by Suzanne Belling
On 6 June this year, communal elder statesman Solly Kessler, who dedicated 46 years of his life o the Jewish Community, passed away suddenly at the age of 76,
Democrat, legal adviser, expert on anti-Semitism, Solly called himself a “Board man through and through”. He did not have to articulate that. Every member of the Cape Committee – past and present – turned to him for advice and to tap into the vast resources of knowledge he kept, both on file and in his head.
In the course of his many years of service on the cape Council of the SAJBD, Solly was treasurer, vice-chairman, chairman (from 1981-1983) and, at the time of his passing, an honorary life vice-president, regularly attending meetings. He was brimful of ideas and was in the forefront of the of the action in the centenary year of the Cape Board. Even on the day of his passing, he was working on a project for the procedures in terms of the Board’s new constitution, which he had drafted.
Firm and determined in his views, Solly spearheaded many developments and changes in the community through his quiet and irrefutable logic. One such initiative was the public ballot system to further democratize the Board’s voting process, as early as the 1950’s.
Born in Cape Town, Solly matriculated at SACS gaining fifth place in the province in the matric exams. He was one of the first pupils to study Hebrew as a matric subject. In 1946 he went on the first year-long post matric youth leadership course in pre-state Israel. It was the very first machon for South Africans. This followed on from his involvement as a youth member of the Great Synagogue Choir and being one of the founders of Bnei Akiva in Cape Town. In the early 1940’s.
Solly graduated with the BA LLB degrees (with five class medals) and went on to practice as an advocate for 6 years. He later opted for the side bar and, as an attorney, joined his brother’s practice in 1957. A practicing attorney thereafter, he also took a course in Cape Town about 16 years ago for admission to the Israel Bar.
Solly viewed the establishment of the Jewish religious Instruction department of the Board as one of his main contributions to the community. His chairmanship of the peoples College, an education project for adults which eventually became the Community Forum: chairmanship of the Council for Adult Jewish Education (CAJE), the Zionist Luncheon Club and Histadruth Ivrith. He was a sworn translator (Hebrew-English and vise-versa) and was a member of the Western province Zionist Council for many years, including a term as vice chairman.
In the 1970’s Solly created the Board’s Eye View, serving as the publication’s editor for several years; subsequently, he was the author of numerous articles, including columns on “Community Issues” in the Cape Jewish Chronicle and he also made a number of important contributions to Jewish Affairs over the years.
Naturally, Solly was one of the main protagonists in ensuring protection against hate speech when South Africa’s new constitution was drafted. The National Board’ Constitutional Committee, then under the chairmanship of Judge Ralph Zulman, made representations to parliament, and Solly was asked to address the joint Parliament Committee in November 1999.
Solly leaves his wife Lily, son Dr Franklin Kessler (a radiologist in Israel), daughter Vivienne Anstey and five grandchildren. Lily was at his side at every Board public function and Vivienne, a past vice chairman of the Cape Board and still a committee member, inherits her father’s legacy of love for the Jewish community.