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Heroes, mentors, and cancelled plans: the stories behind the SAJBD awards

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Professor Barry Schoub, Dr Richard Friedland, Uriel Rosen, the Kirsh family, and Viv Anstey were all honoured for their unstinting work for the good of others at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Conference at Investec in Sandton on 17 October.

The Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award went to Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland. “Barry has been the person in our community who, over and above the incredible nachas that we receive from his global scientific accomplishments, has done so much for us,” said Mary Kluk, SAJBD national vice-president.

When the SAJBD leadership was grappling with how to protect the Jewish community during the early stages of COVID-19, it was Schoub’s quiet wisdom and vast scientific experience that steered them through.

“He’s become this household name, constantly appearing not only on our news, but also on international news networks,” said Kluk. “Yet, Barry has taken every call and every query from every one of us and all our organisations for the past 18 months. And he has made himself available to South Africa, but in particular to our community.”

Speaking after receiving the award, Schoub recalled how he and his wife were about to travel to Storms River Mouth in the Eastern Cape in March 2020, when his phone rang.

“Look, there’s no way you can go on holiday,” said Zev Krengel, SAJBD national vice-president, on the other end of the line. “Do you know that there’s a COVID-19 pandemic on its way to the country?”

With that, Schoub unpacked the bags, cancelled the booking, and began what he described as a “remarkable” journey.

“I’m indeed overwhelmed, honoured, humbled, and gratified to receive this very, very prestigious award named after two extraordinary philanthropists in our community,” said Schoub. “It will occupy a treasured place for me and on my study wall.”

Schoub paid tribute to his co-awardee, Friedland, describing him as a “tzadik” and saying he had learned so much from his former student.

Indeed, Friedland was lectured by Schoub during his third year of medicine.

“He [Schoub] was a mentor then, and he’s a mentor now,” said Friedland. “One of the great privileges of working now was to sit at the feet of such a master.”

Friedland was awarded for the contribution he made to the Jewish community during the pandemic.

He has spoken on many public platforms, participated in a range of consultative forums, and fielded innumerable queries from all sectors of the community about COVID-19. Through this, he provided up-to-date information, advice, and considered guidelines that the Jewish leadership could safely rely upon. Furthermore, Friedland took a personal interest in those community members who contracted the virus.

After receiving his award, Friedland said Schoub’s praise “greatly overexaggerates the role I played, which was merely a janitor”.

The Chief Rabbi Cyril and Ann Harris Humanitarian Award went to the Kirsh family for their contribution to South Africa, in spite of being overseas. Natie and Frances, their son, Philip, and daughters, Wendy and Linda, were praised by Krengel as “one of the unique families that did unbelievably well all over the world and never forgot their roots”.

Krengel said the family embodied the proverb popularised by Spider-Man comic books: “With great power comes great responsibility”. He said the family looked after the most vulnerable in South Africa and, during the pandemic, it stepped up to help young people and schools across the country.

The Eric Samson Mendel Kaplan Communal Service Award for a Professional went to Viv Anstey and Uriel Rosen. A board member of the Cape SAJBD, Anstey possesses an immense depth of communal knowledge, gives selflessly of her time, and constantly rolls up her sleeves to help with tasks of any size. She has a passion for including and reaching out to youth in the South African Jewish community.

“You have epitomised the model of a Jewish civil servant,” said Tzvi Brivik, the chairperson of the Cape SAJBD. “Numerous organisations have benefited from your qualities of vision, innovation, and initiative, combined with the highest standards of professionalism that you have consistently brought to every position you have held.”

After collecting her award, Anstey said, “As a serial social entrepreneur, I’m proud of all the initiatives I have spearheaded alongside lay and professional teams. For me, leadership is about vision, implementation, and people.”

Rosen is the man behind the Hatzolah Wellness Programme, recognised across South Africa as the epitome of community care. The programme has been a critical resource in tracking and managing COVID-19 in the community.

“Everybody who works with Uriel has nothing but praise for his unbelievable willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to assist those in need,” said Professor Karen Milner, the chairperson of the SAJBD.

Rosen accepted the award on behalf of his team, which “dedicates every breathing moment to the welfare and healthcare of the Jewish community”.

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