UPDATED (12/9): Rabbi Ben Isaacson: Rest in Peace, Daddy.

Family,Ilana Mercer,Judaism & Jews,South-Africa


My father, Rabbi Ben Isaacson, died today, December 7, 2020, of heart failure. He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, the home he loved, fought for and would never have abandoned. Dad was a true son of South Africa.

My father had a brilliant and original mind. Before his death, he was working on books about the greatest Hebrew prophets who were his muse.

This column of mine, “Job: Jewish Individualist, instantiates and is greatly influenced by dad’s thinking. I wager no rabbi would look at Job as a scrappy dissident who quarreled with G-d and won on the merits of his argument.  The book is a radical philosophical masterpiece, to which dad’s thinking, at once scholarly yet original, was well suited

From him, I got a fierce sense of immutable justice, a deep love of the best in literature and music (J.S. Bach was as close to G-d as it gets, he once muttered in secret), and an analytical habit of mind.

His medical team in South Africa were healers with a heart. I am proud of and grateful to South Africa’s finest—and to my family, all.

I love you daddy. xx

10 thoughts on “UPDATED (12/9): Rabbi Ben Isaacson: Rest in Peace, Daddy.

  1. Kenneth R Rosenberger

    Ilana, my deepest condolences for the loss of your father, to you and your family. He was clearly a great champion of truth and justice in your native land, leader, teacher, and someone who did the hard work of seeking and fighting for the most humane solution to his country’s greatest problems. How fitting that the picture above depicts him in conversation with a Catholic saint and the most prominent leader of the Christian world. His posture is not in the least one of servility, but of mutual respect, authority, and friendship. It speaks volumes. But more so, to those of us fortunate enough to have discovered you, he was a father so important to the formation of a daughter who has for such a long time been an illuminating source of reason, clarity, wisdom, and humor to so many of us. I know that many of your readers are Christians (among who I number). As the Founder of Christianity said, “By their fruits ye shall know them…” On that basis I can say that your father was a good and faithful servant to the God in whose service he worked.

    Requiescet in pace.


    Hi Ilana!
    My condolences for the loss of your Father
    I’ve been following you since Your National Post Days in Canada. You talked about your Father fondly and the influence he had on you and others.
    What a wonderful legacy your Dad has left.
    A good Man who lived the good life.
    Best Regards Matt Finlayson

  3. Ilana Mercer Post author

    This is beautiful, Kenneth. Thank you for your heart. Mine hurts, for sure. I think dad did it his way and remained true to himself. When everyone left South Africa, he remained. He was a son of South Africa. What was so touching for me (aside the good souls who comforted me) was to witness, on the collaborative WhatsUp thread, his trusted black South African caregivers, a man and a woman who had not left his side for 2-3 decades, chime in with Jewish expressions of sadness, leaving emojis, only the images they had chosen were black. Good people, kind of like the two ladies I dedicated my Cannibal book to. They loved him and cared for him with the purest of hearts.

  4. Luana Pelham

    I was so sad to hear of your beloved father’s passing . He was my Rabbi in Harare some time ago and my family was very fond of him. He was an inspirational and brilliant man and will always be remembered with affection. Wishing you and your family a long life.

  5. Myron Robert Pauli

    In my genealogy hobby, it turns out that I am related to the guy on the left side (Saint John Paul II is my second cousin thrice removed’s wife’s first cousin once removed’s husband’s aunt’s husband’s first cousin thrice removed’s wife’s great aunt’s husband’s nephew) so I am also curious if/how we are related. [I am related to author Walter Isaacson and a retired Marine also named Isaacson] I lost my dad at 16 so at least you should consider yourself fortunate to have known him as long as you did. So many many things in my life have happened and I would have valued his opinions on them as well as being able to talk to him from an adult perspective rather than that of a teen-ager. Both of our fathers had to endure political upheavals – your dad was able to stick it out and my dad had to run away. … but our parents live on inside of us just like my wife gets to live on inside my daughter Anna. Again – my sincere condolences.

  6. Stephen Sacks

    Hi Ilana
    So sad to hear this news. Your Dad helped to guide me through some of the most seminal moments in my life. He was always there for me, in Bloemfontein, in Johannesburg, even later in my life in the USA.
    He has always held a special place in my heart, from the day he paused and kindly asked me, at four or five years old, to please stop crying so he could finish his sermon.
    Condolences to your family.
    Ben was a fighter & a legend!
    BDE Rabbi Ben Isaacson.

  7. Ilana Mercer Post author

    Funny story: It sounds like just thing he would do, Stephen. Make jokes and joust with a kid mid-sermon. He’d have been a little sardonic.

  8. Fiona Lloyd

    Dear Ilana

    I’m so sad to hear that your lovely father has left us.

    I knew him in Harare, another lifetime ago, back in the 1980s when we worked together on a writing project.

    He had such a beautiful, rigorous, subversive mind; a generous heart; and a wonderfully wacky sense of humour.

    Hamba kahle, dear Ben.

    Sending you and the family love, Ilana.

    Fiona Lloyd

  9. Bill oneill

    Dear Ilana:
    The loss of a father is difficult and becomes a bit easier with the passing of time. The good memories remain. The difficult times light the path and the word saint shows that some people transcend their lives. South Africa and Rhodesia have a very special place in my life and heart, having enjoyed many extended business trips there. It’s present state saddens me and it’s forlorn future seems predictable. An utterly fantastic part of the earth. A treasure for those of us who have been there. A pity for the future as the world is too far away and on the wrong sides of the issues. I’ve been to 92 countries so I have a good idea of the value of Southern Africa.
    All the best to you.. You have a fantastic future. That’s a command, a forecast and a wish combined.
    Bill O’Neill
    Holland, PA USA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.