JEWISH STARS: Joy Judes

*** Jewish Africa is filled with fascinating people and their stories. “JEWISH STARS” features some of the remarkable people I have met during my Jewish Africa travels. ***

Joy Judes in the lounge of her Hillbrow, Johannesburg home.

Joy Judes in the lounge of her Hillbrow, Johannesburg home.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Joy Judes is a fastidious 86-year-young gentlewoman.

“I’m a farmer’s daughter,” she told me over coffee and light snacks in her home. “I grew up all over South Africa.”

Everyday, she descends from her 11th floor apartment to go gallivanting with friends who long ago moved to more desirable parts of town. Joy is one of very few Jews who still reside in Hillbrow, a once thriving Jewish area just north of downtown Johannesburg. The area today is rather on the shabby and rough-and-tumble side (and, unfortunately, so are the grand synagogues that grace the neighborhood).

“I have some lovely neighbors, but still I get quite lonely,” she confided. “There were many Jews here. I think there are about 5 white people left in the building, but I’m not sure where they hang out.” Hence, Joy’s daily jaunts to the more northerly (and Jewish) suburbs of Norwood, Melrose, and Glenhazel.

I was introduced to Joy by my friend Nev, who isn’t herself Jewish but proudly claims a trace of Judaism via her adopted “granny” Joy.

“Best to contact her early in the morning, or after 8pm,” Nev wrote me. “She gallivants in the day, naps in the afternoon, and goes out for dinner every night from 5-8pm. I know that she would love to meet you!”

So I gave her a call. “Just talk REALLY loudly,” Nev informed me. “She doesn’t hear so well…so talk slowly, clearly and very loudly!”

As her door opened, my eyes were treated to a vision of elegance. Her big, perfectly groomed coiffure — ever so slightly color-accented violet — belies her advancing age. But it’s her petite frame and rose-red painted lips that keep her looking cute. For just over an hour, she was all mine. We swapped stories about our lives, and for a giggle, we gave Nev a call.

When she’s done with her daily pursuits, Joy climbs — yes, climbs — the 11 flights of stairs back to her old-style apartment signaled from the ground by towering deep forest green plants.

“I went up and down three times the other day,” she told me. “I kept forgetting things.” Joy noted that the men who delivered her new refrigerator last week “looked dead on arrival” after the climb. The lift has been out of service for two years! Well, the exercise certainly keeps her fit.

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