The angel at our table who disrupted mass starvation
Few individuals have saved as many lives as this year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Humanitarian Award winner Glynne Wolman, founder of The Angel Network.
“The Angel Network and Glynne have been angels in our lives and we are standing because of them,” said Clive Mashishi of the Clive Mashishi Foundation in a video at the awards on Sunday, 7 November.
Mashishi marvelled at Wolman’s “passion for helping others, her zeal, determination, and her personal conviction to say, ‘People cannot starve whilst we have the necessary resources to help them.’”
Dorianne Weil, a clinical and organisational psychologist, said, “Glynne exhibits a real resilience and determination. She just doesn’t give up. She is a consummate human being and a real mensch, and it’s fitting that she has won the Cyril Harris Humanitarian Award.”
On receiving the award, Wolman said she felt honoured, humbled, and enormously grateful. “I accept it on behalf of a phenomenal team that I’m fiercely proud of and privileged to work with. I dedicate this award to the countless community leaders we work with who are on the ground and give their all with no thought of reward. They teach us daily about the generosity of spirit. They are the true heroes.”
Wolman launched The Angel Network as a non-profit organisation in 2015 because of the need by so many who have so little. “Initially, we did the nice-to-do things like providing Easter eggs, school shoes, and blankets,” she said. “But we soon found that we were able to do other things like assist with education, upskilling, training, and job creation.”
Unfortunately, the negative effects of COVID-19 meant that The Angel Network had to turn its focus to giving handouts to prevent millions from dying of starvation. “Everything was urgent,” recalled Wolman. “We had to feed people and help them stay warm. People were becoming unemployed. There were many more people that needed assistance.”
Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “Towards the beginning of the pandemic, we saw the terrible suffering around us as a result of the lockdown. We looked to find the person and the organisation that could help us get the food to beneficiaries quickly, directly, and responsibly. That was when we connected with The Angel Network and the phenomenal Glynne Wolman. She is a social disrupter who has changed the way that charity is given and poverty is alleviated.”
Said Mashishi, “The Angel Network helped us to help our people and give them hope. It has donated equipment, food parcels, and shoes to us.”
Hella Ledwaba, executive director of the non-profit Vuka Skhokho, said, “We had only been able to work with a few waste pickers here and there, but after connecting with Glynne, we were able to see them regularly and be close to them.”
Hayley Glasser, who sits on The Angel Network’s executive committee, said, “Glynne’s belief in others and her ability to help them believe in themselves is a defining characteristic of hers. It has contributed to making The Angel Network the success it is today.”
An infectious passion for tackling disease
Internationally distinguished but refreshingly humble, Professor Lucille Blumberg, epidemiologist and former deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, has devoted her life to the study of infectious diseases.
“Lucille is tireless,” says Professor Marc Mendelson, the director of infectious diseases and HIV medicine at the University of Cape Town. “She is the go-to person in South Africa if you have a problem in infection – she’s my go-to person. She brings together an amazing ability to amalgamate clinical expertise with the laboratory side, and most importantly, the public-health side of infectious diseases.”
Mendelson was just one of the many medical experts and professors who paid tribute to Blumberg, who received this year’s Absa Professional Excellence Award – From Covid to Hope. Among her myriad achievements, Blumberg has most recently been instrumental in developing a system to document South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She realised right at the beginning of the pandemic that as a country, we didn’t have a hospital surveillance system and so she very quickly mobilised and spoke to the right people to make sure that this happened,” says Professor Lynn Morris, the deputy vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand. “She recruited volunteers, who were inspired by her vision and call for action to help her set up what is now called the Datcov Hospital Surveillance System.” This system collects comprehensive, real-time data on morbidity and mortality including demographic, clinical, and treatment information, and it’s shared through daily and weekly reports.
The Datcov system has very quickly become a vital source of information and continues to guide the national response to the pandemic. “Lucille is extremely passionate about everything she does and will stop at nothing to make sure that things happen as they should,” says Morris. “She’s a force of nature and a can-do person – just the sort of person you need in an emergency.”
