A celebration amidst heartbreak
Navigating a complex mix of heartbreak and pride, the 2023 Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, held at the Sandton Convention Centre on 22 October, struck a bittersweet chord. Filled with sombre reflection coupled with doses of celebration and red-carpet glamour, the event highlighted our community’s contribution to the country.
Opening the evening’s formalities, SA Jewish Report Chairperson Howard Sackstein said he wasn’t giving the speech he intended to make. His address was meant to highlight the contribution our community has made to South Africa, how we built this economy, and created jobs for so many South Africans, how we were at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, and how our community has spearheaded multiple initiatives to feed the poor and train and educate people.
“I wanted to talk about the disproportionate contribution made by our community,” he said. “But this isn’t that speech. That speech was thrown away two weeks ago, the day that more Jewish civilians were massacred on any other single day since the Holocaust.” Instead, Sackstein spoke of how the community mourned the children, babies, teenagers, fathers, mothers, and grandmother who was shot in the head. “We think about the hundreds of hostages who are being held captive tonight,” he said. “For them, there’s no celebration.”
Usually sung during the Passover seder, a moving and timely rendition of Vehi Sheamda by Oshy Tugendhaft formed part of the opening address. “It tells a story that in every generation, people will rise up and try to destroy us, and with the help of G-d, we shall be protected and overcome,” Sackstein said.
Another poignant performance came from legendary South African soul musician Vusi Mahlasela, who sang Weeping, “one of the great anthems of the anti-apartheid movement”, originally composed by Jewish national serviceman Dan Heymann. Continuously tardy as a serviceman, Heymann ultimately moved to the United States and was late for work on the morning of 11 September 2001, which saved his life, Sackstein said.
In spite of some arguing against hosting the awards at this time, Sackstein said it was vital to send an important message to the people of South Africa that, “Even though we’re here tonight mourning our dead, we’re proceeding with these awards because we recognise the hundreds and hundreds of South African Jewish members of our community who have contributed so much to this country. We love this country dearly. Our love runs deep. Even if at times, it feels that our love is a little unrequited.
“We are the people of South Africa. We’ll determine its values, and we’ll not be cowered at a time like this,” Sackstein said.
Acknowledging the SA Jewish Report for being a credible news source at a time where one is sorely needed, Sackstein also paid tribute to Absa which has sponsored the awards for 20 years. “Together with Absa, we have been determined to build role models for South Africa, people the entire country can emulate,” Sackstein said.
Honouring such role models, the evening was punctuated by moving musical performances, much-needed laughs from seasoned comedian and master of ceremonies Alan Committie, and an endless array of delicious food from Delores Fouché’s Food by Flavours. As many attendees agreed, coming together to celebrate our inspiring community provided a spark of hope in the darkest of days.