Farewell to a legend

  • CapeBoard
Last year, we had the opportunity of looking back on and celebrating 175 years of Jewish communal life in South Africa. In doing so, we paid tribute to the many outstanding communal leaders, past and present, whose selfless efforts during those years did so much to build our community into what it is today.
by DAVID SAKS | Jan 19, 2017

Gerald Leissner, zt”l. was at the very forefront of Jewish communal service and was among many other things a former national chairman and president and long-serving national treasurer of the SAJBD.

Gerald passed away in mid-December after a long illness. Characteristically, he continued to work and to be active in Jewish communal affairs almost to the end.

Gerald’s contribution both to our Jewish community and to South Africa, was immeasurable. One can read, and marvel at the bare facts recording his communal, philanthropic and business career - the wide range of senior leadership positions held, committees served on, prestigious awards received and the like - yet even this extraordinary record tells only part of the story.

For generations of communal leaders, myself included, Gerald was an invaluable source of advice and guidance. In addition to working with him on Board-related matters, I was privileged to serve under his chairmanship of the SA Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and am eternally grateful to him for all the personal time he gave me over the last few years.

Various Jewish organisations, the SAJBD included, benefited immeasurably from Gerald’s legendary financial acumen. Less well known is the crucial role he played in preparing South African Jewry to welcome and actively involve itself in the transition from apartheid to multiracial democracy during the years when he headed up the SAJBD.

In this, as in so many other areas, he was a true visionary, and his passing leaves us and the country as a whole so much poorer. 

Fighting the good fight 

Events of the past few weeks have sadly underlined how prevalent racism and bigotry continues to be in our society. There have been renewed waves of outrage over further offensive social media posts, while in Simonstown a pig’s snout was deposited outside a mosque in what was obviously a calculated attempt to insult and intimidate the Muslim community.

We remember how on various occasions in the past, acts of anti-Semitism have taken the form of leaving pig heads outside synagogues or other identifiably Jewish institutions. As was the case last year, the Board took a strong stand against these open manifestations of racism and intolerance, and we were encouraged to see the various statements we released being widely cited in the various media reports regarding these incidents.

As I have stressed before in this column, speaking out against racist behaviour towards other South Africans, in addition to obviously being the right thing to do, also enhances our credibility as a principled voice against all forms of racism and intolerance, which in turn lends additional weight to our efforts when speaking out against anti-Semitism when such occasions arise.

Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 - 13:00

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