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Sea Point “boytjie” Paul Sulcas leaves a legacy

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Tributes

Cape Town Jewish community elder Professor Paul Sulcas, who passed away on Friday, 10 September 2021, has been likened to Moshe Rabeinu and called “a giant amongst men” by community leaders.

A soft-spoken scholar, sportsman, and quintessential all-rounder, he died at the age of 77 after a long illness. He was cared for with love and devotion until the end by his opera singer wife, Aviva Pelham.

“My dad would say that he was just a simple boytjie from Sea Point and, in a sense, that’s true. He studied, played sports, went to the beach, fell in love, raised some kids, worked his job – the playbook for a nice Jewish boy from Cape Town. But within this simplicity, he shone like a pearl. Without pulling any extravagant moves, without being the loudest voice at the table or the most forceful character in the room, my dad stole the show wherever he went,” said his daughter, Gabi Sulcas Nudelman, in her eulogy at his funeral on Sunday.

Cape Town community leader Philip Krawitz echoed her sentiments. “Our community has lost a humble giant in the passing of the late Professor Paul Sulcas,” he says. “Paul was there as advisor to every community organisation. Whenever there was conflict or questions, he would try to resolve it. He was the most non-political person and had a holistic view of community. He would take his knowledge of business and expertise as a professor of strategy, IT, information systems, and accounting and apply it to the community so that we would benefit from the best advice. And he did it in an unostentatious way. He followed the adage, ‘listen much, talk little’. He would let others talk, then provide a reasoned outcome.”

Sulcas sat on the Cape South African Jewish Board of Deputies for a number of years, and his Jewish identity was at the core of everything he did. He worked in industry as a consultant and mediator, supporting the growth of private and public-sector organisations.

“He realised that many people who leave South Africa cite the inability to find a job and that supporting them is a huge financial drain on the community,” says Krawitz. “He saw one of the main communal functions as helping people to find jobs, and he was instrumental in the conception and establishment of Cape community agency Staffwise, leaving a profound impact on the organisation.

“He also saw the Community Security Organisation (CSO) as reason to avoid emigration. Safety for the community was paramount, and he was one of the founders of the CSO. He also loved the idea of young men and women doing something positive and keeping fit in mind and body,” says Krawitz. “He was a fitness fanatic.”

In his eulogy at the funeral, Rabbi Osher Feldman emphasised this point. “Paul was a legend because it’s not often that you have a doctor, a professor, an academic so darn good at sports! He still holds records at Sea Point Boys High School. How many professors represent Western Province in squash?” he asked with a smile. Krawitz says it was “a treat” watching him and his brother Norman play beach bats, and a crowd would always gather round.

Sulcas’ professional accomplishments are equally impressive. “He was one of the youngest professors in the history of the University of Cape Town and then as dean of the Graduate School of Business,” says his daughter. “My dad was a teacher in the best sense of the word. He didn’t hoard knowledge, but rather empowered his students on their own learning journeys.

“The business school thrived under his leadership. His students adored his down-to-earth approach and relaxed atmosphere, but he was always thoroughly prepared,” says Krawitz. “He also wrote many recognised papers and was a visiting professor in strategy at the Haifa University Business School in Israel.

“An advisor to corporates, nongovernmental organisations, and the arts, he was often called to resolve intergenerational business conflicts,” says Krawitz. “He gently facilitated the progress of countless organisations. Always calm, always rational, he steadied many a rocking boat, and cleared the paths for others’ progress,” says his daughter.

“He was the most present and committed husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, uncle, and cousin. There wasn’t a moment in Rob, Adam, or my life where we didn’t know that my dad was here for us. My father is a giant in our lives,” she says. “His grandchildren, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins are always proud to say, ‘Yes, we’re related to Paul Sulcas.’”