Having started her career in clinical medicine, Blumberg later discovered what she calls, “the magical world of microbes”. An exciting field that always offers something new to discover, the study of infectious diseases combined with the management of outbreak responses remains her passion and one for which she is internationally respected. Indeed, Blumberg has done extensive work with the World Health Organization and other international bodies on globally important outbreaks and epidemics.
“I’ve been working in outbreaks for almost 20 years and never came across anything like COVID-19,” says Blumberg. “It’s changed all our worlds and it’s required a tremendous effort, huge resilience, and extra resources. It’s put vaccines on a new trajectory and brought many different players together.”
In accepting her award, Blumberg said, “Public health is never about one individual, it’s always about a team and making a difference to community lives.” She paid tribute to the SA Jewish Report and the webinars it hosted for lightening the dark days of COVID-19, her beloved mother for teaching her all the important things in life, and her team who helped establish the Datcov system.
“I want to recognise the wonderful nominees, especially the healthcare workers who have shown great courage, worked long hours, and saved many lives on the frontline,” she concluded. “They are the true heroes. We will get through this, we will continue to show great resilience and come together as a community. It’s vaccines that will open up our world and allow us to travel and dream again.”
Transforming spaces for working moms
Cara Saven, the founder and chief executive of Cara Saven Wall Design, isn’t just fulfilling her company promise of “transforming spaces around the globe, one wall at a time”, she’s also working to change the corporate landscape for working mothers.
“Cara’s created her business around doing the work and being a mother all at the same time,” says Stacy Closenberg, the company’s sales and operations director. “In this business, we’re all mothers, all doing this massive juggle between trying to run the business as well as fetching from school and running around. Cara’s given us the opportunity.”
Indeed, Saven started Cara Saven Wall Design 15 years ago out of a desire to be available to her children. “I’d entered the corporate world and while I loved my job with all my heart, it had no place for me when I became a mother,” Saven said upon accepting her Europcar Women in Leadership Award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards on 7 November.
“I wasn’t yet living in a society where they saw the benefit of retaining mothers in their ranks. So, I did what many women in my position who refused not to see their babies until 18:00 did, I quit, and figured out another way to make money.”
In doing so, Saven decided to employ fellow mothers. “I decided I would grow my company with the most competent people I knew – mothers – women who had mastered the art of efficiency and time management. So, we got building. With schoolwork and snotty noses and homework thrown in between. With flexible hours or working from home, we built.”
Today, Cara Saven Wall Design is an internationally successful business, offering a range of more than 1 000 wallpaper designs as well as customisable options. The company’s growth has been exponential. “Cara went from operating in South Africa only, to opening up international branches, with agency agreements and printers in the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates,” says Bryce O’Donnell, the managing director of Construct Capital. “She did this all in such a short space of time, it was inspiring to watch.”
“Not only is Cara exceptionally talented, she’s always striving to better her product, herself, and everybody works around her,” says client Andy Graff, of Andrea Graff Interior Design. O’Donnell agrees. “She lives and breathes her brand. The way she runs her business, the way she treats her people, the service they provide, there’s no doubt that she embodies excellence in everything that she does.”
Saven’s employees echo these sentiments. “Cara has been a personal leader who is inspirational and motivating,” says Creative Business Director Megan Sherratt. “I’ve seen the company grow exponentially, and I believe this is from the passion, the dynamism, as well as the hands-on approach she takes in managing her business. Her positive nature is what makes her grow.”
In her acceptance speech, Saven spoke of “lucky women”, women who have more opportunities than the female generations that came before them. She believes COVID-19 and the resultant fusion of our work and home lives has “broken down the illusion that we don’t have private lives that are happening while we work”. It gives her reason to believe that her daughters won’t have the same struggles she did. “They will be lucky enough to live in a society that doesn’t offer only two choices for corporate women, nine to five or quit when they have children. They are lucky women.”
