Some of the children of the man known as “Mr Community”, Gerald Leissner – who rose to success as MD of Anglo-American Property Services before moving onto ApexHi, and held numerous communal leadership positions, among them: chairman of Beyachad, national chairman and president of the Board of Deputies, and chairman of Yeshiva College and the Yeshiva College Hebrew Congregation – share with us their memories of growing up in his home
By Wendy Leissner-Machanik
I have vivid memories of my father, a”h, always being there throughout my life. Although he was always busy with his work, his community projects, and his travel, he has always been a huge part of my life. We have always been in constant contact with each other and loved the fact that the advent of the cellphone allowed us to speak every day. Wherever he was in the world, we spoke every day. I still call him and then realise that he is not here anymore.
He has always been a mentor and a larger than life force in my life. When I finished school, and was deciding what I wanted to do at varsity, he told me that I needed to choose something that I love as I would be doing it for the rest of my life. At 19 years old, that seems unimaginable, yet here I am 26 years later, loving what I do. He was always supportive of my choices and helped me constantly. When I was 30 and decided that I wanted to go and live in New York and attend Film School there, he wanted to know what he needed to do to make it happen. He would traipse all over London to find some obscure album that I was listening to and would return triumphantly with it proud that he had found it for me.
He was an exceptionally creative man whose thirst for knowledge was boundless and who loved to travel and read The Economist. He would get so excited by an invention and thought that Uber was genius. He told me that he wanted to sell his car and only use Uber. He had thought this through and said that it would not affect the car industry as the drivers would still need to buy cars, nor the insurance industry as the drivers would need to insure their cars.
He was always a gentleman and loved my mother deeply. He was completely devoted to her and loved to take her travelling all over the world. He was always so proud of the fact that she is a linguist and can speak several languages fluently. He loved taking her to Paris and listening to her speaking like a Parisian or going to Italy and watching her ask for something in perfect Italian!
He loved and respected his four children and supported us in all our endeavours. He adored his 12 grandchildren and saw them as often as he could. It was so important to him that all of his grandchildren saw and connected with each other on chagim and celebrations which he loved.
Not only have we lost a father, a mentor, and a friend, but an anchor that kept us all grounded and together. He has left us a legacy of great leadership, positive outlook, and being a real mensch in the truest sense, as he lived his life being good and helpful to everyone and loving us all.
By Jonty Leissner
Benjamin Franklin said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” We all know where my Dad fits in here. My father’s life was all about moving, it was all about doing and giving.
My first memory of my father is finding him in the garage with his head under the hood of our Ford motorcar trying to fix it. I must have been about three years old. The Ford never started and dad would try and fix it himself before calling a mechanic or the AA. My dad was always busy doing. The idea of putting something off until tomorrow or waiting for someone else to do something did not exist in his world. If something needed to be done, he would do it. I remember him coming home from work at night carrying in piles of papers. Dad would need to read all the yellow pages – the memos from that day – and relate to each page.
After supper, he would stay up reading and writing until he had finished. He would go into the office on Sundays to ensure that he would be up-to-date for the next week. My father was always busy; I can picture him on the phone making sure there would be a minyan the next day and working on his computer, which he so loved. He was so excited with the new technology and embraced it with great enthusiasm. When he was promoted at Ampros he would only accept the offer if they agreed to his continued commitments to Yeshiva College, the shul, the Jaycess, and fundraising to name but a few.
My fondest memories are of our holidays at the beach. Dad would take us all into the water and would stand there holding us all (four kids) while the waves came crashing into us. To us, he was the strongest person alive. He taught us chess and backgammon and Sunday afternoons in Pretoria at our grandparents were a real treat, playing cricket on the grass or building kites at Magnolia Dell Park. We would go and watch the cricket at the Wanderers and play on the pitch during tea. We loved going on drives to see the different building projects and learn about Johannesburg, Dad’s favourite city. We discussed politics and from an early age I can remember dinner discussions about apartheid and the importance of human rights. He would help us with our homework and try to explain the ins and outs of algebra and trigonometry.
Dad believed in living the moment and embracing one’s passion. He loved my mother so much and was so proud of her achievements. He supported her studies and was honoured to be called Mr and Dr Leissner. Together they would do her grades and reports; he was always there for her.
Dad treated everyone around him with respect. He always greeted people and remembered their names. He would enter a room and acknowledge each person.
He loved his grandchildren and was so proud of them. He went on holidays with them and came to Israel at least twice a year to be with them. He went to India to watch Gabi playing cricket and came to Jerusalem to hear Yishai playing in the junior philharmonic orchestra. He shared in their successes and gave them guidance when they were troubled. The last memory the grandchildren have is of dancing with their grampa at Rafi and Mimi’s wedding last September.
I miss my father so much and can’t believe that he has left us. I miss hearing his loud, contagious laugh, his sparkling eyes, his Friday morning text messages before Shabbat, and listening to his advice. I can see the excitement in his eyes as we would discuss education; something so close to our hearts.
But most of all, I miss just sitting with him and knowing he was there.