Delivered at Mikes’s funeral by Brian Goldberg past pupil and Past Chair of United Herzlia Schools.
Mike Kessel was the Principal and then Director of Education of Herzlia School from 1977 until 1985. During that time he made a material contribution to the School and the countless learners who were fortunate enough to have had access to his wisdom. But this was not alone what defined him, or that which made him stand out above the crowd.
His contribution during those years was just a moment in time during which many had the privilege to get to know him as did I and as no doubt did many of you here today. I can’t speak with much authority about his time in Durban at Carmel School, or of his time in the USA. Nor can I talk about Mike the family man, although over the years during our many chats, his love and pride for Alyson, Shlomo, Johnny and their families became very clear to me. But this too was not alone in what defined him, or that which made him stand out above the crowd Mike would not have wanted anybody to speak today, lest anybody might dare sing his praises. He was a private, humble man who would have avoided any public suggestion or allegation as to the unique, upstanding man he was.
His humility knew no boundaries. In illustration, it is a particular regret that we lost Mike just weeks before the Hermanus Shul was to recognise Mike’s irreplaceable contribution and leadership by naming its facilities in his honour. Mike knew of this and after much resistance had no option but to accept, primarily due to the shul’s insistence. How sad then that he was not spared to enjoy this singular honour. Sadly what was intended to be in his honour will now have to be completed in his memory. Mike was Past President of the Hermanus Hebrew Congregation and some years ago guided the Shul through a very difficult period, doing as he had done countless times and in so many ways previously with a selfless sincere contribution, growing all around him without the need or desire for thanks or recognition – that was just Mike being Mike.
Even this was not alone in what defined him, or that made him stand out above the crowd Mike was a brilliant educator, a pioneering educator, an educator who made a material contribution to both Jewish and secular education here in South Africa and all over the world. His academic and educational stature is obvious and well-documented and does not need embroidering. Suffice it to say that he made a material contribution to the lives and career paths of so very many, all of whom, including myself, owe him a debt of gratitude.
Mike ensured that I finished my schooling at Herzlia by personally intervening in challenges I faced, he was my mentor then and was my mentor and valued friend until he passed. He had genuine kindness, compassion and empathy and he had a natural ability to connect with all, young and old, on a personal level, always lending a supporting hand or offering words of encouragement. But once again, this was not alone in what defined him, or what made him stand out above the crowd. Did he not always remember us (each and every one of us), our names, our parents and their names, our children and their names, and did he ever fail to ask about them all?
He was a multi-talented sportsman, a wonderful golfer and a much sought-after golf teacher. Indeed, his passion for education was endless even in the sporting arena. And what of his passion for rugby and his celebrity status around that sport, all because of just a few disputed inches! Johnny (his youngest son), in a tribute to his father, summed up perfectly what distinguished Mike by simply saying this “he will be missed by the thousands of people whose lives he touched over the years as an educator, mentor and friend”.
It was not the office of Principal or Shul president that defined Mike but rather the man he was, and the contribution he made and how he made it. It was his love of community, his humility compassion and wisdom. It was his understanding and friendship. It was the blend of all these attributes and the way he applied these to his day-to-day life that defined Mike and made him stand out above the crowd. He was just a very special man! Alyson asked me to say just a few words and I will honour that because this is already more than Mike would have wanted but I will conclude by saying this… We have lost a giant whose legacy and memory will forever remain etched in our hearts and minds. Mike’s unwavering dedication and commitment to us all, and the impact he had on countless lives will continue to inspire us and to inspire generations to come. He will be missed. May his dear soul rest in peace.