Tribute to our ‘Mr Community’

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“Largely thanks to Gerald Leissner we live in one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in the world.” So said Avrom Krengel, co-chairman of the IUA-UCF, speaking at Tribute to a Legend, a memorial held in Leissner’s honour at Yeshiva College Shul on Monday evening.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Apr 06, 2017

The tribute illuminated the unshakeable foundations Leissner laid in numerous spheres of South African Jewish life.

Moving but understated, the memorial was a fitting tribute to Leissner who passed away in December last year. Through each address and a touching video tribute, the unwavering dedication of a natural leader whose love of Judaism and South Africa, and whose intrinsic optimism, humility and business savvy helped strengthen South African Jewry, shone through.

Serving as chairman of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, as a pioneer of Yeshiva College and as founding member of the first Holocaust and Genocide Centre in Johannesburg, Leissner - dubbed “Mr Community”- had a lifelong devotion to his people. He also helped lead the community through the transition to democracy in the country.

Also a highly respected businessman, a chartered accountant and an innovator in South Africa’s listed property market, Leissner helped found the Central Johannesburg Partnership in the 1980s.

Speaking of the “many Geralds”, Rabbi Tanzer made it clear that it was Leissner’s friendship that meant the most to him.

“Through 36 years of friendship, he held my hand as we planned the future and survival of Yeshiva which was never a certainty. Yet, together we were blessed to see how Yeshiva grew. Hashem sent us a miracle - he was called Gerald.”

Veteran community leader Marlene Bethlehem, remembered a man of sincerity and great humility.

“He was calm but authoritative,” she said. “He was my mentor and adviser, my guiding light. What a visionary, what a friend!” Bethlehem said that Leissner’s influence would be felt way into the future.

Committed to perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, an integral part of Leissner’s vision was creating the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, which he hoped would reach all the people of South Africa.

Tali Nates who worked with Leissner in the realisation of this dream, echoed the prevailing depiction of a man whose unwavering positivity was nothing short of inspirational.

Also delivering a tribute, Avrom Krengel highlighted the hope Leissner instilled for the future of the South African Jewish community, through his vision, modesty and financial acumen.

“No one answered the call to serve his people in a finer manner than Gerald. We must honour him by continuing his work,” he said.

In addition to his unparalleled impact on the Jewish community - and just as admirable - was Leissner’s devotion to his family.

“My father's life was all about moving and contributing,” said an emotional Jonathan Leissner. “To us, he was our father.” Married for 52 years to his beloved wife Shirley, Leissner was a devoted father and grandfather. “You were our eyes, you guided us,” he said.

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