San Francisco Chronicle: Jewish Role in Battling Apartheid
San Francisco Chronicle
by Michael Rosen
October 31, 2014:
Neville Frankel was standing in line at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg when he saw a group of teenagers pointing and laughing at something. Disturbed and a bit curious, Frankel approached the object, and discovered that it was a bench imprinted with a message: “Whites Only.”
“I had two responses,” Frankel says. “One, how wonderful that they can be laughing at this awful object that had such an impact on their parents’ generation, an object symbolic of a repressive state. My second response was, well, if they can laugh at it, how much historical perspective can they have about the impact it actually had?”
This particular experience, Frankel says, prompted him to spend the next eight years researching and writing the novel Bloodlines, a sprawling tale chronicling a Jewish family’s experiences in apartheid South Africa over five decades. On Thursday, Nov. 6 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Frankel will read from his novel and talk about his unexpected discoveries while writing it.
One of those surprises was the extent to which Jewish families formed a part of the anti-apartheid movement. After World War I, anti-Semitism ramped up in South Africa — Jewish people were routinely told that they were guests in their own country. Frankel, who is Jewish, found that the Jewish communities, empathetic with the plight of the oppressed, went out of their way to advocate for the end of apartheid.
“Any books that have to do with Jewish families and the anti-apartheid movement always have to be seen against the background of their own unstable position in the country,” he said.
Frankel, a Dartmouth graduate and financial planner who lives outside Boston, immigrated to the United States from South Africa at age 14 and didn’t return to the country for nearly 40 years.
Frankel had a romantic notion of his homeland and feared that a return would confront him with a colder reality.
“I went back because my children and my wife said it’s time to go back to see where you came from,” Frankel says. “When everyone who’s important to you in your life says this is what we have to do, you comply.”
Turns out, the journey was well worth his time. Frankel found his trip so inspirational that it prompted him to return several times in his quest to tell a part of history that he never wants to forget.
When Frankel takes the stage in Palo Alto on Thursday night, he’ll have a chance to fulfill the goal he set for himself when he began writing Bloodlines eight years ago.
“It became very clear to me that many people didn’t understand what happened in South Africa during apartheid,” Frankel says. “I decided I want to write something that would give people a feeling of what it must’ve been like to live during that time.”