Jewish Achiever Award named after remarkable humanitarian

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Jewish Achiever Award named after remarkable humanitarian

Published on: October 11th, 2022

Humanitarianism was a focus of late philanthropist and business leader Bertie Lubner’s life, so his children believe it’s fitting that the Jewish Achiever Humanitarian Award is being named after him.

The newly named Bertie Lubner Humanitarian Award in honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris will be bestowed for the first time at this year’s Absa Jewish Achiever Awards on 19 November. The award itself has been in existence for the past 23 years.

The Lubner family are proud to sponsor the award, says Bertie’s son, Tony. “Like my dad rolled up his sleeves, got stuck in, and played a meaningful role in changing people’s lives for the better, we hope this award will recognise a worthy [humanitarian or humanitarian organisation] that’s making huge inroads in changing lives.

“It fits perfectly to name this award after Bertie, who was so interested in the creation of the SA Jewish Report and so committed to giving to all the people of South Africa,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the SA Jewish Report.

Bertie, who died at the age of 85 in April 2016, lived his life by the motto, “We make a living by what we earn, but we make a life by what we give,” according to his son, Marc, the chief executive of Afrika Tikkun.

Bertie founded Ma Afrika Tikkun with the late Chief Rabbi Harris in 1994. This leading non-profit organisation, today named Afrika Tikkun, serves more than 20 000 youngsters directly and another 20 000 indirectly through its outreach efforts, Marc says.

Dr Dorianne Weil, who is involved with the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and a lifelong friend of Bertie, secured the sponsorship from the Lubner family. “It was easy. I made one phone call. It occurred to me that it would be something the family would jump at with alacrity,” she says.

Marc says Bertie always wanted to be of service to others. One of the projects he founded with his brother, Ronnie, was the Field Band Foundation. It started with a band in the East Rand in 1997 before developing 48 college-style bands in townships across South Africa. It helps underprivileged children to develop their musical talents and life skills.

“The other wonderful project that was very close to my father’s heart was the Morrie and Bella Lubner Kibbutz, a farm in Midrand that my father and Ronnie purchased in honour of my grandparents,” Marc says. “The more highly functioning kids from Selwyn Segal could take up residence there. My father would regularly visit that facility, and the residents became our family.”

Bertie, a founding member of the Great Park Shul, was a founder and a director of the SA Jewish Report, and was very fond of it.

He occupied many roles including chairperson of PG Group, which he and Ronnie transformed from a small family business into a building materials conglomerate.

Bertie also silently helped others, says his daughter, Sue. “He would meet people, such as a taxi driver in London, and pay for their children’s education.”

Bertie obtained numerous awards including the state president’s Order of Meritorious Service.

He was passionate about his work, and kept going five days a week until just weeks before he passed away, a day before he and his wife, Hilary, would have celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary.

He was survived by Hilary, their children, Richard, Tony, Marc, and Sue, six grandchildren, brother, Ronnie, and sister, Pam.

Bertie motivated his children to lead a life of giving, Marc says. “I’ve spent 17 years of my life perpetuating the work of Afrika Tikkun. My dad also gave me the impetus to start the Smile Foundation 20 years ago. It provides psycho-social support to about 400 children and their families.”

Tony’s daughter, Sabrina, was born with a physical disability and passed away about 19 years ago. “To perpetuate her memory and help others who didn’t have the base we could offer our daughter, we started the Sabrina Love Foundation,” Tony says. “We look after 98% of all children with disabilities in the Plettenberg Bay region.”

Sue is involved with the Union of Jewish Women. “I’m also on the board of a crèche, and chair the board of the Kensington Educare Centre. I’ve developed and run a project for Afrika Tikkun, work with people with Parkinson’s, and write music for campaigns.”

Richard ran a centre of spiritual awareness and life coaching in Australia.

Marc says the values he and his family learned from his dad include the fact that, “nothing matters as much as people. Whether you were a caddy, a cleaner, or head of state, Bertie’s approach to people was identical.”

Sackstein says Bertie’s belief system is what the renamed Jewish Achiever’s humanitarian award recognises, namely, “not just remarkable people or organisations building the new South Africa, but those doing so with compassion, love, and in a sustainable manner”