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Tribute to communal leader par excellence

  • NillyBaruch
Cape Town communal organisations are reeling from the loss of Nilly Baruch, who passed away unexpectedly last Thursday at the age of 75.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jun 20, 2019

Baruch, deeply involved in community service, was admired for her selfless devotion to others and her commitment to several Jewish organisations.

Baruch underwent surgery to her ankle on Monday last week, and although she seemed to be recovering, collapsed unexpectedly on Thursday. She passed away that evening. Her funeral was held on Sunday at the Jewish cemetery in Pinelands.

An activist for several local Jewish organisations, Baruch’s involvement in the community brought her into contact with many who recall her fondly. They paint a picture of an indefatigable woman, who was always elegantly dressed, sporting her signature red lipstick and earrings.

“Nilly always went beyond the call of duty,” says Lisa Sandler, the joint head of ORT Cape Town where Baruch served for about 20 years. “She wore many hats in her time. Whether [it was] ORT, the Union of Jewish Women, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), Bnot Tzion, Partnership2Gether, or any other, she always gave of herself entirely.”

Baruch was known for her ability to break down barriers, shunning all protocol and formality in reaching out to people from across the religious and ethnic spectrum. Says Sandler, “She always tried to make a difference in the Nilly way.

“Her home was always open, and people visiting from overseas were always there with her and her husband, Tzvi. I remember a communal seder she held one afternoon during Pesach just to share the unique experience with colleagues beyond faith. She was always breaking barriers in issues concerning religion and Israel.”

Baruch was also involved in the SAZF in Cape Town, serving as a member of the management committee for 24 years. Julie Berman, her close friend and executive director of the Cape Council of the SAZF, remembers her as one of the most active members she knew.

“Nilly was instrumental wherever she worked,” says Berman. “Her heart way exceeded the size of her body. She could only think of doing good for others and making their lives easier.”

The two were friends for 21 years. Berman spoke about Baruch’s support of many communal causes and organisations, within and without the Jewish community. She was a major sponsor of the control room of the Community Security Organisation, and was involved in strengthening ties with Christian Zionists, forging strong connections with the African Christian Democratic Party.

Baruch put others before herself, even after suffering a personal loss. The proud mother of three children, she lost her son, Nir, in a motorbike accident, but is said to have been unflagging in her duty to the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. Says Berman, “She just kept going. She did all she could to keep herself occupied, and kept giving to the community. It was remarkable.

“Like any person, she had her moments,” Berman says. “Still, I would give anything to hear her talking about her latest project. Though she will be sorely missed by the SAZF, this is a loss for the entire community.”

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