Farewell to the prince of the Cape community
Osrin was chairman of Foschini Ltd, Gerber Goldschmidt (Pty) Ltd, Melbro Ltd and a director of Clicks, Freddy Hirsch Holdings, Atlas Property Ltd (as chairman when it was taken over) and Grayprop.
“His vision for the community was a well-funded and disciplined one,” said the Herzlia Foundation Trust in a tribute. “We owe Eliot a huge debt of gratitude for providing a well-resourced, structured community… he was a doer, he set an example by always being the first one to contribute.”
His persistence, fundraising motivation and dedication was largely responsible for Cape Town Jewry’s massive collective capital fund – “and no debt”.
He helped raise millions for the United Herzlia Schools’ Foundation, which assists every child whose parents cannot afford the fees, to have a Jewish education through bursaries. “It enables us to uphold the motto – ‘We never say no to a Jewish child’,” said Osrin.
So totally immersed in working for the community over the past 60 years was this personable, good-humoured, yet tough-minded lawyer-turned-businessman, that he once recalled his son Malcolm saying in his barmitzvah speech: “When I began learning the alphabet, I thought the letters began with IUA-UCF!”
Osrin and his wife, Myra, in the forefront of leadership and founder of the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, worked as a team, partners in every sense of the word. They were recipients of a special award of the SA Jewish Report Achievers Lexus Lifetime Achievers in 2001 and set up their own awards – the Eliot and Myra Osrin Transformation Award for positively effecting change in South Africa and the Jewish Vision Award for Leadership. The administration centre at Telfed in Tel Aviv is named for them.
Osrin’s hometown was Mossel Bay, where he matriculated from Point High School in 1949. Although the only Jewish pupil, he was head boy.
He was articled to law firm Sonnenberg Hoffman and Galombik and studied law by correspondence, qualifying as an attorney, notary and conveyancer.
From 1958 to 1982, he was a partner at the firm and a member of the three-man Law Society Admissions Examination Board till he was approached with a business proposition.
At that stage of his life he was already heavily involved in the community and his decision was swayed by the time allocation afforded to businessmen as opposed to professionals.
“I have never regretted it. I have never looked back and, reviewing my life, I would say I am satisfied with what I have done and am ready to meet my Maker,” he told this reporter in an interview in 2008.
In 1972 the United Herzlia Schools were in financial crisis and unable to pay teachers their salaries. Osrin set about forming and chairing the Emergency Education Campaign, immediately after the United Communal Fund (UCF) Campaign.
Donors were asked to double their contributions to the next UCF Campaign – which was then separate from the IUA.
“It worked – the only reason why people hadn’t been giving that much was simply that they had never been asked. We also pressed them to get rid of their debt and establish a capital fund,” was his assessment.
He then became involved in Highlands House Jewish Aged Home on the same basis. The result is a capital fund of R40 million established through donations, trusts and bequests.
Osrin was chairman of the board of trustees of Highlands House, and following in his father’s footsteps, his son Bernard became the Home’s president.
Another of his achievements was the successful combining – despite severe opposition – of the IUA and UCF, which later incorporated welfare. Today nine organisations fundraise under the banner of the United Jewish Campaign.
Through Osrin’s efforts, fundraising in Cape Town is extremely disciplined. Until recently he chaired the Cape Town Community Priorities Board, which controls all major Jewish fundraising in Cape Town, not allowing anyone else to fundraise until each biennial United Jewish Campaign is over.
Among Osrin’s numerous trusteeships were the CSO (Community Security Organisation) and Afrika Tikkun.
He leaves his wife, Myra, sons Malcolm, Jeffrey and Bernard and eight grandchildren.