George’s early life is a story familiar to many of South Africa’s Jewish immigrants. George was born in Berlin, Germany on 12 March 1931. Five years later he left Germany with his mother and sister on The Stuttgart, the last ship to bring Jewish refugees from Germany to SA. They met up with his father in Cape Town who had arrived earlier to see what SA had to offer. In Johannesburg, they were helped by the Mendelsohn’s (not related) who assisted refugees with accommodation. Unfortunately there was no space for the whole family, so George and his sister were sent to the Jewish Orphanage for a few months until the family moved into an apartment in Doornfontein. George attended the Jewish Government School and then Observatory Junior High, but had to leave after Form 3 to help his parents make ends meets.
George’s passion for football was nurtured at Balfour Park where he was the stalwart of the football division. He also joined Maccabi SA and went on to become a respected administrator and leader of the organisation for over 20 years. George attended seven Maccabi Games in various capacities: 1973 (Football Manager/Coach); 1977 (SA Team Assistant Manager); 1981 (General Manager); 1985 (Head of Delegation); 1989 (joint Head of Delegation); 1993 (joint Head of Delegation); and 1997 (Yakir Award recipient).
George served as Chairman of Maccabi SA from 1982–1987 and in recognition of his significant contribution to the organisation he was made Honorary Life President in 1994. In 1997, he received the prestigious global Yakir Award, which is the highest honour bestowed by Maccabi World Union for outstanding services to Maccabi.
George and Barbara (nee Cohen) have been married for 64 years and have three children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. George’s passion for Maccabi has continued to shine through the generations – his son Alan competed in Judo at the 1981 Maccabi Games, winning a bronze medal, and he was the Judo Manager at the 1997 Games. Grandsons Jay Budler competed in rugby in 2009 and Natan Mendelsohn in soccer in 2013.
Maccabi SA has been deeply rooted in the community for 85 years. As we celebrate this milestone and our achievements over eight decades, we pay tribute to volunteers and leaders like George Mendelsohn whose tireless service and dedication has ensured that the Maccabi movement has continued to grow and thrive. ‘’It gives me great pleasure to celebrate the 90th birthday of this great Maccabian, whom we are very fortunate to count amongst our ranks. Wishing you a very happy 90th, George!’’ said Cliff Garrun, Chairman of the Board of Maccabi SA.
Fellow lifelong Maccabian Mervyn Tankelowitz, who served as Chairman from 2007-2010, had some advice for George on his birthday. “Now that you are 90 years old, the time has really come for you to support a real rugby team, the Blue Bulls,’’ quipped Mervyn. George is a staunch Lions supporter, which we hear is unlikely to change.
We salute you, George on this wonderful milestone. Bis hundert und tzvantzig (until 120)!
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