Howard Feldman

What if President Zuma observed Yom Kippur?

2017-09-29 09:11
President Jacob Zuma smiles during the African National Congress Youth League cadres' forum at uPhongolo. (Thuli Dlamini, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

President Jacob Zuma smiles during the African National Congress Youth League cadres' forum at uPhongolo. (Thuli Dlamini, Gallo Images, The Times, file)

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Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, looms large for most Jews around the world.

It’s an intense and difficult day where for 25 hours we are expected to hold a mirror uncomfortably close to our souls. In the reflection we examine our blemishes and our spots and we ask ourselves, honestly, what we could have done differently to prevent them from occurring.

For 25 hours we don’t eat or drink, and we don’t wear leather. We spend most of the time in the synagogue together as a community but alone in our thoughts.

It’s not an easy day. But it’s an enormously powerful one.

The concept of confession is not unique to the Jewish faith. Many religions and self betterment initiatives embrace the idea as a critical step on the journey to repentance.

But I can’t help but wonder (because there are 25 hours in the Synagogue to think about this) what would happen if Jacob Zuma were Jewish.

And what if he observed the Day of Atonement?

What if he had to spend that amount of time contemplating his decisions and behaviour? He would do so without the media and the support of his cronies. He would stand alone without the sycophants alongside him justifying his behaviour and telling him that the people of the country don’t understand.

Bell Pottinger wouldn’t be able to write the words of the confession because they would need to stem from a genuine place within him, and KPMG could not sign off on them because of a relationship.

One wonders how closely he would hold the mirror and how deep into his soul he could look before turning away in shame?

Would the poor and the voiceless of South Africa appear before him and would he experience genuine remorse for the damage he has wrought to what was a magnificent and proud ANC?

Would he consider the hope he snatched from the young and naïve country?

Would he contemplate the irreparable harm he has wrought to every citizen who just wants to look after their families and better themselves and their children? Would he be embarrassed knowing that he intentionally deepened a bitter racial divide and caused neighbours to hate each other in desperation?

Would he spare a thought for those who have fallen on their swords for him, in order to protect him? Whilst he remained unrepentant and unbowed?

There is a well-trodden anti-Semitic view that Jews control the media and the banks. Although this couldn’t be further from the truth, Zuma seems to have embraced this notion as a religious zealot.

With ANN7 and the SABC as well as the attack on South African banks there are those who would even consider him a Rabbi. But this is not a Jewish concept and if he is to embrace things authentically Jewish, he needs to start with the Day of Atonement and work his way from there.

I would also not suggest that he marry a Jewish woman. Let alone a few of them. No matter how powerful and scary he might think he is, many, far scarier than he have met a sticky end in this department.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement is a formidable day. It is however, a day of immense hope and of opportunity. It is a day of new beginnings and of optimism, because although the past is complete, the future is not yet written. And in the future anything is possible.

South Africa has not had an easy time – all her people deserve a break. There is a traditional blessing that friends say to each other on Yom Kippur. A blessing that I wish on us all: May we all be written in the Book of Life.  

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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