Last September, just before the religious holidays, we, the Hafla delegation, returned to Israel from South Africa. The delegation was an initiative of the Beit Shemesh – Mateh Yehuda – Washington – South Africa Partnership which, for many years, has worked to connect Jewish communities, and to strengthen the ties between them.
The delegation included two musicians: David Pistner (Beit Shemesh) and Peter Cooper (Mesillat Zion), and three chefs who specialized in ethnic cooking – Naomi Biri (Beit Zayit), Sari Levertovski (Beit Shemesh) and myself, Hadas Shriki Ben Yamin (Mata). The delegation leader was Tami Kedmi from the Partnership. After a number of preparation sessions in Israel, which helped to turn the delegation members into a cohesive group and laid the groundwork for the mission, the delegation set off with the purpose of having a real hafla in South Africa.
We started off in Johannesburg, a big city where the African jungle meets the urban hustle and bustle. The Jewish community there comprises about 60,000 people, which is mostly concentrated in the suburbs and maintains a Jewish community lifestyle. We were hosted in the community, at charming host families who opened their homes and their hearts to us, and that was heartwarming for us.
We took part in several events in the Jewish community, organized by the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency. The events included an Israel Quiz which is a contest, with prizes, between students from Jewish schools, on a wide range of subjects connected to Israel. We prepared sweet light refreshments for the participants and the guests, which included sfinaj, baklawa and cookies, and the musicians enhanced the ambiance with Israeli music.
We also attended a large event which took place in the community. The event included a talk by “the son of Hamas” (Masab Hasan Yussef, the son of a senior member of Hamas who worked with Israel and carries out positive advocacy work for Israel). In the background, the musicians played the best songs from the traditional Israeli repertoire, and we took a central role in the culinary side of the evening and prepared kubeh and mouflatas. The guests were suitably impressed.
One of the special events we held was at a Jewish senior citizens’ home in the capital of Pretoria. The residents got a taste of an authentic Moroccan khina experience, with traditional dress, dances, the best food and, most of all, a celebration and a hafla!
In between all the events we also met students and held cookery and music workshops at the schools. It was an interesting and learning experience for both sides.
In the second part of the mission we went to spectacularly beautiful Cape Town, on the Atlantic coast, with its fast pace of life. Here, too, we were wonderfully hosted by families. We held more cookery and music workshops at the school in Cape Town and we met wonderful people who are infused with a spirit of contributing to the Jewish community, and to connecting with Israel. We also participated in an event as part of the Expo event which promoted aliyah. There we put on an Israeli celebration, with songs and tasty food, served in a warm and unique spirit the way only Mateh Yehuda can.
Our unique, one-time cross-continental encounter with The South African Jews and Israelis created a special experience which connected individuals and, in a wider sense, reinforced and deepened their link with Israel through stories, flavors and music. The encounters, the conversations and getting to know people gave us and them a perspective on life in Israel, and outside Israel. I am confident that we left the people South Africa wanting more, and we hope they will want to continue the hafla in Israel…