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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Former chief rabbi lauds Rothschilds

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Rabbi Lau is seen addressing audience at Rothschild dinner. [Frances Kraft photo]

TORONTO — Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, speaking at a tribute dinner for Kurt and Edith Rothschild Sunday night, said he doesn’t know of another public figure who is admired by all sectors of the community – “from the right to the left, from more religious to less religious, from Orthodox to non-Orthodox” – as Kurt Rothschild is.

The Toronto philanthropist and his wife, Edith, were honoured for their recent move to Israel. Some 800 people attended the event, held at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre and sponsored by Mizrachi Canada and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

Rabbi Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, travelled to Toronto just for the dinner and stayed only one day. He said that a “real” educator, referring to Rothschild, teaches through his behaviour rather than his words.

Alluding to Rothschild’s advanced age (the Rothschilds met more than 60 years ago, when both were 29), Rabbi Lau called him “a pillar of fire, speaking, now, about aliyah.”

Dinner chair Julia Koschitzky noted that at age 30, Rothschild was already president of Mizrachi in Montreal. An engineer by profession Rothschild has made community work his full-time avocation since 1987, when he sold his national contracting business.

In a video made for the evening, Edith Rothschild – a cookbook author, former president of Emunah, and advocate of a holistic lifestyle – said that Kurt would not be able to do what he does “if he was eating meat a few times a week like other men. No way.”

Ted Sokolsky, president and CEO of the federation, echoed Rabbi Lau’s comments in the video, telling Rothschild he was one of the few people who “can keep those bridges” between different parts of the Jewish community. “It seems with every generation, the bridges get more stressed and strained.”

Money raised at the dinner will support communal projects, including Jewish schools in Russia, and scholarships for high school graduates wanting to pursue a year or two of study in Israel. A great-grandfather 38 times over, Rothschild stressed the need for Jewish education.

As well, he said, “in a very divisive world, mutual understanding between all factions, and within Orthodoxy itself, is a goal we should strive for and pursue.”

Both Rothschilds grew up in modern Orthodox homes in Germany. Edith credited the Ezra youth movement, which both of them belonged to, for instilling a love of and yearning for Israel.

“Both of us are of the Holocaust generation, but not of the Holocaust,” she said.

To demonstrate her belief in living a “useful” life, she showed attendees the pearls that had been removed from her necklace to adjust its length. “Each of these is just as precious as each one on my strand. They will never lose their intrinsic value, but they’re useless even though they are precious, because they’re rolling around in their little box… They’re not connected to the whole.”

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