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Education, purpose, people – the mission of Taddy Blecher

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“I’m so grateful and proud to be just one of many Jews in this country who have devoted so much of their lives and resources to serving our fellow men and women in South Africa,” said Dr Taddy Blecher on winning this year’s Bertie Lubner Humanitarian Award in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris.

“So many of the key supporters of our work to help marginalised youth in our country are Jewish South Africans, here and across the world,” Blecher said.

“It’s an unbelievable, unimaginable honour to receive this [award] from my beautiful Jewish community,” he said.

Blecher said Bertie Lubner, in whose name the award is made, was a great hero and an inspiration to him, describing him as “a saintly person, a tzadik, somebody I deeply looked up to”.

As chief executive and co-founder of the Maharishi Invincibility Institute, Imvula Education Empowerment Fund, and the Invincible Group, among other notable organisations, Blecher’s primary goal is the provision of affordable and accessible higher education. “Education is a lifelong passion,” he said. “It was almost like a religion in my family.”

“Maharishi was an individual who brought out this approach to education that the human being matters as much as what they learn,” he said. “That’s so obvious to me and yet it’s such a foreign concept in education in the world today and there’s no real focus on the student as this great, infinite child of G-d with infinite potential.

“If we educate people for skills that are actually needed in a modern economy, we don’t need unemployment and poverty, and that’s what we set out to prove with this educational journey. We can take marginalised and excluded people, 70% of whom don’t have a matric exemption or a degree pass, and we can prove that they’ve got genius in them, that they can still be just as successful as any of us and that these youngsters can go on and become leaders in our economy.”

In September last year, the first cohort of 19 students graduated from the cyber security academy, having completed a three-year programme with the Maharishi Invincibility Institute. These students will now be permanently employed in the Absa chief security office from 1 October.

Just less than 25 000 people have been educated or are currently being educated by the institute. It’s estimated that graduates will earn about R10 million over their full working career, “which means proper housing, proper healthcare, proper education, proper nutrition,” Blecher said.

“Service and caring for others is in our culture and our DNA. It’s how we all grew up,” he said. “So many of our families came to this country struggling and had so little. I love this community because of what we’ve built.

“Jewish people understand more than anything the power and value of education,” he said, “And that if you can teach a person how to fish, rather than give them a fish, you can change their lives. We estimate that just less than R60 billion will go into the hands of poor families because of teaching them how to fish.

“But more than just jobs, we desperately need leaders in this country. Leaders bring light, they lift the light so that others can see, and this we also see as our role: to bring up a new generation of leaders in South Africa, enlightened leaders who can take our country forward.”

“I want to say what a great country we have. I believe we’ll make it, as the Rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] advised so many times about South Africa,” Blecher said. He compared the country’s recent rugby triumphs to the progress of the country itself. “We’re late starters; we have lots of problems in our country. If you look at last night and last week in the rugby, it takes us time to get it right. But we’ll clinch it in South Africa in the end. So let’s keep faithful. We’ll make it.”

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