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Sir Sydney Kentridge: real-life hero at the bar

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Achievers

Legal legend Sir Sydney Kentridge has left an indelible mark on the judicial systems of South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK). At 98 years old, the retired lawyer devoted his life to the law, and strove to guarantee justice for all.

It was in this spirit that Kentridge received the Lifetime Achievement Award in honour of the late Helen Suzman at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards this past Sunday. The award recognises Kentridge’s efforts in the legal sphere, and acknowledges his years of service in South Africa and the UK, where he resides today.

“This is a surprise,” said William Kentridge, Sir Sydney’s son, himself a former recipient of the Arts, Science, Sport and Culture award. “It’s fantastic that this is being given to my father.

“When you’re young, everyone’s father is a kind of hero,” he said. “As you grow older, one tempers one’s judgements and finds a place where they fit in the world. It’s always been odd to say that what I assumed was an exaggerated view of my father was in fact borne out by the experience of his life.”

Kentridge said that his father had influenced countless other lawyers, his career exemplifying what it is to be an honourable person.

“On behalf of the family and the Jewish community of South Africa, I’m happy you have the award and wish you congratulations,” he said to his father.

A video tribute outlined the years of service Kentridge had devoted to his calling. This included acting for Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu.

Kentridge reflected, “[The cases] brought me into contact for the first time with leaders of the African National Congress. It was really an education in South African politics for me.

“All the accused were simply acquitted. Of course, I and the other members of the defence team felt elated about it. It was the most political of trials in a highly politicised country, but it showed that the judiciary was still completely independent. It was a great day for the South African justice system.”

Kentridge rose to prominence overseas after leaving South Africa to practice law in England, where he became a well-respected barrister at the London Bar. He was later knight by Queen Elizabeth II for his services.

“I thought it was a great day when I went to Buckingham Palace and was knighted by the Queen with a tap on the shoulder with a sword,” Kentridge recalled. “I did regard it as some public recognition, and also had the idea that the work I had done in South Africa had a little to do with it.

“I remember telling one of my grandchildren that the Queen taps you on the shoulder with a sword, and the question I got from her was, ‘Isn’t that very dangerous?’”.

Kentridge expressed thanks for the Lifetime Achievement Award, calling it “very unexpected”.

“I certainly value it, coming as it does from Johannesburg, which was my old home town for many years before I came to England,” he said. “I had my Barmitzvah at the Yeoville Shul, and my late wife and I were married in the Wolmarans Shul. I have a very Johannesburg Jewish background which I greatly value.”

Kentridge said that his grandfather, who came to South Africa with his family about the time of the Boer War, was someone who he never knew personally but about whom he knew a lot.

“He got a position as the chazzan of the shul in Vryheid which then had a considerable Jewish community. That is what brought the family to South Africa.

“My family has always been what I wouldn’t call Orthodox, but a traditional Jewish family. My upbringing in Johannesburg was very much a Jewish one, and so I’m very touched that the SA Jewish Report saw fit to give an award which I greatly value.”

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Achievers

Nominations are now open for Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021

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ABSA BUSINESS ICON AWARD

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved iconic status within the business community.

ABSA BUSINESS LEADERSHIP AWARD – FROM COVID TO HOPE

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has played a critical leadership role in business during this period.

ABSA PROFESSIONAL EXCELLENCE – FROM COVID TO HOPE

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved national recognition and acclaim in their profession during this period.

ENTREPRENEUR AWARD

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has a proven track record in entrepreneurial ventures.

COMMUNITY SERVICE AWARD

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has served the Jewish community with remarkable distinction.

EUROPCAR WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP AWARD

  • Honouring the leadership, success and overall contributions of distinctive Jewish women in business or in the broader South African community.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
in honour of Helen Suzman

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has contributed in an extraordinary manner over a long period of time.

ARTS, SPORTS, SCIENCE AND CULTURE AWARD

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has excelled in any of these spheres.