She describes her parents’ marriage as “a love affair for the ages – a real coming together of soulmates who complemented each other in every facet. Both highly successful and regarded on their own, it was in their union that they thrived. When my mom was performing, my dad would sit in the audience, looking up at her with glittering eyes. He was enthralled by her when she bumped into him arriving for a squash tour at Salisbury airport and commented on his tennis racquets, he was enthralled by her at their wedding on 23 January 1969, and he continued to be enthralled with her for their entire life together.”

Sulcas’ niece, Natalie Barnett, says one moment that still makes her laugh is when “he was an extra in one of Aviva’s operas for fun”. It was probably a personal highlight for him, as he had a deep love of the arts.

“He never let anyone down. He was a friend to so many, and an egalitarian,” says Krawitz. “He respected every human, and was incredibly generous with his time and philanthropy. He blazed a trail in that he was happy to share in the childcare and let Aviva spread her wings.”

In the wake of his passing, “people have described him as a true mensch, a real friend, a much needed mentor, a role model, their rock, someone who fundamentally altered the course of their lives through his gentle steerage”, says his daughter. “He taught us that while you can’t choose how you die, you can choose how you live.”

While his illness afflicted him for more than a decade, “even during the darkest times, he had the most incredible courage to carry on”, Krawitz says. “He died this past Friday afternoon, and the parsha for the week was Vayelech, about Moses’ last days. And in many ways, Paul reminds me of Moshe Rabeinu. Just like Moses, he was a visionary, but one of the most humble men to walk the earth. He always saw the good in the future – the Promised Land. He thought about the future a lot. He did so much to ensure the community was well-positioned to survive into the future. We will miss his wisdom, kindness, passion, care, and reason.”

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A giant has fallen: the passing of John Moshal

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Though he hailed from the smaller Jewish community of Durban, the impact of philanthropist and communal patriarch John Moshal was felt across the length and breadth of the South African Jewish community. His death at the age of 81 in London on Tuesday, 26 October, is an unquantifiable loss, but he leaves a legacy that will reverberate across generations and around the world.

While he cared deeply for all Jews and the wider community, his passing will be most keenly felt in the KwaZulu-Natal Jewish community. It was in Durban that he was born on 30 March 1940, and where he committed himself to a lifetime of service, becoming honorary life president of the Council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry.

Born John Hillel Moshal, he was educated at Durban Preparatory School and Durban High School (DHS) and the University of Natal, where he graduated in chemical engineering. “More than 100 years ago, John’s father, Max, and my father, Phil, were at DHS together,” says Roger Ellison. “A generation later [1953 to 1957], John and I were also at DHS together, closely followed three years later by my brother Brian and John’s brother Brian.”

“He would always refer to the Moshal family legacy, which started when his family first arrived in South Africa in the late 1800s,” says Durban resident Alana Baranov, who had the honour of working on a book about the Moshal family. “The book was called Setting a Quiet Example, and that’s such a great way to describe John,” she says.

“He would always tell me that the word ‘Moshal’ translates to the word ‘example’, and that he was proud of the legacy of his uncle, Sol, who in his day was the doyen of the community. John really wanted to mirror his life, and walk in his and his ancestor’s footsteps,” says Baranov.

Moshal started Control Logic, and built it into the largest industrial electronics company in South Africa. He sold 50% to Engelhard Industries and this share passed to Anglo American Corporation. In 1984, he sold out completely and moved on to his other interests. His business activities were many and varied, allowing him to pursue the philanthropy that was so central to his ethos.

Community member Cheryl Unterslak says, “John came from very humble beginnings, and would refer to himself as a ‘simple engineer’. He always fought injustice, backed the underdog, and disliked bullies of any kind, be it at school, the pulpit, in community affairs, and in general.”

“He always stressed that he was a team with [his wife] Anna, and that the family did everything together as a team,” says Baranov. “He named the family trust JAKAMaR, after each family member: John, Anna, Karyn, Anthony, Martin, and Richard.”

