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Farewell to the tenacious “bulldog” of journalism

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Tributes

It was in my former role at the media group then known as Times Media Limited that Allan and I fully crossed paths, although as journalists, we had touched sides over the years. And very quickly, I learned that if there was one word to describe Allan, that word was “tenacious”.

I was moved to read a comment by another member of our journalistic era, and one of Allan’s former colleagues, Alec Hogg, now the founder and editor of BizNews. Alec noted that Allan’s Twitter handle was @Harrybulldog. While named after his favourite pet, it perfectly sums up the Allan we worked alongside: once his teeth were into a story or an issue that needed tackling, he simply wouldn’t let go. Tenacious indeed!

He’s been quite rightly described as one of the doyens of South African financial journalism, a tribute well earned. Few journalists could claim to equal Allan’s encyclopaedic knowledge of South Africa’s financial and business community.

When he was managing editor of BDFM (the company that jointly owned Business Day and the Financial Mail) we served together on that board. The owners at that stage were Times Media and Pearsons, the United Kingdom-based Financial Times group. Allan’s contribution on the board, whether in Johannesburg or London, was focused, unwavering, and positive. He cared passionately about the quality of journalism and the publications he managed, and was always prepared to rattle management cages when it came to defending that quality.

His involvement in journalism was lifelong. For many years, he worked on the weekly Financial Mail, but then in 1979, he co-founded a feisty competitor, Finance Week, which quickly earned a reputation as an independent and fearless scrutineer of the South African business scene, breaking many major financial stories. It was his tenacity after he left BDFM that led him not into retirement, but to become writer and editorial director of Today’s Trustee magazine, focusing on the critically important retirement industry. He worked on this and his other pet journalism projects right up to his death on Monday, 11 October 2021, after falling seriously ill the day before.

Condolences to his family, especially Liana, his wife of more than 39 years, and daughter Mia.

  • Neil Jacobsohn is the former managing editor of Business Day, and the former deputy chief operating officer of Times Media Group.

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Tributes

The dramatic, daring life of doyen of children’s theatre

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“Whenever there are children, there’s a spark of life that makes theatre a riveting adventure,” children’s theatre doyenne Joyce Levinsohn told the SA Jewish Report in 2004. The founder of Johannesburg’s oldest traditional children’s theatre, Levinsohn championed theatre for youngsters, over generations. She succumbed to Alzheimer’s on 6 November 2021. She was 86.

Blessed with talent to dance and perform, Levinsohn (nee Zinman) was born in Johannesburg on 19 February 1935. Schooled in Berea, she started her career in ballet and was the Johannesburg Youth Ballet’s first lead dancer. Like many little girls of her era, she learnt elocution from the age of 10.

Mentored by iconic theatre personalities Elizabeth Sneddon and Taubie Kushlick, Levinsohn pursued both her performative loves. In the early 1950s, she qualified with an Associate Speech and Drama Teacher’s Diploma from Trinity College in London, a teacher’s diploma from the Royal Academy of Dance, and a Licentiate in Speech and Drama, also from Trinity.

Apartheid had just been ratified. Levinsohn vowed to do what she could to make a meaningful difference in her black peers’ lives. In 1954, she co-established the Zinman-Green Speech and Drama Studio, where she readied performers for eisteddfods and taught teachers theatre-in-education.

As her drama students flourished, so they began to need a platform. A Sandton communal hall served the purpose until 1976, when the company Children’s Theatre Productions was established with Levinsohn at its helm. It thrust her into the eye of the creative storm: 1976 was the year of the Soweto Riots, the arrival of television, and the establishment of the Market Theatre. The country was a cauldron of creative protest.

With no promise of state funding, Levinsohn had to take on the mantle of financial director, theatre co-director, and voice coach simultaneously for her new company. During this time, she learnt how to knock on government and corporate doors to raise funds.

In 1987, at the height of South Africa’s state of emergency, Levinsohn conceived of an “interactive, eco-musical to promote the message of conservation”, which also aimed to address a lack of awareness of African folklore traditions. The show, Songs and Tales Under African Skies, was born. It toured the country and the world, opening up theatre awareness to everyone, including children who may never have had access to theatre. It also put Levinsohn’s work on the map.

