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South Africans who’ve made their mark on Israel

  • Morris_Kahn
Many South African olim have contributed to the development of Israel. Here are just three who have left a uniquely South African stamp on the Jewish state.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Apr 19, 2018

Morris Kahn

Born in Benoni in 1930, Kahn dreamed of moving to Israel and making his home there. At the age of 26, Kahn realised his dream and moved to Israel with his late wife, Jacqueline, and his two sons. “It wasn’t easy for me in the beginning,” recalls Kahn. “I had a fair amount of difficulties, but I always dreamed of moving to Israel out of a strong sense of belonging.”

Kahn became a successful entrepreneur and a generous philanthropist. He established several industrial ventures, including a bicycle factory in Beit Shemesh and the Hatzvi glove factory. He went on to make his fortune in a series of business ventures, including Israel’s Golden Pages in 1968. This led to his starting up Amdocs together with Shmuel and Tzvi Meitar. Amdocs is one of the world’s largest telecommunications software companies.

“The key to prosperity relates to choosing true partners, who share values like yours,” says Kahn.

Together, they went on to found the Aurec Group in 1978, which in turn launched a variety of pioneering businesses in Israel, including Golden Channels, Israel’s first cable company.

An avid diver, Kahn started building aquariums after a diving accident which resulted in him suffering a burst eardrum, forcing him to stay on land for months. His passion saw the creation of Coral World in 1974, which includes the Underwater Observatory Park in Eilat.

One thing he is not, Kahn says, is focused.

Beyond his business ventures, he has also initiated and supported a wide range of philanthropic projects, including Save a Child’s Heart, the Jinka Eye Project, a therapeutic horse-riding camp for the disabled, a youth leadership training project called LEAD, a 3D printing initiative at Tel Aviv University to combat cancer, and the Morris Kahn Institute for Human Immunology at Ben-Gurion University.

“I don’t want to be the richest man in the cemetery,” Kahn said when asked about his philanthropy. “Doing good for others makes me feel good.”

On the subject of Israel turning 70, Kahn says: “Israel is what it is because of the people who live in it. The people who have the ideas and the commitment are the ones who make a difference and ensure that Israel excels the way it does. The future is a promising one.”

Harold ‘Smoky’ Simon

Making his mark on Israel in the field of battle, Simon displayed true South African mettle in the founding years of the Israeli air force. He was born in the Orange Free State to a father from Lithuania and a mother from England. After being discharged from the South African Air Force in November 1945, Simon opened his own accounting and auditing business.

After marrying in 1948, he and his wife Myra made their way to Israel to volunteer in the War of Independence. Explains Simon: “We landed at Haifa on May 9 1948, and the next day, Myra and I registered at Sarona for service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF).”

Simon flew as a navigator in a Dakota as part of a night bombing attack on Damascus – the first air operation against an Arab capital. During the war, he was appointed Chief of Air Operations at the IAF headquarters. In addition, he participated in 18 missions in a diverse range of aircraft.

At the end of the war, Simon accepted an offer from his commanders to serve another two years in the air force. He was discharged at the end of 1950 with the rank of major.

The Simons returned to South Africa, where he began working as an insurance agent. In 1962, they decided to return to Israel for good as new immigrants. Simon opened up a successful insurance agency, which specialised in life insurance.

Today, Simon is chairman of World Machal, overseeing Diaspora volunteers to the IDF. And, together with several Machalniks, he does his best to support IDF volunteers from overseas, meeting with lone soldiers who volunteered in the IDF just like he and his wife once did.

“I believe in the eternity of the Jewish people and am certain that Israel will exist in the region forever,” says Simon. “We have a country that is vibrant and strong. We are a country of eight million people who are making their mark on the world, and that’s just amazing.”

Steven Linde

Born in Harare in 1960, Linde made aliyah in 1987 and is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report. He served as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post for five years from July 2011, after working as managing editor, news editor and night editor since he started at the newspaper in 1997.

Linde recounts: “A wonderful woman named Shula, one of my late mother’s friends, helped me find a temporary apartment in Telfed’s building in Givatayim, and I studied for six months at an ulpan in Tel Aviv to bring my Hebrew up to scratch. Then I did Shlav Bet in the IDF, where I was unfortunately put in Artillery. Unfortunately, because I have no sense of direction.

“Still, I made good friends and ended up serving well beyond the age of 45 in the reserves. After my military service, I was hired by a fellow South African, Zvi Pananovitz, to work at Israel Radio’s English News, which I really loved. I ended up working there for 21 years.”

Despite the changes Israel has undergone in the last number of years, Linde remains enamoured of the country. “Israel has changed dramatically in the past 30 years, from a middle-aged, happy and small country to an international powerhouse,” he explains. “I don’t regret coming here for a minute, especially since my sister and most of my family and friends live here.”

Linde hopes that the years ahead see Israel gain further prominence and make strides in securing peace in the region.

“I pray that the next generation finds a way to think out of the box, make peace with the Palestinians and other Arab countries, and allow our democracy to flourish so that we can truly become a light unto the nations,” he says.

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