Through this humanitarian foundation, he established a number of upliftment projects around the world. These included Chiva Africa, which provided HIV/Aids training for local health professionals; the Moshal Scholarship Programme, which has provided hundreds of full scholarships to needy students; the importing of refurbished computers and their distribution to disadvantaged KwaZulu-Natal schools; DIVOTE, which rehabilitates victims of terrorism in Israel; and assisting homeless, abandoned, and abused Jewish children in the Ukraine through the Tikva project.

Unterslak worked with Moshal on a number of causes, including DIVOTE, Talmud Torah, and the PJ Library. “When he started DIVOTE, his goal was to be able to give every Jewish person in South Africa the opportunity to support victims of terror in Israel. John could have done all his chesed for the families on his own, but he chose to be able to give everyone the opportunity.

“John cared deeply for all the Jewish children in the KwaZulu-Natal region and since 2005, regardless of what school they were in, ensured that they would be able to receive Jewish education,” she says. “He believed passionately that Jewish education should start as young as possible, and that one had to give a child the opportunity to know what it is to be a Jew, including the rich history of the Jewish community of KwaZulu-Natal. He remembered his lessons at the Talmud Torah classes in Durban, and had an old sepia photograph wearing a Talmud Torah blazer, from which the logo that we use for Talmud Torah emanated.”

Baranov says “John was proud of the fact that his office in his later decades was his childhood home that bought and restored to its former glory. He would spend his days when he was living in Durban in his office, surrounded by the memories of his childhood and family.”

His interests and passions were wide and varied. “He had the most amazing rock and gemstone collection that he could talk about for hours!” says Baranov. “He also had an incredible collection of watches. What was also surprising for a chemical engineer was that he really loved the ancient texts from ancient Rome and Greece, and he read a lot of that.”

Affectionately known as the “corporate grandfather” of the business world, “he always had time to listen to everyone who came to him for business or community advice”, says Unterslak. “John always said that he was there ‘to put oil on the squeak’. And he did that in abundance! He changed people’s lives, and treated everyone the same no matter if they were head of a corporation, a school child, or a beggar.

“John kept notes from every single meeting,” she says. “In those notebooks, some of his enormous generosity is recorded. He was a giant of a man, an absolute tzaddik. His legacy in the Durban Jewish community, the South African Jewish community, and the greater community in South Africa and overseas is enormous. John always said that he didn’t like to invest in brick and mortar, and I know that the legacy he built is much, much greater than any structure.”

“John was always so proud of Anna, and they were a great team,” Unterslak says. “He got an enormous amount of naches, happiness, and pride from all his children and grandchildren. The whole family continues his legacy.”

“He would always tell me his favourite quote from Pirkei Avot: ‘It’s not for us to complete the task, but neither can we step aside from it’,” says Baranov. “He would speak about how his family would travel ‘below the radar’, but ‘when we leave, we leave a world of good in our wake’. That’s really what he embodied.”

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Farewell to the ‘heart, soul, and pulse’ of Bara

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It’s not every day someone is buried in the section of Westpark Cemetery reserved for people who have displayed exceptional commitment to the community and humanity.

The late Professor David Blumsohn was one of them. Known as the “heart, soul, and pulse” of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital (CHBAH) where he worked for 50 years, he was described by Rabbi Jonathan Fox this week as an “extraordinary human being, doctor, and committed Jew”.

The SA Jewish Report has been inundated with requests by esteemed medical colleagues, past students, and former patients wishing to write something in his honour.

In his 89 years, the humble humanitarian not only saved and touched thousands of people’s lives, he changed them for the better, they said.

He devoted his life to the practice of medicine almost exclusively in the public sector, wholeheartedly serving the poorest of the poor in Soweto during and after the darkest years of apartheid.

With a mezuzah always firmly affixed to the door of his rooms at CHBAH, he told his students it was a reminder that Hashem was always present even during all the chaos and suffering.