The Johannesburg Youth Theatre Trust was formalised as a non-profit educational theatre trust in 1990. It was granted a 50-year lease by the Johannesburg City Council on the Parktown heritage site, where it still operates as the National Children’s Theatre.

And with the intrigues of the Brothers Grimm, magical princesses, and social awareness told by bears and ducks, the theatre thrived, bringing to fruition many of Levinsohn’s dreams about theatre especially for young audiences and the doors that the industry could open for life. Many of today’s seasoned theatre professionals passed through Levinsohn’s hands, from Daphne Kuhn of Auto & General Theatre on the Square to Jill Gerard of the People’s Theatre in Braamfontein.

Levinsohn received a Vita Award for her contribution to children’s theatre in South Africa in 1990, a lifetime achievement award from the Arts and Culture Trust in 2001, and a Naledi award for lifetime achievement in 2005.

Levinsohn, who stepped down from the theatre in 2011 due to ill health, lost her husband, Lionel, last year. They were married for 64 years. She leaves her children, Steven, David, Lawrence, and Della and their families, as well as generations of theatre lovers who had their eyes and souls opened by her work, from both sides of the footlights.

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A giant has fallen: the passing of John Moshal

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Though he hailed from the smaller Jewish community of Durban, the impact of philanthropist and communal patriarch John Moshal was felt across the length and breadth of the South African Jewish community. His death at the age of 81 in London on Tuesday, 26 October, is an unquantifiable loss, but he leaves a legacy that will reverberate across generations and around the world.

While he cared deeply for all Jews and the wider community, his passing will be most keenly felt in the KwaZulu-Natal Jewish community. It was in Durban that he was born on 30 March 1940, and where he committed himself to a lifetime of service, becoming honorary life president of the Council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.

Born John Hillel Moshal, he was educated at Durban Preparatory School and Durban High School (DHS) and the University of Natal, where he graduated in chemical engineering. “More than 100 years ago, John’s father, Max, and my father, Phil, were at DHS together,” says Roger Ellison. “A generation later [1953 to 1957], John and I were also at DHS together, closely followed three years later by my brother Brian and John’s brother Brian.”

“He would always refer to the Moshal family legacy, which started when his family first arrived in South Africa in the late 1800s,” says Durban resident Alana Baranov, who had the honour of working on a book about the Moshal family. “The book was called Setting a Quiet Example, and that’s such a great way to describe John,” she says.

“He would always tell me that the word ‘Moshal’ translates to the word ‘example’, and that he was proud of the legacy of his uncle, Sol, who in his day was the doyen of the community. John really wanted to mirror his life, and walk in his and his ancestor’s footsteps,” says Baranov.

Moshal started Control Logic, and built it into the largest industrial electronics company in South Africa. He sold 50% to Engelhard Industries and this share passed to Anglo American Corporation. In 1984, he sold out completely and moved on to his other interests. His business activities were many and varied, allowing him to pursue the philanthropy that was so central to his ethos.

Community member Cheryl Unterslak says, “John came from very humble beginnings, and would refer to himself as a ‘simple engineer’. He always fought injustice, backed the underdog, and disliked bullies of any kind, be it at school, the pulpit, in community affairs, and in general.”

“He always stressed that he was a team with [his wife] Anna, and that the family did everything together as a team,” says Baranov. “He named the family trust JAKAMaR, after each family member: John, Anna, Karyn, Anthony, Martin, and Richard.”

Through this humanitarian foundation, he established a number of upliftment projects around the world. These included Chiva Africa, which provided HIV/Aids training for local health professionals; the Moshal Scholarship Programme, which has provided hundreds of full scholarships to needy students; the importing of refurbished computers and their distribution to disadvantaged KwaZulu-Natal schools; DIVOTE, which rehabilitates victims of terrorism in Israel; and assisting homeless, abandoned, and abused Jewish children in the Ukraine through the Tikva project.

Unterslak worked with Moshal on a number of causes, including DIVOTE, Talmud Torah, and the PJ Library. “When he started DIVOTE, his goal was to be able to give every Jewish person in South Africa the opportunity to support victims of terror in Israel. John could have done all his chesed for the families on his own, but he chose to be able to give everyone the opportunity.

