The inspiring story of a London solicitor with an incurable neurological condition who has continued his charity involvement was told to the 500 people at a Jewish Care lunch on Wednesday.
Douglas Silas received the Topland Jewish Care Unsung Hero Award at Grosvenor House in London’s West End.
Eight years ago, Mr Silas, 45, was diagnosed with cerebellar ataxia, which has affected his speech, eyesight and co-ordination and has left him heavily reliant on a wheelchair. Yet, in 2011, he completed a Norwood cycle challenge from Jerusalem to Eilat, raising more than £40,000, to “show people I can do something”. More recently, he joined a Norwood cycle ride in Sri Lanka and he has also been honoured by Norwood for his outstanding support to its challenges.
The Finchley resident has interpreted for Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks as part of his work with the Jewish Deaf Association. He is also the honorary legal adviser to Independent Parents for Special Educational Advice, a charity offering free and independent legal support to parents of children with special needs. He was a volunteer at both the Olympics and Paralympics.
To great applause, Mr Silas stood up to deliver his acceptance speech.
“I’ve dedicated my life to trying to help people, which is at the heart of what Jewish Care does,” he said.
“[The disability] makes me see the goodness of people who are trying to help me, which is something I would not have experienced before.”
Mr Silas is a member of Finchley Synagogue, whose Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis noted that he had been “dealt a severe hand — and he has played it brilliantly. Enhancing and inspiring the life of others, Mr Silas is a worthy recipient of today’s award.”
The award was part of an annual business lunch, now in its 25th year, which has raised over £5 million.
Jewish Care chairman Steven Lewis said: “All our guests, Jewish and non-Jewish, come back every year and are fascinated by the work we do.”
Guest speaker was Luke Johnson, chairman of Risk Capital Partners and restaurant businesses Giraffe and Patisserie Valerie. He is also a former Channel 4 chair.
“Jewish Care is focused on those who have setbacks,” he told diners. On the business front, he stressed the “limitless possibilities to being an entrepreneur. Someone self-employed can follow their dream.
“Giving up is always the ultimate tragedy. If you concentrate on strengths and apply yourself, who knows, something heroic might occur.”
The lunch raised £230,000 for Rela Goldhill Lodge, a Jewish Care home for those with physical and sensory disabilities.