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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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Rothschilds honoured as they make aliyah

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Kurt and Edith Rothschild [Frances Kraft photo]

TORONTO — Kurt and Edith Rothschild will be honoured by Mizrachi Canada and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto at a “legacy dinner” Dec. 11 at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre. Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, will be the guest speaker.

The Rothschilds – he a well-known Toronto philanthropist and Mizrachi stalwart, and his wife a past president of Toronto’s Emunah Women and author of the vegetarian cookbook Nutrilicious: Food for Thought and Whole Health – have made aliyah.

“We feel the time has come,” Kurt said in an interview in the couple’s Toronto apartment in September, before they left for Israel. “There are positive reasons of idealism and philosophy – and practical reasons, since it’s getting more difficult, due to our age, to fly back and forth.”

After decades of living in North America, “it’s a big move,” Edith said. She added that since they’ve had an apartment in Jerusalem for many years, Israel already feels “like home.” As well, their daughter and her family live there.

Nonetheless, Kurt plans to return to Toronto two to three times a year to continue some of his community activities.

Mizrachi Canada chair Jack Kahn, who has known the Rothschilds for more than 40 years, told The CJN that many people don’t know about “the chesed [Kurt] does of a personal nature to individuals and families… He has adopted so many families that he has taken under his wing. He takes an interest in their welfare and the education of their children.”

 As well, Kahn added, Kurt “was very involved in the resettlement of the evacuees from Gush Katif [Gaza] in the last few years.”

He has devoted himself to community work full-time since 1987, when he sold his national contracting business.

Edith – who describes herself as “not a political person… just the opposite” of her husband – is fully supportive of all his endeavours, Kahn said.

Kurt traces his community involvement to being “very keenly political” at a young age.

A native of Cologne, he attended Queen’s University during the war while his parents were in England. He had left Germany as a teenager, completed his high school education in London and was interned with other young German Jews before being sent to Canada, where he spent two years in an internment camp near Fredericton.

“I was very much affected by reports of the Holocaust and the Zionist quest for having a home for the Jewish people,” he said. “The fact that one million Jewish children were killed in cold blood by the Nazis was a factor that made me very involved in Jewish communal work in the continuity of our people.

A strong proponent of the importance of Jewish education, particularly day school, he is also motivated by increased rates of assimilation and intermarriage. “It’s only through education, successful education, making Judaism pleasant and interesting, that people will stay within the fold.”

But he expressed concern about anti-Israel sentiment in Canada and other countries: “This claim by our adversaries all over the world that Israel is a racist country mercilessly persecuting Arabs is a grotesque misinformation, a deliberate lie.”

Rothschild, who is on the board of Shaare Zedek Hospital, among other institutions, said that hospitals in Israel have Arab doctors and Arab patients “getting the best medical care,” as do their Jewish counterparts.

“It’s a great pity that Arab children in schools are taught to hate Jews. Kids in our Jewish schools are not taught to hate. It’s not a Jewish way of life.”

However, he added, “obviously we have to react when we are being attacked.”

Edith, who is from Mannheim, Germany, left Europe for New York in 1938 after a relative sponsored her family.

The couple – now great-grandparents many times over – met when both were 29, more than 60 years ago, on a Labour Day weekend at a kosher adult camp in Schroon Lake, N.Y., in the Adirondack Mountains.

Kurt, who was living in Montreal at the time, was travelling with a friend when their car broke down en route to the Catskills.

“They had to stop for Shabbat, and he happened to be sitting next to me at a big, long table,” Edith recalled. They were married within six months, and lived in Montreal for 10 years before moving to Toronto.

Edith, whose formal education was interrupted by the war, went on to earn a BA in English literature from the University of Toronto, studying part-time after the couple’s three children were born. She also has an MA in counselling psychology from the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago (now the Adler Professional School of Psychology), and has studied alternative health and nutrition. She is working on a second book.

Kurt has this advice to offer the Toronto Jewish community, which he credits for its strong Jewish identity and loyalty to the State of Israel: “to stick together and co-exist peacefully and courteously, and to help each other.”

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