This is an auspicious time.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Jewish people in synagogues around the country stand listening to the soul-stirring sounds of the shofar. They stand together in prayer and solidarity. They gather together as families and as friends and as a community, not just to celebrate, but to pause and reflect and take stock.
The New Year is then given shape – brought into being – on Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement”. On this day, the culmination of the “Ten Days of Repentance”, the entire Jewish community undertakes a 25-hour fast, once again gathering together in synagogues around the country, pouring out their hearts in prayer.
It’s safe to say this is a little bit different to the New Year most of us celebrate at the end of December. But one thing these landmark occasions do have in common is that in both instances, resolutions are undertaken.
We resolve to be better. To do better. We embrace new beginnings. We examine our lives. We acknowledge our mistakes. We map out plans for a better future, re-orienting ourselves as individuals and as families and as communities for personal growth and positive change.
These milestones in the year are an opportunity to start afresh – but they’re also about building on existing foundations, on what has already been accomplished.
We are at just such a point in the journey of South Africa. A quarter of a century into our great democratic enterprise, we are encountering new challenges – new difficulties. Much has been achieved. But there have also been serious setbacks. The struggle to be the best version of ourselves – the struggle to make this great nation all it can be – is an ongoing one.
The challenges we face are considerable. They include persistent high unemployment, especially youth unemployment; widespread poverty; inadequate access to proper healthcare; crime; and corruption and its corrosive effects.
There can be no doubt that clean government, alongside a growing economy that promotes enterprise development and job creation, are critical to address these imposing socio-economic challenges.
This is why a key focus of government is on addressing the current uncertainty about the economy, instituting legislation and programmes of action to stimulate economic growth and creating conditions in which enterprise can flourish.
At the same time, government is fully committed to a vision of South Africa as a country in which the rule of law is respected and there is a culture of accountability. We are dedicated to ensuring corruption and graft are completely rooted out, and that ethical governance becomes an accomplished fact.
We have made, and continue to make, sure strides in this direction, and we will keep doing whatever it takes to clean up government at all levels: national, provincial and municipal. It is a gradual process that must take its course.
To keep moving forward as a nation at this crucial stage in our existence, perhaps we would do well to take our cues from “the Days of Awe” – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: taking stock of where we have come from; acknowledging the mistakes of the past; not ignoring our challenges but confronting them head on; resolving to be better and do better.
Most importantly of all, however, we need to do it together.
The South African Jewish community are key stakeholders in this sacred nation-building project. Since this country’s founding, the contribution you have made to this country has been an outsized one. Indeed, South African Jews have advanced so many fields of human endeavour – from business and finance, to arts and culture; from science and medicine, to politics and human rights.
And many Jews fought on the frontlines against Apartheid. It always amazes me that of the 13 anti-Apartheid leaders who stood in the docks at the Rivonia Trial, six were Jewish.
For all that the Jewish community has contributed to this country, it is crucial that you continue to do so. A vital part of our vision for South Africa is a vibrant, thriving Jewish community – a community that continues to drive growth and progress and positive change throughout the length and breadth of this land.
As government, we would like you to be proactive partners in building South Africa. To look for ways to be involved. To look out for new opportunities to build and develop and advance the country. To work with government and civil society to originate, and help drive, smart sustainable solutions to our problems.
To continue shaping our great enterprise.
Just as previous generations of SA Jews have made their mark, the time is ripe for a new generation of SA Jews to leave a legacy of their own. As many already are.
Unity, I believe, holds the key. In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve – a timely reminder that all of humanity is descended from a common ancestor; that we are all created in the image of God, and therefore all created equal.
At this time, let us pay heed to this message – that we are all equally important; and that each individual, each community, each colourful segment of our blessedly diverse nation is an invaluable part of the multi-ethnic tapestry of South Africa.
We have many imposing challenges. But it was Nelson Mandela who taught us that the only way to resolve implacable national problems is implacable national unity. If we hold together, if we stand together, if we face what we need to face together, a bright and prosperous future beckons for us all.
I would like to wish the South African Jewish community an easy and meaningful fast, and a blessed, sweet new year.