Celebrating the heroes who care from all corners of the community
This year’s joint winners of the Community Service Award epitomise the strong foundation on which South African Jewish life is built. Rabbi Yossy and Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman, who have built a legendary South African shul community, and Jewish Burial Services, who serve at times of heartbreaking loss, are part of the glue that continues to bind us together.
“With his wife, Rochel, he has forged the way for all the other rabbis by the example that he has set,” said Rabbi Dovid Hazdan of the Great Park Synagogue speaking of Rabbi Yossy Goldman who, together with Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman, was honoured at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards ceremony on 7 November. “Rabbi Goldman has shown the way that the rabbinate can be relevant to the modern world. He is the consummate rabbinic leader.”
Reflecting on Rochel’s invaluable contribution to her community and adopted country, Lynette Saltzman, the managing director and co-founder of Dis-Chem Pharmacies, said, “With 11 children and a family to look after, she still had time for the community, with a passion and dedication to working towards her goals of furthering education in the country and looking towards helping, empowering, and uplifting women.”
Sent to South Africa in 1976 by their teacher, mentor, and guide, the Lubavitch Rebbe, the United States-born Goldmans got to work at Sydenham Shul, steadily establishing one of South Africa’s most influential shul communities. “Our vision was to help bring more light into the world, more understanding, and more depth,” said Rochel, reflecting on their journey. “Together, we were a good team.”
Raising 11 children, who have gone on to serve and educate Jewish communities in South Africa and the wider world, the Goldmans are proud to have propagated a legacy of community service – one of their greatest gifts to the world.
In accepting the Community Service Award, Goldman said, “This humbling award emphasises that when you’re in my business, you’re not just a private person, you’re a community person. I’ve always said that the rabbinate cannot be a career, it must be a calling.
“If our personal and family lives are consistent with our faith and sacred values, then and only then can we have a genuine, meaningful influence to inspire others,” he said. “It’s my prayer that we have done that until now and that we can continue to do so.” The couple emphasise that they’re here to stay even as their roles in Sydenham Shul evolve.
“We are living in a beautiful African garden,” said Rochel. “Our life’s calling over these four and a half decades has been to discover the delicious fruit and help others to notice the abundant gifts that are just waiting for the picking in every corner of South Africa and particularly in our community. We hope you’ll be inspired to join us.”
Honoured for their work in providing dignity in death and support and comfort in the most trying of times, the various Jewish Burial Societies and Chevrah Kadishas around South Africa were also recipients of the Community Service Award.
“We’ve lived through the most difficult and challenging period in modern history,” said Saul Tomson, group chief executive of the Chevrah Kadisha, “but sadly we’ve suffered tremendous loss also. The excess death rate in South Africa is really one of the largest in the world. In Johannesburg alone, we have experienced a nearly 40% increase in deaths over the past 18 months. These aren’t just numbers, these are people.”
That’s why in accepting the award, the burial societies paid tribute to the individuals around South Africa who have been lost over the past 18 months and their loved ones.
From Victor Gordon, a key figure and leader in the Pretoria Jewish community for many decades, to Zoe Cohen from Johannesburg, who showed true devotion to her work in the area of adoption, to Leo Bornman, buried in East London and best known for spearheading a deal to produce Mercedes Benz in South Africa, memories were shared and thanks given to those who buried each person with respect and dignity.
Speaking of Elliot Wolf, the legendary former headmaster of King David High School Linksfield and director of the King David Schools Foundation, who was buried in Johannesburg on 3 November, his close colleague and friend, Raelene Tradonsky, said, “His life’s mission was to transfer our rich Jewish heritage and values to the next generation. He really cared.”
“Caring is what it comes down to. We have witnessed heroes in every corner of this community over the past difficult 18 months,” said Tomson. “The silent heroes are those that work with the deceased of this community, those who are there to assist the families at their most difficult time with kindness, compassion, care, and always with love and professionality. They quietly go about their work, but we recognise every single one of them – all of whom have gone above the call of duty.”