HUMANITARIAN AWARD
In honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris

  • Awarded to a Jewish or non-Jewish person who has contributed substantially to the betterment of the lives of the people of South Africa.

To nominate visit this page.

Nominations close at 17:00 on 3 September 2021

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Achievers

Build hope by reaching out and nominating

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As the sun rises through the darkness of the pandemic and looting in South Africa, we begin to renew our hope for the future, and with that, we start our search to celebrate our Absa Jewish Achievers in 2021. Nominations are now open.

This year, we will celebrate on 7 November with great ‘hope’, the theme of this year’s event that so perfectly fits our growing sentiments.

The past 18 months have been so incredibly tough on our community, our country, and our world. What with more than 200 Jewish people dying from the COVID-19 pandemic in Johannesburg alone, we have really felt the coronavirus to our core.

We haven’t been able to be at loved one’s funerals, and have sat shiva alone. We have isolated from our loved ones to protect them. We have put much of our lives on hold because of this illness. Many have lost businesses and livelihoods.

But the end of this pandemic is in sight. We have “hope” again. As we vaccinate en masse, we move towards a new tomorrow.

We survived the wholesale looting and violence of the past month, and people have gone to great lengths to help each other make it through.

As a community, we work best together. We support each other, making us stronger and more resilient.

The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is all about our community putting heads together and coming up with those unique individuals who stand head and shoulders above others.

We will pull out all the stops to celebrate our 2021 achievers on 7 November. Once again, we’ll keep it online to avoid any potential COVID-19 risks. But in so doing, we’ll bring your international fantasies to life with our annual revelry. And in so doing, we will enable far more people to participate than can fit in a large hall. Last year, we took our numbers from 1 000 to 60 000 viewers.

It’s time to look around and find those unique individuals, those gems within our community who have performed in their own areas like no other. You know who they are, and they will be given the kavod only if you nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. It’s up to you.

“The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is so important as it allows us as a community to take stock and celebrate our disproportionate contribution to the people of South Africa,” says Howard Sackstein, Absa Jewish Achiever chairperson.

“It allows us to create role models for everyone to emulate as we celebrate the extraordinary. In so doing, we encourage others to find greatness in their own fields.”

Though we will once again be looking for lifetime achievers this year, a humanitarian champion, and those who have gone way beyond the call of duty for the community, we are also focusing on those who have excelled in the past year.

We want to find those outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves over this past year with its unique challenges.

We are looking for nominees in the following: women in leadership; business award; entrepreneurship; business icon; professional excellence community award winner; a lifetime achiever; a winner in sport, science and culture; and a humanitarian award winner (who doesn’t have to be Jewish).

It’s up to you to nominate these people. Without your nominations, they won’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. Although there are judges involved, we need your nominations and online participation in the public vote.

This is a communal event, focusing on our magnificent community, to find the individuals that will become icons for the rest of us. “As you all know, we work best as a community, and in this, we encourage each other to take pride in the achievements of others,” says Sackstein.

Nominations are open from today, until 17:00 on 3 September.

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Achievers

Achiever Awards reimagined

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It’s official: not even a pandemic can stop the South African Jewish community from paying tribute to the heroes in its midst.

Against a background of social distancing and sanitisation, thousands came together last Sunday for the most iconic iteration of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards in its 22-year history.

Instead of gathering in person at a decked-out venue, guests participated in an evening of glamour and fine dining from the comfort of their own home for the first ever online version of the annual awards ceremony.

Other than hundreds of paying and invited guests, between 30 000 and 60 000 people from around the world also watched the spectacular event on YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and Zoom.

No effort was spared to ensure that the evening was as enthralling online as it would in person. In the run-up to Sunday night, couriers shuttled staggering numbers of cocktail packs to each individual guest’s home, making sure that the annual Achievers magic wasn’t lost.

Gin, tonic, and prosecco flowed freely in homes across South Africa as participants prepared to watch a livestream of the awards ceremony, ready to raise a l’chaim as they cheered the winners.

