From the moment I first met Ann over thirty years ago, it was abundantly clear that she was not coming to South Africa merely to serve as a partner to Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, who had accepted an invitation from our Jewish community to serve as Its Chief Rabbi.
She was clearly very much her own person and it was apparent even at that early stage, that Ann was going to make her own unique contribution, not only to our own community, but to the ambient society as a whole. Her reputation as an activist helping the then Russian refuseniks had preceded her and it was a given that Ann would never be a passive observer, particularly in the face of injustice.
Ann is extremely practical and realistic and we all know that she tells it as it is. In his book “For Heaven’s Sake”) the Chief Rabbi told the story of how Ann took one look at his first salary cheque as a congregational Rabbi, and immediately decided to seek employment.
She was a qualified solicitor and she re-entered the legal world, rising eventually to become a full partner in a prestigious London practice.
Suffice it say, her relationship with her husband gave meaning to the Talmudic dictum:”
Let a man be careful to honour his wife, for to her alone he owes the blessings of his house”.
The late Chief Rabbi has rightly been described as the right person at the right time. Ann’s role in his success cannot be under-estimated. Theirs was a partnership in every sense.
Both had the capacity to see the whole picture and to this day we continue to benefit from their vision; indeed we were blessed that they were here to guide our fearful and confused community to embrace and contribute tangibly to the birth of t e new South Africa.
We’ve heard from Marc about the founding of Afrika Tikkun. Ann served as its first Operations Director, in a purely voluntary capacity. It was her ability, personality, energy and passion that enabled her to develop and give meaning to the Jewish values of its founders, which values underpin the foundations of this most impressive and successful organization to this very day.
It is Ann who exemplifies the Jewish heart of Afrika Tikkun. We all know how difficult it is to see God, or good, or human dignity in those whose language is not mine; whose skin is a different colour; whose faith is not my faith; and whose truth is not my truth. It is Ann who gives meaning to the generosity of spirit needed to cross these divides, who emphasises that God transcends the particularities of culture and the limits of human understanding. She remains a constant voice of vision and moral courage.
As long as there is hunger, poverty and disease in the world, there is work for us to do. And, if we listen carefully to our Innermost whispers, we can hear the voice of God asking us, as he asked the first humans – where are you?
Ann is one who answered that call. She knows that we do not, that we cannot, redeem the world altogether in one go. She does one day at a time; one person at a time; one act at a time. Our sages teach us that a single life is like a universe. Save a life and you save the world. Change a life and you begin to change the world. That is called Tikkun Olam and that is what Ann Harris personifies
Ann serves as the very hands on Chair of the African Jewish Congress. She impresses not only with her grasp of the innumerable and varied issues these communities face, but more importantly with her concern and compassion for the people who struggle to keep the flame of Judaism alive in the smallest outlying areas of Africa.
Organization is important but the core of her concern remains the families, the Individuals, the young and the old, who struggle daily to remain part of our ancient people.
Many of us here this evening have the z’chut to enjoy Ann’s friendship and confidences. As we mark her 80th birthday we express our gratitude and thanks for her unstinting friendship, loyalty and support through the ups and downs of life. She remains a caring, generous and much appreciated friend.
Conventional wisdom tells us that octogenarians start taking it easy. Ann’s ongoing involvement, dedication and commitment to community belies that assumption. Her continued leadership of many varied communal organizations provides tangible evidence
of her ability to multitask, to motivate and to inspire•
Friends, many successful people live in this world, but how many can honestly answer the question: You have been successful, but have you been a blessing? Ann Harris certainly has and continues to be a profound and wonderful blessing to all who have the privilege of being inspired by her.
I ask you all to join in our prayer that she be blessed to continue to be our guide, friend and mentor for many years to come.