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Honouring a South African humanitarian giant

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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” So said the late United States civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, in 1957.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jun 28, 2018

If Luther King’s legacy proves anything, he lived to help those who needed him most. In today’s world, humanitarian values are threatened, and those who exemplify them are scarce.

The need to recognise unsung humanitarian heroes is therefore our responsibility and duty. This is the role of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards Humanitarian Award, which is in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris.

“Like Rabbi Harris, there are people among us who give of themselves for the good of our society,” says Howard Sackstein, the Chairperson of the SA Jewish Report. “These are people who have made remarkable contributions to South Africa. The Achiever Awards seeks to recognise not only the achievements of people within our own community, but to acknowledge individuals from the broader South African community.”

Says Sackstein: “We want to pay tribute to someone who has followed in the footsteps of the great humanitarians of our country. People who have contributed greatly to the improvement of lives of South Africans of all walks of life need to be acknowledged.”

This award seeks to acknowledge unique individuals within South African society. It is awarded to any South African – inside or outside of the Jewish community. It aims to recognise an individual who exhibits true humanitarian spirit, and is rendering invaluable service to the people of South Africa.

The diversity of previous award winners is certainly noteworthy, says Sackstein. “Last year’s winner was former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, a remarkable public servant determined to battle corruption.

“Before him, there was George Bizos, a human rights lawyer and icon. Thuli Madonsela, whose reports into governance changed the face of South African politics, preceded Bizos. And before her, there was Jonathan Jansen, who has done more to improve the quality of education than many others. The list goes on.”

Says Sackstein: “We are happy to have an award that looks outside our community to broader South Africa, and there is certainly no shortage of people who contribute to the betterment of our lives on a daily basis.”

He says the fact that it is named in honour of Rabbi Cyril Harris brings a unique element to the award. Since 2006, this award has borne the name of the late Chief Rabbi, whose own mark on South African society is unquestionably indelible.

“We are delighted to associate this award with the name of such a great man,” says Sackstein. “He came to South Africa in the dying years of apartheid, and took the Jewish community into the era of the new South Africa, which was no easy task.

“The sense of humanity, fairness and outreach he and wife, Ann, extended to all South Africans was so remarkable, there was no question about naming the award in his honour.”

“Each year, we invite Ann Harris to present the award named after husband in recognition of his ongoing legacy to South Africa,” says Sackstein. “He was known as Mandela’s rabbi.”

“Not only did he bless him at the presidential inauguration, but when Mandela married Graca Machel on Shabbos, he called Harris to his home the day before in order to receive a marriage blessing from his rabbi.

“Harris couldn’t be there on the actual day of Mandela’s nuptials, but he was still so important to Mandela, that he wanted his blessing. The connection between the man and the award is therefore very special for South Africa.”

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