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The South African Jewish community has consistently been boxing above its weight and the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards recognise the tremendous contribution Jews have made – and are making – to the fabric of South African society.

Last year’s winners were:

The Absa Listed Company Award went to Michael Metz of KAP Bedding

Metz’s attitude to his life is that his work is his play and his leisure is his labour, so to speak – though he’d add that none of those would be worth much without his close-knit family and his Jewish values.

Starting with a small family business, he built it into one of the country’s largest bedding brands. Metz is the divisional CEO of KAP’s integrated bedding division.

JSE-listed KAP is a group of manufacturers, consisting mainly of companies acquired since 2004, as well as the industrial assets of Steinhoff Africa.

Metz was appointed chief of KAP’s bedding division after the acquisition of his family business Restonic by KAP Industrial in 2015. 

The Absa Unlisted Company Award went to Dionne Ellerine Hirschowitz, a member of the iconic Ellerine family. She runs one of the largest privately-owned businesses in South Africa, namely Ellerine Brothers, as well as the associated Eric Ellerine Trust.

Hirschowitz, who has a B Com, LL B degree and is a graduate of King David Linksfield, lived in London for 11 years working at Stenham Property, before returning to South Africa in 2006.

The core business activities of Ellerine Brothers and associated companies are equity investments, property investments and management, and private equity investments.

She has also worked hard to raise awareness of the role of women (particularly Jewish women) in the workplace.

The Absa Lifetime Achiever Award in honour of Helen Suzman, went to the Donald Gordon Foundation, represented by Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum, for the Foundation’s remarkable philanthropic work.

Wendy, the daughter of Sir Donald Gordon, is a trustee of the DGF, one of the largest private charitable foundations in Africa. Wendy was a trustee of the Helen Suzman Foundation and is a member of the Global Philanthropists’ Circle. Hylton is a trustee of the Foundation, Kagiso Trust and various other organisations including The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

The DGF, whose beneficence is legendary, is clear about its mandate: to fund higher education institutions with a particular (but not exclusive) focus on business education; medical education and training; cultural affairs and the performing arts; conservation and the environment; and human welfare, with a particular focus on the poor and needy in the South African Jewish community.

The Chivas Humanitarian Award in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, is open to all South Africans who have made South Africa a better place. Iconic Struggle lawyer George Bizos, SC, the 2016 winner, was a popular choice.

Bizos, (87) the indefatigable prominent human rights lawyer, was part of the defence team at the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial and was a close friend of President Nelson Mandela. He defended Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu. The defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, but spared the death penalty.

The KIA Community Service Award
winner was also a popular one. Marlene Bethlehem has, over many years, earned her stripes as a community leader par excellence.

Bethlehem’s vivacity is truly remarkable – and over the last five decades a preponderant part of it has gone the way of the South African and international Jewish communities. Her passionate love for the local Jewish community and for Israel, shines through all her actions.

Bethlehem was also one of this country’s leading sportswomen and participated in three Maccabiahs (1957, 1961 and 1985) and played with much success (as Marlene Gerson) on the international tennis circuit.

The Richmark Art, Sport, Science and Culture Award, went to arguably the best surfer this country has ever seen, Shaun Tomson. Tomson has been listed as one of the 25 most influential surfers of the century and as one of the 10 greatest surfers of all time.

Recalls the affable Tomson: “You look around while you’re surfing – and you don’t see too many Jewish boys on the top of 25-foot waves. Actually, being Jewish and being a surfer is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it?”

He added: “When I used to travel around the world and it was a Jewish holiday, I’d look around, say, for somewhere where I could join a seder at Pesach. Which was fine, but the people I was involved with, and competing with, and so on, they thought I was from another planet…”

The Creative Counsel Young Jewish Entrepreneurs Award, went to the duo, Greg Blend and Grant Friedman, with their Standout Property Group, founded in 2013.

The two young men at the age of 27, and both products of King David schools – Blend Linksfield and Friedman Victory Park – both boast B Com degrees. Their company specialises in property investment, management, development and re-development and is going like the proverbial Boeing. They say a great deal of their success is that they manage their properties in-house. They also partner with larger tenants in co-owning their premises.

They feel their greatest achievement was reaching 50 000 sqm of gross leasable area under their ownership and management in only three years. And this is only the beginning!

The Europcar Jewish Women in Leadership Award, went to the formidable Jewish High Court judge Sharise Weiner.

When the search was one for a new Public Protector to succeed the charismatic and well-loved Thuli Madonsela, whose term of office ended last October, a Jewish name sprung up. Although Busisiwe Mkhwebane eventually got the nod, judge Weiner was more than a worthy finalist.

She was nominated for the position by Group One Chambers of Advocates in Sandown Village, who stated: “Her integrity is, and has always been, beyond reproach.”

Judge Weiner lives by a code of ethics that she says, “is core on Jewish values. These were inculcated in me by my late parents, especially my mother.”

The moral and ethical Jewish teachings, as entrenched in the Constitution, were one of the reasons for her accepting her appointment as a judge.

In 2012, Weiner founded “Warm the World”, a charity that donates blankets to the needy and empowers women by paying them for knitting and sewing the blankets. 

The Absa Entrepreneur Award went to Barry Taitz of Blue Cellular.

Blue Cellular is a story of hope and determination, of a “small man” making it big in business, the story of a man with a dream who just never would give up.

In 1988, he was sales manager of the year at Simba and in 1999 and 2000, he was top salesman at Simba.

But he had ambitions of his own. In 2003, Blue Cellular started with R50 000; since then it has grown to arguably the largest independent prepaid cellular starter pack distributor in the country, with strategic agreements with all the major cellular companies.



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