As a principal physician and cardiologist, he headed one of the largest medical units at CHBAH.

He is fondly remembered for his encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine and his extracurricular passions which included Egyptology and hieroglyphics, even holding a doctorate in Semitic languages. Mostly, he’s remembered for his kindness and compassion.

At his funeral, Rabbi Dr Dean Gersun described Blumsohn as “the ultimate mensch”.

“You only had to meet him for five minutes to be spellbound by his genuine love, care, kindness, and compassion,” he said, adding that he had “genuine care for his patients, for how they were, and who they were”.

He recalled the time when Blumsohn took off his own shoes to give to a patient who had to walk home from the hospital.

He told his students, “I’m driving home, he [the patient] has no shoes to walk home, he needs them more than I do.”

Gersun said he personally saw him take money from his wallet more than once on a ward round to give to a patient who would need fare for a taxi home.

He said students were “blown away” by his legendary ECG (electrocardiogram) tutorials, which he delivered over and over with the same excitement.

Students adopted him as their “mentor, friend, their teacher, or their zaida [grandfather]. His love and kindness knew no limits. Students of all races and religions became his unrelated family,” he said.

On one occasion, Blumsohn called him and a religious Muslim student doctor aside to explain the origins and connections between the Hebrew word “shalom” and Arabic word “salaam”. “Using a big brown X-ray envelope, he outlined how we all had a common origin and ancestor. Using hieroglyphics, he then explained how we could say hello, goodbye, and peace.”

After his retirement in 1997, Blumsohn continued to work at CHBAH as an honorary professor, and his door was always open to share his extensive medical knowledge with students and colleagues.

Specialist neurologist Dr Michael Huth said Blumsohn had a “limitless enthusiasm” for medicine and for the students he taught. This was overshadowed by his “unique and unmatched care for human beings”. Being an expert in hieroglyphics, he said Blumsohn would often stop him in the middle of a busy workday for a one-minute corridor discussion on the origins of words, names, or ideas in medicine or life in general.

“He made every colleague feel like his best friend and eased their burden by showering his warm glow of kindness, compassion, and humour on them. Seeing him interact with suffering patients was a moving experience and left a lasting [lifelong] impression. He lived every breath for others, and the influence of his manner with others or through speaking to him, inspired those around him on a daily basis.”

Associate Professor Elise Schapkaitz said Blumsohn, “deplored injustice and decried the indifference shown to the plight of underprivileged patients in what he would often describe as an ‘unjust world’”.

She described Blumsohn as “a man for all seasons, with a fine sense of humour.”

“He loved chess, music, and cricket. And everything he did, he did well. He wasn’t just a player of chess but a grand master.” She said every student at CHBAH had a card with their name written in hieroglyphics from him.

“He wasn’t just my mentor on how to be a good doctor, but my role model on how to be a good person,” she said.

So many tributes were posted on Facebook.

Dr Danella Eliasov described him as one of the “kindest human beings” she had ever met. “I remember him crying outside ward 20 because there were no beds and patients were sleeping on the floor. I remember him telling me that I have an important job because a psychiatrist is a soul doctor.”

Dr Daniel Israel said his medical knowledge and bedside manner was “unique”.

Cardiologist Dr Riaz Garda said he had introduced him to his wife when she was an intern at CHBAH. “He has been close to our family for many years. During my illness, he contacted my wife about six weeks ago to offer her his unconditional support. He taught me that as a doctor, it’s not how much you know, but how much you care.”

Dr Muhammad Manjra thanked him for “showing us that no matter how demanding medicine can be, no matter how many times we may get beaten, broken, and battered by an overloaded, understaffed, and dysfunctional system, we must always be kind, empathetic, caring, and attentive to our patients. You helped us keep our spirits strong in a system designed to break it.”

