Two Jewish mothers who opened a Jewish centre of excellence for children with additional needs and challenges last year have received this year’s Topland Group Business Luncheon Award at Grosvenor House Hotel.
Ali Durban and Sarah Sultman teamed up after meeting six years ago in a school playground. Both had sons with special educational needs (SEN) and both felt there needed to be a Jewish school that better served their children and others like them.
The ambitious pair set off on a mission to create what what later become Gesher, which finally opened its doors in London last September.
“We didn’t just want a school but an outstanding school, the very best in class,” they said. “For us it soon became apparent our plan wasn’t just about opening a school but developing a movement across the community.”
They have since won several accolades, including being nominated for the Community Initiative Award at Jewish News’ Night of Heroes, and this week accepted the Topland Award 2018 on behalf of the school’s pupils.
“It is incredible to be recognised but for us it’s the children who are the unsung heroes, this award should really be for them,” they said.
The award and luncheon, which raises money for Jewish Care, is sponsored by property investment group Topland and held in memory of Phillip Greenwold, a former patron who did so much for the awards over so many years.
Recent past winners include former JFS pupil turned mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin, and Mavis Hyman, who channelled her family’s grief at the loss of her daughter in the 7/7 London bombings into the Miriam Hyman Foundation Trust.
Explaining what motivated them, Ali described Gesher as being there for the “invisible children, those who slip through the net,” with their educational experience before Gesher likened to fitting “a square peg in a round hole”.
Accepting the award, Ali said: “This demonstrates to us that there are people who understand, who want to support our vision and to ensure these young people get the best start and chance in life as well as playing an active role in our community.”
She added: “It really wasn’t easy to get people on board at the start but we never doubted that we would get there in the end. Our story proves that everything is possible if you put your heart and head into it.”
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