Suzanne Ackerman-Berman: the best and the worst of times
Ensuring that millions of South Africans have food on their table is all in a day’s work for Suzanne Ackerman-Berman.
The transformation director for Pick n Pay Group and head of the Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation, Ackerman-Berman was the recipient of this year’s Europcar Women in Leadership Award for her monumental efforts to feed the nation of South Africa in lockdown.
As the brains behind the Feed the Nation campaign, she assisted vulnerable families by providing hampers, groceries, and essential items during lockdown, and has since raised more than R80 million to fund it.
Colleagues paid tribute to her at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards held virtually this past Sunday.
“If you want to see leadership skills, watch people in a time of absolute crisis,” said Marc Lubner, the chief executive of Afrika Tikkun. “Suzanne herself contracted the virus, and you would never have known it because she continued to operate by making everyone else’s priorities more important than her own.”
Several others agreed, highlighting Ackerman-Berman’s persistent commitment to helping others and to rallying as much support as she could in pursuit of her goal.
“Suzanne can put herself on any line,” said Hazel Levine, the head of Jewish Community Services in Cape Town. “She has the most incredible determination. She rallied everyone she was connected to, and together with Pick n Pay, she has fed 22 million mouths to date.
“Suzanne, this is such an accomplishment,” she said. “Tonight, you aren’t giving. You are receiving. I’m so proud to witness this moment.”
Ackerman-Berman said that she was deeply moved and honoured to accept the Women in Leadership Award, particularly after the past six months of the pandemic.
“I don’t believe it’s over yet,” she said. “It’s been a terribly difficult time for each one of us, and often in the very worst of times it takes hardship, trouble, and challenges for the best people and personalities to come out.”
Ackerman-Berman recognised the efforts of all those involved in Feed the Nation, from store staff to suppliers.
“I would like to thank our unbelievable teams on the shop floor, the frontline staff who kept our stores open, kept our staff safe, and who kept feeding the community,” she said.
“More than 900 stores have been sourcing, packing, and distributing food hampers over this difficult period. It’s been quite a remarkable exercise where we’ve worked together as a team. We’ve all learned that we need to come together.
“I want to thank my colleagues who allowed me to step up, to step into their space in terms of distribution and operations, and to create this incredible programme with each of them.”
These are outrageous times, said Ackerman-Berman, who believes that we’ve all learned a new way of being.
“Einstein himself said that for evil to perpetuate, a good man must do nothing. I think that what we’ve seen here tonight, with all the awardees, extraordinary work is being done across this nation of ours. It makes us proud to be South African,” she said.
“Thank you to all our customers and to society for helping us to feed the nation.”
Nominate achievers who bring us hope
Remember when you were raving about the incredible work someone in the community had done? Well, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. You don’t have much time…
Last year, the focus was on what winners did over and beyond COVID-19 and through the toughest part of the pandemic.
This year, it’s all about hope, as we see the end of the pandemic in sight, death rates are dropping, people are vaccinated, and we are looking towards a brighter future. Who is enabling this? Who are the people who have brought us hope? Who’s bringing us hope right now, and will continue to inspire us in the future? Who are our winners?
“We are looking for those people who brought us hope in professional excellence and business leadership during these tough times,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and the board of the SA Jewish Report.
“Nominate those who showed true leadership and went way beyond the call of duty when there was looting and rioting in the country as well as a spike in the pandemic numbers.”
Sackstein admits that the judges’ decisions will be tough this year as many heroes have risen to the challenges of community and country. “It’s essential to create a record of these times, and those who have stood out when life was at its most challenging,” he says.
Professor Barry Schoub last year won the Kia Community Service Award for his awesome contribution to the Jewish community through COVID-19. The emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases came out of retirement to help the community, going on to become chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. Since his award, he has led South Africa through the process of acquiring vaccines and getting vaccinated.
Dr Mervyn Mer, who won the award for professional excellence in the time of COVID, has gone on to save many more lives from this dreaded coronavirus. He also almost singlehandedly reopened the COVID-19 ward at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital after the medical facility was closed following a fire. As the numbers of people getting desperately ill due to COVID-19 rose during the third wave, he did what he believed he needed to do to save lives.
Our other winners, Johnny Broomberg, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Liran Assness, Michael Katz, Wendy Fisher, Jody Scheckter, and Sir Sydney Kentridge have gone from strength to strength since then.
You have until the close of business on 3 September to make your nominations. Don’t wait, do it now. Go to https://www.sajr.co.za/absa-jewish-achiever-awards-2021/
Nominations are now open for Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021
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.
- 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.
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.
Nominations close at 17:00 on 3 September 2021
Build hope by reaching out and nominating
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.