Gerald Leissner will be remembered
Gerald Leissner, “Mr Community”, considered one of South African Jewry’s top leaders, passed away on Friday, December 16 in Johannesburg at the age of 74. He was buried in West Park Jewish Cemetery on the same day. He was a past recipient of a Jewish Achiever award.
‘Mr Community’ passes
In Nelson Mandela’s address to the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in August, 1993, the former president singled out Leissner as one of the Jewish leaders in the forefront of the struggle for human rights and said South Africans owed much to the example he set.
Leissner was a “yekke” down to his fingertips. Everything about him was organised, punctual (you could set your clock by him), logical and accurate.
Yet, he tempered this precision with quietly-spoken, measured tones, modesty and a gentleness that can rarely be ascribed to businessmen. He also made the Sunday Times “Rich List” on December 11, 2016, alongside other business titans.
He held office as chairman of Beyachad, national chairman and president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, chairman of the SA Friends of the Hebrew University, administrator of Foundation 2000 and a trustee of the SA Holocaust Foundation.
He was a past chairman of Yeshiva College and the Yeshiva College Hebrew Congregation.
In business, he was chief executive officer (CEO) of Arrowhead Properties Limited, CEO of Go Global, Inc. and a director of ApexHi.
He was previously MD of Anglo-American Property Services (Ampros).
He start up the business ladder was in 1964 when, after completing his articles, Manfred Gorvy, his former senior clerk in the small accountancy firm where he worked, told him about an exciting opportunity.
“Gorvy was then secretary of Townsview Estates, a property management company for the Schlesinger Organisation and suggested I join as an accountant. That was my defining moment in business. The company was purchased by Anglo-American in 1974. Working with the Anglo-American Corporation, one was able to develop and be innovative,” Leissner told Jewish Report in an earlier interview.
Leissner’s tenure at Ampros saw the rise of the giant Carlton Centre and Hotel, but, later “the demise of most of the CBD. We sold the Carlton Centre for R32 million.” Today the replacement value would be R2 billion.
“I cannot complain, I have done very nicely,” he used to say euphemistically, leaving out all his achievements and the fact that he was widely known as a mover and shaker in commercial property circles.
Leissner had another passion – politics – and he was an ANC supporter in the early nineties (at the time unpopular among his peers).
“I was probably the first business leader who spoke for the ANC on a public platform and was a card-carrying member of the party.”
As chairman of the Board of Deputies, he founded the Johannesburg Jewish Voice in 1990, with the objective of guiding the Jewish community into the new South Africa.
“I think the release of Nelson Mandela was a defining moment in the lives of most people in this country. I regard myself as a proud South African,” he recalled.
But his political allegiances never compromised his strict observance as an Orthodox Jew.
“We used to live in Parkmore and I was very involved in the Beis Hamedrash Hagadol in Sandton. Rabbi Ziggy Suchard encouraged my son Jonathan to join Bnei Akiva. When he came back from camp in standard four (grade 6), Jonathan was insistent on going to Yeshiva College. We agreed, moved to Glenhazel and I became totally involved in the school and shul.
“I understood that fundraising was crucial to our Jewish organisations and became Johannesburg chairman of the United Communal Fund.”
Leissner was a fundraiser par excellence (he could get blood out of the proverbial stone), but said: “That move put me into the school, the shul and the community and my various leadership positions on the Board of Deputies.”
In his unassuming way, he took Jewish organisations to new heights, put them from the red into the black and appropriately earned him the nickname “Mr Community”.
Born in Johannesburg, Gerald Leissner attended Highlands North Boys’ High School and graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a CTA and CA (SA).
He leaves his wife Shirley, a lecturer in French, and four children, Wendy, Nicky (who is married to Chazan Colin Schachat and lives in Israel), Jonathan and Michael and 13 grandchildren. He also leaves a sister, Coral Smith, who lives in Australia.
Nominate achievers who bring us hope
Remember when you were raving about the incredible work someone in the community had done? Well, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. You don’t have much time…
Last year, the focus was on what winners did over and beyond COVID-19 and through the toughest part of the pandemic.
This year, it’s all about hope, as we see the end of the pandemic in sight, death rates are dropping, people are vaccinated, and we are looking towards a brighter future. Who is enabling this? Who are the people who have brought us hope? Who’s bringing us hope right now, and will continue to inspire us in the future? Who are our winners?
“We are looking for those people who brought us hope in professional excellence and business leadership during these tough times,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and the board of the SA Jewish Report.
“Nominate those who showed true leadership and went way beyond the call of duty when there was looting and rioting in the country as well as a spike in the pandemic numbers.”
Sackstein admits that the judges’ decisions will be tough this year as many heroes have risen to the challenges of community and country. “It’s essential to create a record of these times, and those who have stood out when life was at its most challenging,” he says.
