An Interview with the Founders of ChaiSouthAfrica

by Sharleen Wollach
I have lived in San Diego since 1982. I have very little direct connection in South Africa. I am blessed with all my family right here by my side. I have not had any family member who has needed the services of the homes we support and I have no family remaining in South Africa.
What I do have, are the warmest of memories growing up Jewish in South Africa.
Despite the occasional heckling at our Jewish netball team, I did not encounter anti-Semitism. Despite the regime of apartheid, we lived rather safely as Jews. Despite my not knowing anyone at that time at a facility in Durban where I grew up, I most certainly knew about Beth Shalom.
We share an appreciation for what we all left behind, whether we left with our parents at a young age or made the big move ourselves. South Africa was by no means perfect, but our parents and their parents worked hard to create a Jewish Legacy there, building, supporting and volunteering to ensure a Jewish history and a Jewish future. That future was left to us, whether we are there in body or in spirit.
Thankfully there are people like Claire Ellman, Charles Jaffe and David and Felicia Mandelbaum who, on behalf of all of us expats have remembered to take care of that past and remind us that the future is still our responsibility. I asked our founders a few questions everyone always wants to know about ChaiSouthAfrica, years later.

What was your inspiration for creating ChaiSouthAfrica?
David Mandelbaum (DM): I was inspired by a great person, Stanley Rothbart who was the Chairman of The Selwyn Segal Hostel – Home for the Disabled and Handicapped Jewish population.  On one of my trips back to South Africa he asked Felicia and I to help him raise funds for the Selwyn Segal Hostel.
Claire Ellman (CE): Knowing how many expats there were overseas who were perhaps no longer connected to the institutions in their birth country their parents worked so hard to build. I felt that if we could just get the word out about how critical it is for us to maintain our support of these institutions, the expats would show their support.
Charles Jaffe(CJ): I was on the committee at Highlands House and was acutely aware of the needs of the various homes for the aged, special needs, and children at risk. The homes were struggling financially and I thought it a good idea to ask those who had left South Africa to help those who were left behind.

What was your initial vision for ChaiSouthAfrica?
Felicia Mandelbaum(FM): We tried many avenues of registering a charity in the USA but ran into many obstacles.  One could call it serendipity or beshert. But, by a confluence of factors we met up with Claire Ellman and Charles Jaffe and a great visionary in Marjory Kaplan (former CEO of Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) San Diego). Marjory accommodated ChaiSouthAfrica at the JCF.  This was the beginning of creating one charity to collect for all the Jewish Residential Homes in South Africa. The initial vision for ChaiSouthAfrica was to raise money at the lowest possible cost by utilizing e-mail and direct mailings to ex pats throughout the States.  Our success has been the many generous donors who realize how fortunate we were to have grown up in South Africa.
CE: My initial vision was to educate people about the needs of the homes and raise money to support those with serious financial needs.
CJ: Initially we wanted to ask expats to donate $18 and then to broaden the data base.

What if any affiliations do you have to the homes that we support?
DMMy late brother Ronnie lived at Sandringham Gardens which provided him a safe, secure and loving environment for which I am extremely grateful.
CE: My great aunt was a founder of Glendale in the 1950’s – my gran was in Highlands House 30 years ago and my parents and grandparents were very involved in all the Cape Town homes offering both financial support and serving on the board.
CJ: I was a committee member of Highlands House in Cape Town, many of my family members were and are active in running some of the charitable organizations in South Africa.

How are you involving your children who may have been born here or lived here from a very young age to still be connected to the South African Jewish Community?
DMOur children are very aware of our commitment and hopefully will follow in our footsteps.
CE: We take them to visit when possible and talk constantly about the hard work we do – they know a lot about it!
CJ: My kids are always volunteering to help with ChaiSouthAfrica. Kids learn community work from their parents, and we continue to strive to be good role models.

If there was one thing you would like the community to be aware of/know about ChaiSouthAfrica – what would it be?
David and Felicia: The generations that have emigrated have upset the natural balance of those that remain in the country in being able to support the aged and disabled.  The responsibility rests on us to help those less fortunate who don’t have Social Security and any other meaningful Government support.
CE: I’d like the community to know that we need their help in spreading the word.  This is a responsibility we all share, not just those of us family members in the homes.  If the community could help spread the word, we could extend our database to reach more donors; more donors means more support for those who need it. 
CJ: Every $18 makes a difference and we have an opportunity to assist those who are unable to fend for themselves. We can help them to live a dignified Jewish life.

This organization would not be as vibrant, effective or cost effective without the enormous effort made by all those involved and we’d like to thank all our donors both here in the U.S. and abroad as well as our phonathon and administrative volunteers, Action Mail, and all the staff at the Jewish Community Foundation San Diego.