Mr Chess passed away in South Africa

October 17, 2019 by  
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Leonard R Reitstein, aged 91, much admired and respected member of the Cape Town Jewish community, particularly Temple Israel, and as South Africa’s “Mr Chess”. passed away in August.

This obituary was written by his daughter Perth-based Jill Rabinowitz.

Leonard Rottstein with his daughter Jill Rabinowitz

Leonard’s father Julian was a founder member of the Progressive Judaism movement in Cape Town in the 1940s and brought his son in, where he rose to be President of Temple Israel. Leonard’s admiration and enthusiasm for the Reform movement and his high regard for Rabbi David Sherman, saw him fully committed, and even more so when he and his wife Ruth moved next door to the Temple in Wynberg! Besides presidential and general duties, his contribution included his role as Editor of the annual magazine, and leader of many shiurim and lay services.

Leonard was a man of great intellect, blessed with a sharp mind, quick wit and erudition. His general knowledge was wide and often obscure, his interests ranging from music (he hosted classical soirees), maths (he calculated without a calculator), history, religion, literature, cricket and cryptic crosswords (he called himself a cruciverbalist). He delighted nothing more than to encourage his grandchildren to discuss with and question or challenge him on all topics.

In the words of Rabbi Richard Newman, “He made me think, made me see things from a different perspective, made me realise that here was a man to whom I could turn, for advice and counsel. Here was a man whose knowledge was only superceded by his wisdom. There was a wealth of life, welling forth, a font of meaningful words backed up by well-tempered thought. Here was a saintlike mortal, stretching out his hands to those around him.”

Leonard is regarded as the person who has made the greatest and longest impact on South African chess. Former SA champion David Friedgood describes him as “truly South Africa’s Mr Chess”, with a background as player and correspondence player, captain of the SA team to various internationals and Olympiads, and organizer of major chess events, as well as a stint as President of the SA Chess Federation. Leonard was a chess resource, buying and selling books and publications, and at one stage his home library was regarded as the largest in the southern hemisphere! He single-handedly compiled The South African Chess Player magazine, publishing it for over thirty years, and wrote several Test Your Chess books and other works. His magnum opus, A History of Chess in South Africa, was a labour of love for the game and sold internationally, its author a major force and reputation.

Dr Lyndon Bouah, Director of Sport & Recreation, Western Cape Government, has been appointed as the custodian of Leonard’s “chess world”. He says, “As I have known Mr Reitstein for over twenty years I was honoured and privileged to be requested to be the custodian. The chess material consists of books, magazines and particularly hundreds of copies of The South African Chess Player, documents, minute books, photographs and memorabilia.” These are being collated and digitised for a future public display in Leonard’s honour.

Leonard Raymond Reitstein was born in Cape Town on 6th June 1928. He was the third child of Polish born Julian, and first of English born Greta. His older siblings were Claude and Raie (Gurland) and his younger, Maurice, all deceased.

He attended Sea Point Boys and Oudsthoorn School, and graduated as a bookkeeper accountant. Most of his working life was at Blumberg & Kleinman and for the Jewish Board of Deputies.

Leonard married Ruth Saevitzon of Wynberg in 1953; a long, happy and devoted partnership that lasted over sixty five years. They lived in Newlands and Wynberg, and moved into Highlands House two years ago.

Leonard is survived by his wife Ruth and his children Jillian, Anthony and Michelle. He has five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, living as far afield as Cape Town, Ra’anana, Sydney, Perth and London.

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