“John cared deeply for all the Jewish children in the KwaZulu-Natal region and since 2005, regardless of what school they were in, ensured that they would be able to receive Jewish education,” she says. “He believed passionately that Jewish education should start as young as possible, and that one had to give a child the opportunity to know what it is to be a Jew, including the rich history of the Jewish community of KwaZulu-Natal. He remembered his lessons at the Talmud Torah classes in Durban, and had an old sepia photograph wearing a Talmud Torah blazer, from which the logo that we use for Talmud Torah emanated.”

Baranov says “John was proud of the fact that his office in his later decades was his childhood home that bought and restored to its former glory. He would spend his days when he was living in Durban in his office, surrounded by the memories of his childhood and family.”

His interests and passions were wide and varied. “He had the most amazing rock and gemstone collection that he could talk about for hours!” says Baranov. “He also had an incredible collection of watches. What was also surprising for a chemical engineer was that he really loved the ancient texts from ancient Rome and Greece, and he read a lot of that.”

Affectionately known as the “corporate grandfather” of the business world, “he always had time to listen to everyone who came to him for business or community advice”, says Unterslak. “John always said that he was there ‘to put oil on the squeak’. And he did that in abundance! He changed people’s lives, and treated everyone the same no matter if they were head of a corporation, a school child, or a beggar.

“John kept notes from every single meeting,” she says. “In those notebooks, some of his enormous generosity is recorded. He was a giant of a man, an absolute tzaddik. His legacy in the Durban Jewish community, the South African Jewish community, and the greater community in South Africa and overseas is enormous. John always said that he didn’t like to invest in brick and mortar, and I know that the legacy he built is much, much greater than any structure.”

“John was always so proud of Anna, and they were a great team,” Unterslak says. “He got an enormous amount of naches, happiness, and pride from all his children and grandchildren. The whole family continues his legacy.”

“He would always tell me his favourite quote from Pirkei Avot: ‘It’s not for us to complete the task, but neither can we step aside from it’,” says Baranov. “He would speak about how his family would travel ‘below the radar’, but ‘when we leave, we leave a world of good in our wake’. That’s really what he embodied.”

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Tributes

Farewell to the ‘heart, soul, and pulse’ of Bara

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It’s not every day someone is buried in the section of Westpark Cemetery reserved for people who have displayed exceptional commitment to the community and humanity.

The late Professor David Blumsohn was one of them. Known as the “heart, soul, and pulse” of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) where he worked for 50 years, he was described by Rabbi Jonathan Fox this week as an “extraordinary human being, doctor, and committed Jew”.

The SA Jewish Report has been inundated with requests by esteemed medical colleagues, past students, and former patients wishing to write something in his honour.

In his 89 years, the humble humanitarian not only saved and touched thousands of people’s lives, he changed them for the better, they said.

He devoted his life to the practice of medicine almost exclusively in the public sector, wholeheartedly serving the poorest of the poor in Soweto during and after the darkest years of apartheid.

With a mezuzah always firmly affixed to the door of his rooms at CHBAH, he told his students it was a reminder that Hashem was always present even during all the chaos and suffering.

As a principal physician and cardiologist, he headed one of the largest medical units at CHBAH.

He is fondly remembered for his encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine and his extracurricular passions which included Egyptology and hieroglyphics, even holding a doctorate in Semitic languages. Mostly, he’s remembered for his kindness and compassion.

At his funeral, Rabbi Dr Dean Gersun described Blumsohn as “the ultimate mensch”.

“You only had to meet him for five minutes to be spellbound by his genuine love, care, kindness, and compassion,” he said, adding that he had “genuine care for his patients, for how they were, and who they were”.

He recalled the time when Blumsohn took off his own shoes to give to a patient who had to walk home from the hospital.

He told his students, “I’m driving home, he [the patient] has no shoes to walk home, he needs them more than I do.”

Gersun said he personally saw him take money from his wallet more than once on a ward round to give to a patient who would need fare for a taxi home.

He said students were “blown away” by his legendary ECG (electrocardiogram) tutorials, which he delivered over and over with the same excitement.

Students adopted him as their “mentor, friend, their teacher, or their zaida [grandfather]. His love and kindness knew no limits. Students of all races and religions became his unrelated family,” he said.

