This year’s Jewish Achievers are real winners
When music director extraordinaire Bryan Schimmel, stood up to accept the SA Jewish Art, Sport, Science and Culture award, he ensured there was nary a dry eye in the 600-strong Absa Jewish Achiever Awards audience.
“All through school I was not the cool kid or the popular kid. I was shy, awkward, introverted, self-conscious, afraid of speaking, marginalised because I was different. And all I ever wished for was acceptance.
|Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2017
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“The saying goes ‘careful what you wish for’. In finding my place on the path unwinding, here I am in front of all of you, feeling mightily accepted,” he said to a standing ovation.
Once too shy to speak because he had a terrible stutter, he had the audience enraptured as he told of his journey to this award.
“Being named as a Jewish Achiever has a certain resonance for me. I am not a shul-goer, I am not shomrei Shabbos, I am not always observant. But I am extremely proud of being Jewish. On my path unwinding, I’ve always been guided by the words of Hillel that I wear permanently on my left forearm: ‘If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?’.
“And so, I say to every kid who is not the cool kid, but who has a dream and a passion, I accept this award as a symbol of inspiration and hope to all of you… If you follow your heart, if you live outside your comfort zone, and if you strive to be the best version of yourself at all times, you will find your place in the circle of life.”
And Schimmel was just one of the nine phenomenal winners of this year’s premier event on Sunday evening.
The auspicious Lifetime Achiever Award, in honour of Helen Suzman, was awarded to Simon Susman, chairman of the Woolworths Group and non-executive chairman of the London-based Virgin Active fitness group, who said that his life was divided into three parts, the first being about learning, the second about earning and the third about giving back. So, now he participates in numerous, mostly Jewish organisations, in order to do the latter.
He said: “My parents taught me very high standards, deep Jewish principles and values, and I try and live up to those every day.”
Susman also credited his many business mentors along the way, including Lord Marcus Sieff, former chairman of Marks & Spencer, and his “powerful grandmother”, daughter of the founder of Marks & Spencer Michael Marks, who taught him to “honour powerful woman”.
He thanked the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards, saying “recognition by one’s peers is the only real recognition”. He also thanked the woman in his life. “I’m very grateful and lucky, lucky too to have a partner in Megan, who I met late in life and is showing me new adventures.”
Winner of the Humanitarian Award in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris was announced as Pravin Gordhan, who said he was grateful for this “very humbling award” and congratulated the other award winners for the “remarkable contributions they’ve made to their respective fields of endeavour”.
“We are just activists and public servants, so let me give this award to the Treasury team, the good people at Revenue Services and SA Reserve Bank, and all the good public servants who do their best to keep South Africa on the right road,” he said.
Addressing the vexing issue of state capture and corruption, he urged South Africans to be more proactive: “These are not issues for politicians, but issues for the people… The Jewish community is extremely resourceful, with great skills, talent and entrepreneurs, some of whom are here today, and has produced fascinating freedom fighters from whom my generation learnt some of their politics and principles.”
Gordhan highlighted the importance of “cultural silos” – “these give us a sense of identity and meaning”.
“But equally, as we build a new South Africa, we also have to find important bridges across those silos, and that requires people of foresight… This community has produced illustrious people who’ve contributed to the Freedom Charter, which stands as a testament to real imagination, foresight but above all, humanity,” he said.
The KIA Community Service Award was given to 87-year-old Don Krausz, Holocaust survivor, who has spent his life since escaping the horrors of the Holocaust, making sure young people know what really happened.
He tells them of his terrifying experiences at Ravensbruck concentration camp in northern Germany.
He relayed how, when he began as a Holocaust educator, most survivors were going to Jewish schools to talk. He questioned why they were preaching to the converted and wanted to go to the other schools to talk to them. He went to schools, some of which were not ready for his message yet. Things have since changed.
In his emotive speech, he spoke of how he had in the past reminded those who, when they think of the children who were killed in the Holocaust, they focus on Anne Frank, but, he says, there were 1,5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust and not just this one heroine.
The Creative Counsel Young Jewish Entrepreneur Award went to Ryan Canin, CEO and co-founder of DocFox Inc, a web application designed to fight money laundering and simplify compliance for financial services firms, locally and abroad.
“I want to thank the many people in this room who put time and effort, which is unique in the Jewish community, into really growing young entrepreneurs,” he said.
Winner of Europcar’s Jewish Woman in Leadership Award was Ronleigh Gaddin, CEO of the Amani Spas Group. Gaddin said the Jewish Achiever process has been one of “self-introspection and reflection”.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting the most incredible people. I stand here and salute every single nominee, each of whom is a winner in their own right,” she said, adding: “To reach a landmark such as this award raises the expectations I have of myself, and motivates me to continue to succeed, to build my company and my own reputation.”
Gaddin, daughter of the late Russell Gaddin – a stalwart in Jewish leadership – said she knew how proud her father would be of her today and that she accepted this award in his name.
Avi Mishan, MD of SMD Technologies, distributor of computer technology worldwide, was announced winner of the Absa Entrepreneur Award. Especially thanking his business partner Simca Diskin, Mishan said: “He has been with me from the beginning, the best investment I’ve ever made. From a two-man show selling calculators out of the boots of our car, to where we are today, this award is just as much yours as it is mine.”
Brett Osrin and Laurence Rapp
The evening ended with the announcement of Brett Osrin, CEO of Ecowize cleaning company, as the winner of the Absa Unlisted Company Award, and Laurence Rapp, CEO of Vukile Property Fund, as winner of the Absa Listed Company Award.
Said Osrin: “The amazing part of the Jewish community is that we grow up not wanting to be the postmaster. We grow up wanting to be the CEO of any business, irrespective of the size.”
To this, Rapp added: “This is the most unique and meaningful award, because it not only recognises business achievement, but more importantly, it comes from this community that I love dearly, and am so proud to be part of.”
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.
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