Just a few Fridays ago, the seagulls cried. It was uncanny watching the birds’ reaction to Normie as he paid his weekly visit to the Sea Point boardwalk.
They would noisily crowd around and sure enough, Normie wouldn’t disappoint as he consistently fed each and every seagull off the Atlantic coast. Today, they cry because there will be no other Normie; no one to take this giant’s place.
Norman ‘Normie’ Isaacson was born in Cape Town on 16 September 1921. In his youth, Normie was an amateur wrestler, a bodybuilder and weightlifter, equaling the Western Province Military Press record in 1945 with a lift of 175 pounds, surpassing his body weight by 30%. Few knew that he was the first physical training teacher at the old Herzlia School in 1945, and was recognised for this at Herzlia’s valedictory in 2011. According to the Pirkei Avot, the attributes of men are predicated by age into about twelve distinct zones, which Normie transcended with alacrity. He was always a paragon of healthy living, which possibly explains his longevity.
Normie was a phenomenon who served the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation for over 47 years, yet remained a man without an enemy. His prodigious memory for names is without equal; his ability to fraternise with all strata of society; his devotion to duty; his impish sense of humour — as well as his sermonic interjections — endeared him to all and sundry. There must be very few individuals of Normie’s age who were in fulltime employment while commanding respect from all sectors of the community, including the rabbis who would often seek advice on procedural aspects of the liturgy and service.
Normie was truly unique. He nursed his wife through illness and lost two children — one in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Through it all, Normie maintained his faith and good cheer and concern for all of God’s people and creatures. For decades, each morning he would enter the Marais Road Shul before 6:00 and chant King David’s Psalms, together with Neville Scher. While never focusing on his own pain, he demonstrated remarkable sensitivity to anyone else’s misfortune and it wasn’t unusual to see tears springing from his eyes when faced with someone else’s challenge.
In 2012, over the course of Normie’s 90th year, Marais Rd Shul committed to writing a Torah in his honour, completing it before his 91st birthday. Over 1000 people crowded the streets for a welcoming parade and service in the shul — thus fulfilling the promise reserved for the greats, ‘olamcha tireh bechayecha’. One seldom experiences such appreciation in their lifetime. Sadly, at the beginning of October, the multitudes once again filled the Marais Road Shul for Normie — but to bid farewell. In a service, seldom if ever witnessed in Cape Town, Nochum ben Moshe Isaacson’s coffin was brought into the shul— the home he so passionately loved and served. And we — young and old, famous and ordinary, rabbis and laypeople — we, said goodbye to an icon of our time; a true giant.
And outside the seagulls cried.
Yehi zichro baruch, may his righteous memory serve as a blessing to all who invoke it. Amen.