive migration from Lithuania at the start of the 20th Century, and a small Sephardic migration soon after. Some other museum highlights included the first Torah scroll brought to South Africa; a shofar made of local African ram’s horn; and the reconstruction of a typical Eastern European Jewish shtetl. The museum also had a discovery center offering information on Jewish family trees for an estimated 15,000 families from Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania, who migrated to Southern Africa between 1880 and 1930.

We also visited the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Center and two beautiful synagogues: Old Synagogue (South Africa’s first synagogue), built in 1863, and the Great Synagogue or Garden Shul, built in 1905. The Cape Town Holocaust Centre has a unique South African focus. Comparing early Nazi Germany to the apartheid government, the entire exhibit is framed in a wider context of racial injustice. Adding a personal touch, a wall of photographs and a video tell the story of Holocaust survivors who settled in Cape Town. The section titled “The South African Experience” includes information on the Grey Shirts, an anti- Semitic group based in Cape Town who supported Nazi Germany. The Grey Shirts were eventually absorbed into the National Party, which led the apartheid government.

Notably, there are 12 Orthodox synagogues in Cape Town, while two Reform congregations serve a much smaller population. Though the majority of Cape Town Jews belong to Orthodox shuls, most are not strictly observant. More than 25 percent of South African Jews live in Cape Town and the community of about 17,000 is fairly homogenous; more than 80 percent share a Lithuanian heritage. Although South Africa has 11 official languages, most Jews speak only English and a smattering of Afrikaans, which has its roots in 17th-century Dutch. After shaking off the vestiges of apartheid, Cape Town today seems to be thriving, and the Jewish community, though small, remains an integral part of society.

All of these amazing sights and experiences served as the build-up to the trip’s grand finale: The two safaris in Kruger National Park. The group traveled to Johannesburg and onward to Nelspruit through the beautiful Mpumalanga mountain range to experience these safaris. The first was a night safari, which allowed us to see nocturnal animals – including a startled lioness that crossed the road in front of the safari jeep.

The following day, the group experienced the ultimate safari. Within the first hour, we saw “the big five”: elephants, lions, leopards, wildebeests and rhinos. It was the perfect finale to a magical trip filled with discovery, wonder and connection to Jewish culture.

So if you’ve always wanted to go on an African Safari, now is the time to sign up for the JCC’s next South African adventure, March 11-19—especially given that only about 12 spots are left! The trip costs $3600 per person and includes round-trip airfare from JFK to Cape Town, six nights of accommodations, ten meals, daily tours and safaris, English-speaking guides throughout, and internal African flights and transportation. A single supplement is an additional $250 per person. For convenience, the JCC also offers optional transportation to and from Margate.

For more information about this or other upcoming international JCC trips, please call me at 609-822-1167, extension 138, or email travel@jccatlantic.org. 

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