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This year’s Jewish Achievers are real winners

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When music director extraordinaire Bryan Schimmel, stood up to accept the SA Jewish Art, Sport, Science and Culture award, he ensured there was nary a dry eye in the 600-strong Absa Jewish Achiever Awards audience.
by HELEN GRANGE | Aug 18, 2017

“All through school I was not the cool kid or the popular kid. I was shy, awkward, introverted, self-conscious, afraid of speaking, marginalised because I was different. And all I ever wished for was acceptance.

Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2017
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“The saying goes ‘careful what you wish for’. In finding my place on the path unwinding, here I am in front of all of you, feeling mightily accepted,” he said to a standing ovation.

Once too shy to speak because he had a terrible stutter, he had the audience enraptured as he told of his journey to this award.

“Being named as a Jewish Achiever has a certain resonance for me. I am not a shul-goer, I am not shomrei Shabbos, I am not always observant. But I am extremely proud of being Jewish. On my path unwinding, I’ve always been guided by the words of Hillel that I wear permanently on my left forearm: ‘If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?’.

“And so, I say to every kid who is not the cool kid, but who has a dream and a passion, I accept this award as a symbol of inspiration and hope to all of you... If you follow your heart, if you live outside your comfort zone, and if you strive to be the best version of yourself at all times, you will find your place in the circle of life.”

And Schimmel was just one of the nine phenomenal winners of this year’s premier event on Sunday evening. 

The auspicious Lifetime Achiever Award, in honour of Helen Suzman, was awarded to Simon Susman, chairman of the Woolworths Group and non-executive chairman of the London-based Virgin Active fitness group, who said that his life was divided into three parts, the first being about learning, the second about earning and the third about giving back. So, now he participates in numerous, mostly Jewish organisations, in order to do the latter.

He said: “My parents taught me very high standards, deep Jewish principles and values, and I try and live up to those every day.”

Susman also credited his many business mentors along the way, including Lord Marcus Sieff, former chairman of Marks & Spencer, and his “powerful grandmother”, daughter of the founder of Marks & Spencer Michael Marks, who taught him to “honour powerful woman”.

He thanked the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, saying “recognition by one’s peers is the only real recognition”. He also thanked the woman in his life. “I’m very grateful and lucky, lucky too to have a partner in Megan, who I met late in life and is showing me new adventures.”

Pravin Gordhan

Winner of the Humanitarian Award in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris was announced as Pravin Gordhan, who said he was grateful for this “very humbling award” and congratulated the other award winners for the “remarkable contributions they’ve made to their respective fields of endeavour”. 

“We are just activists and public servants, so let me give this award to the Treasury team, the good people at Revenue Services and SA Reserve Bank, and all the good public servants who do their best to keep South Africa on the right road,” he said.

Addressing the vexing issue of state capture and corruption, he urged South Africans to be more proactive: “These are not issues for politicians, but issues for the people… The Jewish community is extremely resourceful, with great skills, talent and entrepreneurs, some of whom are here today, and has produced fascinating freedom fighters from whom my generation learnt some of their politics and principles.”

Gordhan highlighted the importance of “cultural silos” - “these give us a sense of identity and meaning”.

“But equally, as we build a new South Africa, we also have to find important bridges across those silos, and that requires people of foresight... This community has produced illustrious people who’ve contributed to the Freedom Charter, which stands as a testament to real imagination, foresight but above all, humanity,” he said.

Don Krausz

The KIA Community Service Award was given to 87-year-old Don Krausz, Holocaust survivor, who has spent his life since escaping the horrors of the Holocaust, making sure young people know what really happened.

He tells them of his terrifying experiences at Ravensbruck concentration camp in northern Germany.

He relayed how, when he began as a Holocaust educator, most survivors were going to Jewish schools to talk. He questioned why they were preaching to the converted and wanted to go to the other schools to talk to them. He went to schools, some of which were not ready for his message yet. Things have since changed.

In his emotive speech, he spoke of how he had in the past reminded those who, when they think of the children who were killed in the Holocaust, they focus on Anne Frank, but, he says, there were 1,5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust and not just this one heroine.

Ryan Canin

The Creative Counsel Young Jewish Entrepreneur Award went to Ryan Canin, CEO and co-founder of DocFox Inc, a web application designed to fight money laundering and simplify compliance for financial services firms, locally and abroad.

“I want to thank the many people in this room who put time and effort, which is unique in the Jewish community, into really growing young entrepreneurs,” he said.

Ronleigh Gaddin

Winner of Europcar’s Jewish Woman in Leadership Award was Ronleigh Gaddin, CEO of the Amani Spas Group. Gaddin said the Jewish Achiever process has been one of “self-introspection and reflection”.

“I’ve had the privilege of meeting the most incredible people. I stand here and salute every single nominee, each of whom is a winner in their own right,” she said, adding: “To reach a landmark such as this award raises the expectations I have of myself, and motivates me to continue to succeed, to build my company and my own reputation.”

Gaddin, daughter of the late Russell Gaddin - a stalwart in Jewish leadership - said she knew how proud her father would be of her today and that she accepted this award in his name. 

Avi Mishan

Avi Mishan, MD of SMD Technologies, distributor of computer technology worldwide, was announced winner of the Absa Entrepreneur Award. Especially thanking his business partner Simca Diskin, Mishan said: “He has been with me from the beginning, the best investment I’ve ever made. From a two-man show selling calculators out of the boots of our car, to where we are today, this award is just as much yours as it is mine.”

Brett Osrin and Laurence Rapp

The evening ended with the announcement of Brett Osrin, CEO of Ecowize cleaning company, as the winner of the Absa Unlisted Company Award, and Laurence Rapp, CEO of Vukile Property Fund, as winner of the Absa Listed Company Award.

Said Osrin: “The amazing part of the Jewish community is that we grow up not wanting to be the postmaster. We grow up wanting to be the CEO of any business, irrespective of the size.”

To this, Rapp added: “This is the most unique and meaningful award, because it not only recognises business achievement, but more importantly, it comes from this community that I love dearly, and am so proud to be part of.”

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