On one occasion, Blumsohn called him and a religious Muslim student doctor aside to explain the origins and connections between the Hebrew word “shalom” and Arabic word “salaam”. “Using a big brown X-ray envelope, he outlined how we all had a common origin and ancestor. Using hieroglyphics, he then explained how we could say hello, goodbye, and peace.”

After his retirement in 1997, Blumsohn continued to work at CHBAH as an honorary professor, and his door was always open to share his extensive medical knowledge with students and colleagues.

Specialist neurologist Dr Michael Huth said Blumsohn had a “limitless enthusiasm” for medicine and for the students he taught. This was overshadowed by his “unique and unmatched care for human beings”. Being an expert in hieroglyphics, he said Blumsohn would often stop him in the middle of a busy workday for a one-minute corridor discussion on the origins of words, names, or ideas in medicine or life in general.

“He made every colleague feel like his best friend and eased their burden by showering his warm glow of kindness, compassion, and humour on them. Seeing him interact with suffering patients was a moving experience and left a lasting [lifelong] impression. He lived every breath for others, and the influence of his manner with others or through speaking to him, inspired those around him on a daily basis.”

Associate Professor Elise Schapkaitz said Blumsohn, “deplored injustice and decried the indifference shown to the plight of underprivileged patients in what he would often describe as an ‘unjust world’”.

She described Blumsohn as “a man for all seasons, with a fine sense of humour.”

“He loved chess, music, and cricket. And everything he did, he did well. He wasn’t just a player of chess but a grand master.” She said every student at CHBAH had a card with their name written in hieroglyphics from him.

“He wasn’t just my mentor on how to be a good doctor, but my role model on how to be a good person,” she said.

So many tributes were posted on Facebook.

Dr Danella Eliasov described him as one of the “kindest human beings” she had ever met. “I remember him crying outside ward 20 because there were no beds and patients were sleeping on the floor. I remember him telling me that I have an important job because a psychiatrist is a soul doctor.”

Dr Daniel Israel said his medical knowledge and bedside manner was “unique”.

Cardiologist Dr Riaz Garda said he had introduced him to his wife when she was an intern at CHBAH. “He has been close to our family for many years. During my illness, he contacted my wife about six weeks ago to offer her his unconditional support. He taught me that as a doctor, it’s not how much you know, but how much you care.”

Dr Muhammad Manjra thanked him for “showing us that no matter how demanding medicine can be, no matter how many times we may get beaten, broken, and battered by an overloaded, understaffed, and dysfunctional system, we must always be kind, empathetic, caring, and attentive to our patients. You helped us keep our spirits strong in a system designed to break it.”

Rabbi Ami Glixman from Our Parents Home said Blumsohn never missed a minyan or a shiur. Even when he wasn’t feeling strong, he strengthened himself to attend shul. In fact, right until erev Yom Kippur, he was at shul.

Blumsohn and his siblings, Maurice, who lives in Johannesburg, and Tzilla, who lives in Israel, were born and raised in Roodepoort. They grew up in an observant home and their father, who arrived in South Africa from Lithuania when he was 18 years old, ran religious services in Belfast and Nigel and later became a shochet (qualified to slaughter meat according to Jewish law)

Blumsohn attended Krugersdorp High School, and went on to study medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand. He married his love, June, one of CHBAH’s first radiologists, who passed away when she was young. He lived in the couple’s home in Kew, Johannesburg, for about 40 years before moving to Our Parents Home about four years ago.

Maurice told the SA Jewish Report this week that he “couldn’t have wished for a better brother.”

“He was always wonderful. He was my closest friend and cared about others more than he cared about himself.”

He recalled that his brother was always bright, and believes he had a photographic memory.

“David was in second-year medicine when I was studying hard into the night during my matric year. He used to sit in an armchair reading large medical journals like they were novels, and get up at 21:00 and go to bed having absorbed everything. He also beat me at cricket.”

Blumsohn was published widely in medical literature, and was invited to leading international medical institutions as a visiting professor. He was the recipient of the PV Tobias and Convocation Award for distinguished teaching in 1996, and was guest speaker at the final year medical students’ ball for five years, testament to his popularity amongst students. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the University of the Witwatersrand in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the Faculty of Health Sciences, his students, and the Soweto community.

Said Huth, “In a world and a time when most heroes are only on the screen, he was a precious, real-life hero and mentor to so many.”

He had no children of his own, but his countless patients and students were his family for life.

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