Last week, this newspaper reported on the 80th birthday tribute function held in Cape Town for Eliot Osrin in recognition of his more than fifty years of service to the Jewish community. Also honoured was his wife, Myra, whose multifaceted communal work includes taking the lead in establishing the Cape Town Holocaust Centre. In the course of my own involvement in the establishment of the Durban Holocaust Centre, I have benefited enormously from her guidance and advice.
I was in attendance at this inspiring function, and in the course of it met many of Cape Town Jewry’s most eminent communal leaders, past and present. Amongst them was Simon Jocum, a long-serving member and past president of the SAJBD Cape Council as well as a long-serving National Vice-Chairman of the Board. Sadly, Simon passed away shortly afterwards, having been involved in Jewish communal activities to the very end.
Eliot and Simon exemplify what is undoubtedly one of our Jewish community’s greatest strengths, namely the continued involvement of its “elder statesmen” and the invaluable supporting role they play behind the scenes for the new generation of communal leaders and professionals. Having given so much to the community in years gone by, these could justifiably have taken a back seat and left it to the incoming leadership to shoulder the burden. Instead, they have continued to be involved, usually in an unofficial capacity and often having generously stepped aside to allow a younger generation of leaders to take office.
Speaking personally, I could list a number of communal veterans who have been of enormous assistance to me during my term of office, and my predecessors would undoubtedly be able to do likewise. For obvious reasons, one should resist the temptation to single out specific individuals in this context, but suffice it to say that in every major Jewish centre countrywide, one will find outstanding men and women who have given and continue to give outstanding service to their respective communities.
All communal leaders are essentially caretakers of a legacy pioneered by those who preceded them, stretching back all the way to the very founders of organised Jewish life in South Africa. We endeavour to add our own chapter to that legacy before passing the torch on to the next generation. As we approach the end of the secular year, many young people in our community are poised to begin a new chapter in their own lives as they prepare to leave their school or university years behind them. In doing so, we hope that they will find the time amidst all the challenges they face to make themselves a part of this country’s rich and diverse Jewish life, whether in its religious, Zionistic, cultural, educational or social welfare aspects. The wealth of dedicated and talented young leaders that now hold office throughout our organisations bodes well for our community’s future. However, we can never afford to become complacent and must do all we can to encourage and facilitate the inclusion of young adults at the start of their careers in Jewish communal affairs.
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This Above Board column first appeared in the SA Jewish Report on 26 October 2012