Professor Barry Schoub last year won the Kia Community Service Award for his awesome contribution to the Jewish community through COVID-19. The emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases came out of retirement to help the community, going on to become chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. Since his award, he has led South Africa through the process of acquiring vaccines and getting vaccinated.
Dr Mervyn Mer, who won the award for professional excellence in the time of COVID, has gone on to save many more lives from this dreaded coronavirus. He also almost singlehandedly reopened the COVID-19 ward at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital after the medical facility was closed following a fire. As the numbers of people getting desperately ill due to COVID-19 rose during the third wave, he did what he believed he needed to do to save lives.
Our other winners, Johnny Broomberg, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Liran Assness, Michael Katz, Wendy Fisher, Jody Scheckter, and Sir Sydney Kentridge have gone from strength to strength since then.
You have until the close of business on 3 September to make your nominations. Don’t wait, do it now. Go to https://www.sajr.co.za/absa-jewish-achiever-awards-2021/
Nominations are now open for Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021
ABSA BUSINESS ICON AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved iconic status within the business community.
ABSA BUSINESS LEADERSHIP AWARD – FROM COVID TO HOPE
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has played a critical leadership role in business during this period.
ABSA PROFESSIONAL EXCELLENCE – FROM COVID TO HOPE
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved national recognition and acclaim in their profession during this period.
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has a proven track record in entrepreneurial ventures.
COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has served the Jewish community with remarkable distinction.
EUROPCAR WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP AWARD
- Honouring the leadership, success and overall contributions of distinctive Jewish women in business or in the broader South African community.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
in honour of Helen Suzman
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has contributed in an extraordinary manner over a long period of time.
ARTS, SPORTS, SCIENCE AND CULTURE AWARD
- Awarded to a Jewish person who has excelled in any of these spheres.
In honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris
- Awarded to a Jewish or non-Jewish person who has contributed substantially to the betterment of the lives of the people of South Africa.
Nominations close at 17:00 on 3 September 2021
Build hope by reaching out and nominating
As the sun rises through the darkness of the pandemic and looting in South Africa, we begin to renew our hope for the future, and with that, we start our search to celebrate our Absa Jewish Achievers in 2021. Nominations are now open.
This year, we will celebrate on 7 November with great ‘hope’, the theme of this year’s event that so perfectly fits our growing sentiments.
The past 18 months have been so incredibly tough on our community, our country, and our world. What with more than 200 Jewish people dying from the COVID-19 pandemic in Johannesburg alone, we have really felt the coronavirus to our core.
We haven’t been able to be at loved one’s funerals, and have sat shiva alone. We have isolated from our loved ones to protect them. We have put much of our lives on hold because of this illness. Many have lost businesses and livelihoods.
But the end of this pandemic is in sight. We have “hope” again. As we vaccinate en masse, we move towards a new tomorrow.
We survived the wholesale looting and violence of the past month, and people have gone to great lengths to help each other make it through.
As a community, we work best together. We support each other, making us stronger and more resilient.
The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is all about our community putting heads together and coming up with those unique individuals who stand head and shoulders above others.
We will pull out all the stops to celebrate our 2021 achievers on 7 November. Once again, we’ll keep it online to avoid any potential COVID-19 risks. But in so doing, we’ll bring your international fantasies to life with our annual revelry. And in so doing, we will enable far more people to participate than can fit in a large hall. Last year, we took our numbers from 1 000 to 60 000 viewers.
It’s time to look around and find those unique individuals, those gems within our community who have performed in their own areas like no other. You know who they are, and they will be given the kavod only if you nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. It’s up to you.
“The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is so important as it allows us as a community to take stock and celebrate our disproportionate contribution to the people of South Africa,” says Howard Sackstein, Absa Jewish Achiever chairperson.
“It allows us to create role models for everyone to emulate as we celebrate the extraordinary. In so doing, we encourage others to find greatness in their own fields.”
Though we will once again be looking for lifetime achievers this year, a humanitarian champion, and those who have gone way beyond the call of duty for the community, we are also focusing on those who have excelled in the past year.
We want to find those outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves over this past year with its unique challenges.
We are looking for nominees in the following: women in leadership; business award; entrepreneurship; business icon; professional excellence community award winner; a lifetime achiever; a winner in sport, science and culture; and a humanitarian award winner (who doesn’t have to be Jewish).
It’s up to you to nominate these people. Without your nominations, they won’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. Although there are judges involved, we need your nominations and online participation in the public vote.
This is a communal event, focusing on our magnificent community, to find the individuals that will become icons for the rest of us. “As you all know, we work best as a community, and in this, we encourage each other to take pride in the achievements of others,” says Sackstein.
Nominations are open from today, until 17:00 on 3 September.