Kurt Rothschild was physically short, but he was truly a giant. He was passionate whenever and wherever he saw the need to help develop the land of Israel, to support Torah institutions and to help fellow Jews in Canada, Israel and elsewhere.
Kurt never needed a title. He was clearly in a league of his own. For those of us immersed in the religious Zionist community here in Canada and Israel, Kurt was our dear friend, our partner—and most of all, our mentor and role-model.
He had unbounded energy for Torah study, for demonstrating love of fellow Jew, and displaying Ahavat Eretz Yisrael, love of the land of Israel. He had his own barometer of time, and he had precious little of it for anything other than the advancement of his mission on behalf of the Jewish people, regardless of religious orientation. As his son, Michael, eulogized his father, when it came to the needs of the Jewish community, Kurt was “colour blind.”
Kurt did not drive a car. His passion drove him. And he was sure to be waiting punctually for whomever was driving him to visit a yeshiva or Jewish communities in and around Sderot, or attending a family function.
One time, he was in a car with some colleagues driving to Montreal when he suddenly asked the driver to stop. Kurt had seen a telephone booth on the highway and wanted to call in to the Mizrachi office to ask if anyone needed him. Kurt truly felt pain whenever any part of the Jewish community was hurting or in need.
When the Rothschilds moved to Toronto in 1958 from Montreal, Kurt and his wife Edith became active, together with my parents, the late Louis and Bella Rosenfield, and others who had helped found Mizrachi, the communal framework for religious Zionism in Toronto. Kurt was Mr. Mizrachi and Edith became president of the religious Zionist women’s group Emunah Women, where she and my wife, Bea, had a wonderful relationship working together.
Kurt and I were hardly contemporaries—he was 20-plus years my senior. But when we worked together on projects for the Jewish community, we were a team.
Edith and Kurt came to Israel on aliyah when Kurt was 91 years old. Several years later, when I called to tell him that Bea and I were making aliyah, Kurt quipped: “What took you so long?!”
That I called him to wish him a Shabbat Shalom or Hag Sameach was, in my mind, almost to be expected – he was my mentor. Wherever he went, including to family simchas, he would spontaneously ask to say a few words. After being asked to keep it brief, he would speak passionately and with significant clarity and sincerity about our family, our relationship and about the importance of unity in Klal Yisrael.
Torah was very important to him. With his dear friends Saul Koschitzky and Phil Schwartz, he attended regular shiurim in Toronto and Israel. Kurt loved learning Torah, and he made it possible so that many others could devote time to Jewish learning as well.
As a philanthropist and fundraiser, when Kurt called, people responded generously. When residents of the former Gush Katif were expelled, Kurt was told that the children would need school bags and school supplies in their new communities at a total cost of $60,000. “Give me an hour!” he said.
Shortly thereafter, he learned that these same families would need sukkot in their new communities. “Go ahead and purchase them!” he said. He would attend to the “small detail” of securing the necessary funds.
The Talmud refers to the terms Gavra Rabba—a great person, a person of significant stature—and Rava deAmei—a great leader in, and for, his people. Kurt Gershon Rothschild of blessed memory was certainly a Gavra Rabba and a Rava deAmei.
Our dear friend, a giant of a man, is gone.
Y’hi zichro Baruch. May his memory be for a blessing.
Jerry Rosenfield is a former senior Jewish educator in Toronto and education officer in Ontario. He later served as a Justice of the Peace for Ontario. For many years, he was president of Mizrachi Canada. He now resides in Jerusalem.