Celebrating the heroes who care from all corners of the community
This year’s joint winners of the Community Service Award epitomise the strong foundation on which South African Jewish life is built. Rabbi Yossy and Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman, who have built a legendary South African shul community, and Jewish Burial Services, who serve at times of heartbreaking loss, are part of the glue that continues to bind us together.
“With his wife, Rochel, he has forged the way for all the other rabbis by the example that he has set,” said Rabbi Dovid Hazdan of the Great Park Synagogue speaking of Rabbi Yossy Goldman who, together with Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman, was honoured at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards ceremony on 7 November. “Rabbi Goldman has shown the way that the rabbinate can be relevant to the modern world. He is the consummate rabbinic leader.”
Reflecting on Rochel’s invaluable contribution to her community and adopted country, Lynette Saltzman, the managing director and co-founder of Dis-Chem Pharmacies, said, “With 11 children and a family to look after, she still had time for the community, with a passion and dedication to working towards her goals of furthering education in the country and looking towards helping, empowering, and uplifting women.”
Sent to South Africa in 1976 by their teacher, mentor, and guide, the Lubavitch Rebbe, the United States-born Goldmans got to work at Sydenham Shul, steadily establishing one of South Africa’s most influential shul communities. “Our vision was to help bring more light into the world, more understanding, and more depth,” said Rochel, reflecting on their journey. “Together, we were a good team.”
Raising 11 children, who have gone on to serve and educate Jewish communities in South Africa and the wider world, the Goldmans are proud to have propagated a legacy of community service – one of their greatest gifts to the world.
In accepting the Community Service Award, Goldman said, “This humbling award emphasises that when you’re in my business, you’re not just a private person, you’re a community person. I’ve always said that the rabbinate cannot be a career, it must be a calling.
“If our personal and family lives are consistent with our faith and sacred values, then and only then can we have a genuine, meaningful influence to inspire others,” he said. “It’s my prayer that we have done that until now and that we can continue to do so.” The couple emphasise that they’re here to stay even as their roles in Sydenham Shul evolve.
“We are living in a beautiful African garden,” said Rochel. “Our life’s calling over these four and a half decades has been to discover the delicious fruit and help others to notice the abundant gifts that are just waiting for the picking in every corner of South Africa and particularly in our community. We hope you’ll be inspired to join us.”
Honoured for their work in providing dignity in death and support and comfort in the most trying of times, the various Jewish Burial Societies and Chevrah Kadishas around South Africa were also recipients of the Community Service Award.
“We’ve lived through the most difficult and challenging period in modern history,” said Saul Tomson, group chief executive of the Chevrah Kadisha, “but sadly we’ve suffered tremendous loss also. The excess death rate in South Africa is really one of the largest in the world. In Johannesburg alone, we have experienced a nearly 40% increase in deaths over the past 18 months. These aren’t just numbers, these are people.”
That’s why in accepting the award, the burial societies paid tribute to the individuals around South Africa who have been lost over the past 18 months and their loved ones.
From Victor Gordon, a key figure and leader in the Pretoria Jewish community for many decades, to Zoe Cohen from Johannesburg, who showed true devotion to her work in the area of adoption, to Leo Bornman, buried in East London and best known for spearheading a deal to produce Mercedes Benz in South Africa, memories were shared and thanks given to those who buried each person with respect and dignity.
Speaking of Elliot Wolf, the legendary former headmaster of King David High School Linksfield and director of the King David Schools Foundation, who was buried in Johannesburg on 3 November, his close colleague and friend, Raelene Tradonsky, said, “His life’s mission was to transfer our rich Jewish heritage and values to the next generation. He really cared.”
“Caring is what it comes down to. We have witnessed heroes in every corner of this community over the past difficult 18 months,” said Tomson. “The silent heroes are those that work with the deceased of this community, those who are there to assist the families at their most difficult time with kindness, compassion, care, and always with love and professionality. They quietly go about their work, but we recognise every single one of them – all of whom have gone above the call of duty.”
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