Rabbi Ami Glixman from Our Parents Home said Blumsohn never missed a minyan or a shiur. Even when he wasn’t feeling strong, he strengthened himself to attend shul. In fact, right until erev Yom Kippur, he was at shul.

Blumsohn and his siblings, Maurice, who lives in Johannesburg, and Tzilla, who lives in Israel, were born and raised in Roodepoort. They grew up in an observant home and their father, who arrived in South Africa from Lithuania when he was 18 years old, ran religious services in Belfast and Nigel and later became a shochet (qualified to slaughter meat according to Jewish law)

Blumsohn attended Krugersdorp High School, and went on to study medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand. He married his love, June, one of CHBAH’s first radiologists, who passed away when she was young. He lived in the couple’s home in Kew, Johannesburg, for about 40 years before moving to Our Parents Home about four years ago.

Maurice told the SA Jewish Report this week that he “couldn’t have wished for a better brother.”

“He was always wonderful. He was my closest friend and cared about others more than he cared about himself.”

He recalled that his brother was always bright, and believes he had a photographic memory.

“David was in second-year medicine when I was studying hard into the night during my matric year. He used to sit in an armchair reading large medical journals like they were novels, and get up at 21:00 and go to bed having absorbed everything. He also beat me at cricket.”

Blumsohn was published widely in medical literature, and was invited to leading international medical institutions as a visiting professor. He was the recipient of the PV Tobias and Convocation Award for distinguished teaching in 1996, and was guest speaker at the final year medical students’ ball for five years, testament to his popularity amongst students. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the University of the Witwatersrand in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the Faculty of Health Sciences, his students, and the Soweto community.

Said Huth, “In a world and a time when most heroes are only on the screen, he was a precious, real-life hero and mentor to so many.”

He had no children of his own, but his countless patients and students were his family for life.

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Allan Greenblo: a story that ended too soon

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A Cape Town boy with a Joburger’s drive, Allan Greenblo was a pioneering journalist, editor, and publisher who always landed on his feet. Filled with optimism and ambition, he wasn’t yet done when he died suddenly at the age of 76 on 11 October 2021.

Growing up in the Mother City, Greenblo attended Wynberg and Westerford schools. He studied at the University of Cape Town, where he was a member of the student representative council. He found his calling in financial journalism, where he became editor at Financial Mail. He was with the publication for 11 years before breaking away to co-found Finance Week. Punching above its weight, the publication was a thorn in the side of many.

Carolyn Raphaely, former Finance Week features editor, says, “It’s probably not surprising that Allan had a life-long love affair with bulldogs – he was a bit of a bulldog himself. One of the feistiest, most doggedly determined journalists I’ve ever met, he would gnaw at a story like a dog at a bone until he finally unearthed the truth. Allan was an early corruption-buster, muckraker, and investigative journalist long before investigative journalism became fashionable, and truly understood what it meant to follow the money.

“He was also incredibly supportive of his staff’s attempts to unearth a good story,” she says. “He had an excellent sense of humour, and always managed to extract the best from a small team of eccentric journalists – including his economics editor, a former acrobat, who took regular walks along the fifth floor window ledge of Finance Week’s Rissik Street office. She took pleasure in knocking on his office window to give him a fright, particularly when he was on deadline! I feel immensely grateful for the privilege of working with him and for everything he taught me about tenacity, pursuing the truth, and exposing injustice.”

Greenblo was then appointed the first managing director of BDFM, at the time a joint venture between the Financial Times of London and the local media group now known as Arena Holdings. Once again, he adapted to a new role without missing a beat.

“I had been editor of the Financial Mail since that January,” says columnist Peter Bruce. “I liked Allan immediately, and really enjoyed working with him. He was always encouraging and quick with praise when it was warranted. He made an effort not to interfere, which must have been hard for a journalist turned manager.

“We had only one falling out. I took my wife to a slap-up dinner at the Westcliff Hotel, and we both had the lobster. I tried to expense it based on the fact that I had been working hard for weeks and had barely had time to talk to her. He refused the expense claim, and I think I sulked for a while. But he was, of course, right. He had a big brain and a big heart.”

