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Honouring South African Jewish lifetime achievers

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“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them,” wrote William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. The bard went on to qualify this statement: greatness of any kind is possible only if one strives for it.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jun 21, 2018

People who commit themselves to a calling are those who achieve greatness. These are the people the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award seeks to recognise.

“We want to recognise the most successful figures South Africa has produced,” says Howard Sackstein, Chairperson of the SA Jewish Report. He explains that this award is given to a Jewish person who has contributed to the country in an extraordinary manner over a long period of time. “This award is aimed at honouring people who have contributed greatly to the development, not only of our own community, but the country as a whole. A person who has left a unique mark on society.”

Originally known as the Lexus Lifetime Award, the award was renamed the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, and dedicated to the late Helen Suzman at the same time.

“Helen Suzman continues to be a household name in our country,” says Sackstein. “Given that the recipient of the award would be [a person] of the highest calibre, it is unquestionably fitting that the award is named in honour of Suzman. When the history of South Africa is ultimately written, it will be abundantly clear that people like her embody the values that define South African Jewry and what it stands for.” Sackstein says that because the award recognises a lifetime of service and commitment, it is aimed at someone at the latter stage of his or her career who has contributed to the community in a way that has stood the test of time.

“In his address at last year’s ceremony, the recipient of this award, [former Woolworths Chief Executive] Simon Sussman, shared an amazing thought that encapsulates what this is award is about. He said he had learned the principle that life is divided into three thirds. In the first, you learn. In the second, you earn. And in the last, you return.”

“He started as box carrier, built an empire in South Africa in clothing and then food, and went on to become a household name. More than that, his philanthropy and his chairmanship of the Stellenbosch Business School speaks to his character. He is an example of the well-rounded individuals we are looking for.”

Sackstein stresses, however, that the award is not concerned only with business acumen or philanthropic endeavours. “People who have made a tangible difference to our community over their lifetime are the ones we want to recognise,” he says.

“Where would we be as a country if Issy Kirsh of 702 had not devoted himself to building our nation?” Sackstein asks. “Or without the contributions of Phillip Tobias, who developed the human rights ethos of South Africa? Or Jules and Selma Browde, who as a couple fought for human rights in South Africa, with Jules representing Mandela, and Selma fighting to bring electricity to Soweto?

“The Lifetime Achievement Award seeks to pay tribute to those whose lives are committed to something greater than themselves, and who therefore deserve our recognition.”

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