Jewish South African Innovation: From the Goldmines to the Garden Patch

Lynn Schusterman with Shaka Sisulu

by Seth Cohen

The South African Jewish community, like all Jewish communities, is filled with knowledge, creativity, chesed and, of course, complexity. It is one that has a rich and proud history, bringing its unique Jewish spirit to a continent that is rife with challenges and ripe with opportunity.

Within the community, there is an array of individuals as vibrant and varied as the African fauna that surrounds them. From the exceptional community of Johannesburg, a city of commerce and insight near the great goldmines of South Africa, to the community of Cape Town, which started out as a Dutch veggie patch and now is known worldwide as an amazing center of creativity, and every point in between – innovators, activists and entrepreneurs are reshaping the South African landscape to reflect the Jewish and universal values that drive their work.

It is with this in mind that the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation joined with our friends at Sasfin Bank to convene a new dialogue among some of the brightest young Jewish minds in South Africa. Some of them work in the Jewish community, transforming their ideas into new approaches to engagement with Jewish life. Others work in non-profit and for-profit ventures that help address needs and challenges within South Africa and across the entire African continent. What all of them share, however, is the knowledge that it takes passion, ingenuity and networks to connect with one another and create something far larger and more impactful than anyone could do on his or her own.

At the suggestion of Guy Lieberman (a member of the ROI Community), we were proud to help advance that knowledge by bringing together 50 such individuals for 24 hours of shared learning.

The South African Young Jewish Innovators Gathering was framed between the opening comments of Shaka Sisulu, a young South African visionary and founder of the pioneering volunteer organization Cheesekids, and the closing charge by Helen Lieberman, one of the great Jewish pioneers of chesed in the township communities and founder of Ikamva Labantu (The Future of Our Nation). Helen urged the attendees to remember and embrace the Jewish and human values that call on us to fight for tzedek, to show compassion to others and to effect change throughout the world.

The entire gathering was rich with conversation and creativity that will no doubt fuel needed change within the South African community for years to come. In this spirit, we are proud that many of the gathering participants are sharing their key takeaways for, and visions of, the future of Jewish South Africa, and Africa in general, with eJewish Philanthropy readers.

Just as these individuals are writing new chapters within their own communities, they are also contributing their voices to the Jewish communal conversations occurring around the world. Regardless of whether they live near the goldmine, the garden patch or around the globe, young Jewish South Africans have plenty of ideas and passion to contribute. We hope you will take the time to listen.

Seth Cohen is the Director of Network Initiatives for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and can be found on Twitter at @sethacohen33.