I was raised in small town South Africa. Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, to be precise. We were one Jewish family, part of a small Jewish community. We would partake in the cultural festivities in observing our various holidays, and we would do so, with the other Jewish families that lived in my little town. I would join my father in attending the Friday night Shabbat services at our local synagogue, and because I was still very young, while my mother was at home preparing dinner for when we would get home, I would sit downstairs with my father, in the mens’ section. I loved going. I still do. Not necessarily for religious reasons, I’m not very religious in my practices (or lack of) but more so for the family tradition, the cultural history, and history itself, the meaning and association attached to my family, the nostalgia and memories and really, attending a synagogue service presents a peaceful, uninterrupted time to collect my thoughts. I fully identify with being Jewish and I love that I am Jewish.
Growing up in Grahamstown, like I said, there was a very small Jewish community which didn’t really present me with the opportunity to befriend other Jewish children, as there weren’t many. The handful of Jewish children living in Grahamstown were scattered around different schools. Christianity was, and still is, the Dominant religion in Grahamstown. Most schools were of the Christian variety. In fact, Grahamstown is known to possess over 40 churches within it’s confines. Also known as ‘The City of Saints’.
My sister and I attended a private Anglican all-girls school. We were the only Jewish children in attendance during our entire schooling career. There were aspects I loved about the school, and aspects I didn’t love about it. Chapel services were a compulsory requirement to attend if we were to remain active students of the institution. I would sit in the pew, and learn the hymns, purely for musical purposes, nothing else. The Lords’ prayer was said in unison by the entire school during chapel services and all assemblies. I didn’t think much of it, because this was my daily ‘normal’. I felt part of a community, even if it wasn’t inherently mine. I still felt included, yet my differences were also well respected among my peers and the school, for the most part.
My sister, Ruth, is 5 years older than me, when she was in high school, I had just started attending the junior school. At the beginning and end of each school term, Corporate Communion took place in the school chapel, on school campus. This would happen on the evening of the last Sunday of all holidays before school would begin its new terms. One term, my parents and my sister decided that she would not attend, I can’t recall the reason. That week, my sister came home from school in tears, she had been called into the head-masters office and reprimanded for not attending, followed by a warning of expulsion, should this happen again. EXPULSION?! She was a straight A student, with a collection of academic scholarships and awards under her belt. I remember feeling sad about this, and feeling sad for my sister. I was only 8 or 9 years old, and I hated the head master after that.