As if this wasn’t enough, many guests who would otherwise have reserved a table at the live event also had a lavish three-course gourmet kosher meal delivered to their doorstep. Arriving in a sleek cylindrical box, the spread included tantalising entrees, a mouth-watering main course, and even an array of sweet treats to accompany the evening’s viewing.

The meals were catered by Maxi Kosher Discount Butchery and styled by Dolores Fouche under the strict supervision of the Johannesburg Beth Din. Added to the food, there were beautiful fabric placemats, napkins, face masks, and even the traditional Achiever kippa for participants. Each featured the artwork of renowned South African artist Kim Lieberman.

The evening began with an exclusive red-carpet event presented by Dina Diamond, with various nominees joining her virtually to chat before the ceremony got underway. Excitement mounted as the red carpet concluded at 18:00 when the Awards ceremony began.

“For the past 21 years, we have gathered in hotel boardrooms and convention centres to celebrate the remarkable and disproportionate contribution made by the Jewish community to the development of post-apartheid South Africa,” said Howard Sackstein, chairperson of the SA Jewish Report and the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards.

“When we started planning tonight’s event more than a year ago, we didn’t expect to be playing hide and seek with a virus. We didn’t predict that the world would be gripped in the vice of a worldwide pandemic that has so sadly claimed the lives of so many in our community.

“This year, we cannot just recognise nine winners. We as the board of the SA Jewish Report feel the need to pay tribute to literally hundreds of South Africans who have been an ohr lagoyim [a light unto the nations].

“Tonight, we announce our roll of honour to recognise and pay tribute to the many South Africans who have sacrificed so much for a better South Africa during the pandemic of 2020.”

That list was both extensive and illustrious. This year’s winning personalities included seasoned entrepreneur Liran Assness, the chief executive of holding company Sekta and recipient of The Kirsh Family Entrepreneur Award; Ferrari icon turned cheese aficionado Jody Scheckter, who received the Art, Science, Sports and Culture Award; as well as Wendy Fisher, acclaimed sculptor and philanthropic powerhouse, who took the Humanitarian Award in honour of the late Chief Rabbi, Cyril Harris.

Title sponsor Absa’s award categories recognised the accomplishments of renowned lawyer Professor Michael Katz with the Absa Business Icon Award. Professor Mervyn Mer, the principal specialist and head of intensive-care at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital received the timely Absa Professional Excellence in the Time of Covid Award, and Discovery’s Dr Jonathan Broomberg walked away with the Absa Business Leadership in the Time of Covid Award.

The Europcar Women in Leadership Award went to Pick n Pay group’s Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, and Professor Barry Schoub, retired expert in vaccinology and virology, was recognised for his contribution to humanity with the Kia Community Service Award.

Ninety-eight-year-old Sir Sydney Kentridge, whose lifetime in service of the law is nothing short of legendary, received the Lifetime Achievement Award in honour of Helen Suzman for his decades of service. Even Sackstein received a surprise award – the Lawrence and Karen Abrahamson Family Award for his efforts to connect the Jewish community with an array of webinars during the lockdown period.

Not even the annual event’s signature entertainment was dispensed with this year. Jewish comedian Gilli Apter kept guests giggling as compere, and the musical performances screened between each presentation were spectacular.

These included the melodies of singer Danielle Bitton and opera aficionado Yudi Cohen, whose performance of The Prayer shook the speakers in every home. They were joined by the toe-tapping yiddishe music of Caely-Jo, and even international Jewish-music sensation the Maccabeats.

Completing the line-up of musical magic was Choni G and six-year-old Bibi Shapiro (whose Avinu Malkeinu previously took YouTube by storm), and Jonathan Roxmouth of Phantom of the Opera fame.

In true Achiever Awards style, this once-in-a-lifetime event delivered an evening that not only paid tribute to the heroic personalities among us, but also provided a much-needed dose of positivity and joy.

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