Business editor Tim Cohen says, “Allan Greenblo was a remarkable force in journalism in South Africa, full of the best kind of contradictions. He was easy-going yet determined; he was full of understanding yet relentlessly quizzical; he was deeply thoughtful yet full of light and fun. In all of these things, he was a rarity not only as a journalist but a person, underpinned not by deep ideological concerns but by a broader humanity and intellectualism.”

In 2005, Greenblo started Today’s Trustee, a quarterly magazine aimed at serving the principal officers and trustees of South African retirement funds. “I knew Allan for more than 15 years, and was always humbled whenever he asked me to contribute to editorial in Today’s Trustee or speak at the many conferences he arranged,” says Teri Solomon.

“Allan was kind, always engaging, a consummate professional, and an absolute gentleman,” she says. “He was, above all, an outstanding financial journalist dedicated to the pursuit of integrity, transparency, and accountability in an often murky industry. He always called it like it was, and never shied away from controversy. Indeed, he tackled some very difficult topics, but he did so head on, with clarity, logic, and just plain common sense.

Today’s Trustee was his passion,” she says. “The magazine, which went from a printed version to now fully digital, is an indispensable publication for the retirement-fund industry, and an incredible source of information and educational content for trustees, principal officers, and chairpersons like myself. I hope the publication will continue, and by doing so, will continue to honour Allan’s legacy.”

A defining moment in his career was when Greenblo wrote an unauthorised biography of Sol Kerzner to be published by Jonathan Ball in 1997. It was effectively banned by the courts at the last moment. Chief executive at Jonathan Ball Publishers, Eugene Ashton, recalls, “I met Allan more than 20 years ago, in our offices in Denver, Johannesburg, where Jonathan Ball and Allan would be locked in day-long meetings dealing with the intricacies of the Kerzner legal action.

“Allan remained resolute that it was an important book, a book that was, in effect, a study of South African business during apartheid. At the same time he was – much like Jonathan – certain that we should ensure that all legal obstacles were cleared before publication, if that were ever possible. As lockdown hit last year, our conversations became more frequent. There was – and is – a book that should be published. It’s my view that the injunction served to prevent publication wouldn’t stand today. This doesn’t change the fact that there are two court orders against publication.”

On 8 October, Ashton and Greenblo met for breakfast at Teta Mari in Illovo. “We talked about politics, about Churchill, about marriage, the joys of the Kruger Park, and why we stay in South Africa. We also talked Kerzner, picking at the Gordian knot – where to next?” But that question might never be answered with Greenblo’s passing.

Greenblo won Afrox and Sanlam awards for financial journalism; worked as a South African advisor to the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index); and, in 2019, received the Sanlam financial journalism award for lifetime achievement.

Besides his career, he found a passion for Judaism. “About 18 years ago, he started to study every week,” remembers Rabbi David Masinter of Chabad House in Johannesburg. “Every Wednesday, he and Robbie Brozin would have a shiur. He had an insatiable appetite to study and learn. It was a journey, and it led him to put on tefillin every day, and come to shul every week. As a critical thinker, he understood that he may not be able to get all the answers, but he felt that there was something ‘very right’ in his Jewish heritage. He was a fantastic husband to Riana and father to Mia, and he loved his dogs. He wanted to do a lot more to help fix the country.”

Brozin says, “We used to play squash together for about 15 years, and then both our knees gave in, so we started walking. The weekly shiur was an absolute highlight in his life and mine. He kept it going.”

“He was an icon of journalism,” Brozin says. “He was a journalist’s journalist. He really understood how journalism and publishing worked, how to follow a good story. And I think towards the end, he was distraught with the corruption that was happening in South Africa. Yet he always felt positive. He definitely fulfilled his mission in the world.”

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