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Wendy Fisher: looking for the light

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Achievers

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The words of the late Leonard Cohen never fail to invigorate Wendy Fisher. An avid artisan and philanthropic powerhouse, she seeks out the light in the bleakest of times, striving to uplift not just herself, but those who are struggling most.

For this reason, Fisher received the Humanitarian Award in honour of the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards this past Sunday.

Those who have witnessed her passion for philanthropy lauded her via video, including her father, the renowned Natie Kirsh.

“As a father, I’m expected to talk well of my daughter,” he said. “But I have something to say beyond what can be expected of a father.”

Kirsh said that Fisher wasn’t just a respected president of the Guggenheim Art Museum in New York, but also someone who had made a difference in the lives of thousands through an online university lecture programme she piloted earlier this year. Called Lockdown Academy, the project has given 3 000 people from around the globe a range of free and fascinating lectures every day.

“Wendy, I congratulate you on this award,” Kirsh said. “As your father, I’m proud of your achievements, and I believe that all your university listeners around the world join me in celebrating you receiving this honour. Well done Wendy.”

Fisher’s family and friends praised her commitment to others, listing her exhaustive array of philanthropic ventures aimed at uplifting and supporting the less fortunate.

“Wendy is South African, and her heart lives in South Africa,” said clinical psychologist, Dr Dorianne Weil. “She and her family found themselves in South Africa over the lockdown, and she offered herself and her resources in helping to uplift the many who were being affected by COVID-19.”

Fisher said she was humbled to receive an honour in the country where she feels most at home.

“Receiving this award made me reflect on my work over the past four decades, and how I’m directing my energy going forward,” she said. “This opportunity comes as we endure a global pandemic and the broader existential concerns it brings.”

In looking for inspiration to lead us forward, Fisher said she reflected on her youth, how she was raised, and how that influenced the path ahead.

“Coming of age in Swaziland was pivotal to who I am today. I remember our solitary house on the hill, the uneven dusty roads, and the bright starry nights. We didn’t have electricity in the early days, and had a fresh water tap in the garden.

“Our family values have always been to help others, so it was only natural that villagers came to retrieve fresh water from our tap. There are countless examples like this that left a lasting impression on my siblings and me, compelling us to continue to invest in community and philanthropy.”

Her parents’ values are imbedded in the family DNA, said Fisher.

“From my energetic, generous dad, Natie, I learned what it means to be a passionate visionary and entrepreneur,” she said. “His mantra is, ‘teach a man to fish’. People can build on the support you provide and become self-sustainable.”

From her mother, Frances, Fisher said she learned to prioritise family and look for opportunities to come together and really see each other.

“My mum’s wisdom is simply that when people sit and break bread together, their shared humanity is what’s felt, not their differences. Together with my siblings, we have carried the legacy of our parents forward, and I share this honour with them.”

Fisher encouraged others to seek their own inspiration as we look to the future.

“Teach a man to fish, to bring light where there is dark, to come together and build strong, vibrant cultures, and step up to help people in need,” she said.

“I hope you are inspired in your own journey to embrace our shared humanity for the benefit of all.”

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Achievers

Nominate achievers who bring us hope

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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/

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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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