She looked like a perfectly lovely person. Wearing a long flower dress with a wide brimmed
straw hat that had a matching pink band around it, she walked up to me and wished me a
Shabbat shalom. “Are you by any chance Howard Feldman?” she inquired. When I
confirmed that indeed I was, she uttered an expression that always fills me with dread.
“Would you mind if I engaged you on something?” In my experience, no good ever comes
from someone wanting to “engage” on anything. Because what it really means is that I have
said something that has offended them and that they would like to have me know just how
appalling I have been.
“Sure” I said, because I was taking a break from a long shul service, and I was curious as to
which article, show or podcast might have triggered her.
“Do you really live in such a privileged world that everyone in your sphere has enough
money to debate between Plettenberg Bay and Cape Town for their holidays?” Was her
launching salvo. Background is that a few weeks prior, my column in this publication
addressed our holiday insecurities and I used the “Other side” idea to discuss this point.
Clearly not everyone thought it hit the mark.
I paused. Looked at her freshly scrubbed healthy and pleasant face and I spoke. “I am sorry.
You are right. I neglected to mention those who travel to Israel, to Thailand and even
Umhlanga. That was wrong of me.” “No!” was her retort. “That wasn’t the point. The point
is that some people can’t afford to go away. Things are. Not easy.”
Because she really was a kind and caring person, I explained to her that satire and humour
needs to function on certain assumptions. So, if, for example, I am writing something
humorous about Solar installations, if I must consider that there are people in South Africa
who have never had electricity, I could not write it. I can’t write about school lunches
knowing that people in Syria don’t have schools and I can’t write about runners when some
people don’t have legs.
The result would be a dull and grey world devoid of sparkle. Which would be sad. Even for
people who can’t afford Cape Town in December.
The flower dress lady did raise a fair point. There are many in our community who are
struggling. The cost of almost everything, the impact of the electricity crises and global
pressures have placed an enormous strain on everyone. It is tough out there and no one is
Which is maybe a good time to consider supporting members of our community if it is an
option. If we know a contractor, a service provider or business, perhaps it is a good time to
give them a chance. Obviously not at all costs and not at great compromise. But if there is
an opportunity to assist, now is a great time to do that.
Often when a person in a flower dress and a straw hat “engages” me on something, it is
because they have been triggered by a vulnerability in their own life. I am no stranger to
that. Mostly I enjoy the reaction because it is my job to encourage conversation.
In this case it gave me something to ponder, and also taught me that remaining in Shul during the service is a smarter decision that wondering around the campus.