Tribute: Kurt Rothschild was ‘the ultimate exemplar of selfless Jewish commitment’

Kurt and Edith Rothschild [Frances Kraft photo]
Kurt and Edith Rothschild

Kurt Rothschild, who died July 17, 2022, at age 101, was one of the sharpest, most indefatigable, and loyal soldiers to have blessed the Jewish people over the past century. Hundreds of Jewish communal and Torah-educational institutions around the world benefited from his leadership and philanthropic activism.

A modest and diminutive man, Kurt was nevertheless a giant in stature, beloved and respected as are few in today’s Jewish world. He was a model of respect for and toward all Jews, a profound believer in Klal Yisrael—the unity of the Jewish people.

Born in Germany in 1920, his parents sent him to England in 1937. With thousands of other Germans, he was banished in 1940 to New Brunswick where Canada interned him for 18 months behind barbed wire. After studying electrical engineering in Ontario (where he had to repeat courses when he refused to write exams on Shabbat), Kurt began a business career, first in Montreal and then in Toronto, marked by scrupulous honesty alongside energetic leadership of the religious Zionist (Mizrachi) community.

As an Orthodox Jew, he believed in the importance of central involvement in community frameworks and institutions. This led him to lifelong activity in numerous Canadian and Jewish non-profits.

He was instrumental in helping Jewish day schools across Canada access Jewish community funding and supported Jewish educational initiatives in former Soviet Union countries.

For more than 50 years, Kurt was a central philanthropic pillar of key Israeli religious Zionist institutions, including Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Yeshivat Hakotel (and many other hesder and Bnei Akiva yeshivas), the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), and Bar-Ilan University.

He and his wife of more than 70 years, Edith, made aliyah in 2012. Kurt began to devote time and attention to young communities in Israel’s periphery, including towns established in the Negev where many of the Israelis displaced from Gush Katif by the Gaza withdrawal have sought to rebuild their lives.

Until COVID hit two years ago, Kurt, then well into his nineties, arrived daily at his World Mizrachi office in Jerusalem to make and field hundreds of calls. He was accessible to every leader across the ideological spectrum, including secular and haredi institutions. Here, he was completely colour blind.

When Kurt believed in a project, whether help for farmers or handicapped children, or construction of a new synagogue, he got it done. Pronto, personally. He was the consummate man of action, eager to help and to see each project through.

By calling a dozen friends, Kurt could raise $100,000 in a matter of hours for any number of diverse projects. His credibility and sincerity were his seal of quality. No one doubted the project’s worthiness, and few turned him down.

Kurt was in direct contact with Israel’s leaders. He regularly faxed them his views and, from the late Shimon Peres to Benjamin Netanyahu, they almost always responded. Those letters focused on the importance of settlement throughout the land of Israel and the dangers of undue concessions to the Palestinians.

He also emphasized Jewish unity, which to Kurt, meant meaningful and respectful dialogue—and adherence to principled standards in matters like conversion and IDF service.

In short, nothing disturbed this diminutive – but titan—man’s focus on ensuring Jewish continuity through Jewish education and strengthening the State of Israel.

Kurt believed that Israel was nothing less than a nes min haShamayim, a Divine miracle, and he reminisced about dancing with joy in the streets of Canada upon Israel’s establishment in May 1948.

Kurt was a loyal friend who remained committed to projects and to friends. Going back to my grandparents, the Rosenfields of Toronto, my family was blessed with decades of friendship with Kurt and Edith Rothschild.

Kurt mentored me in Zionist activism, guiding me in professional positions at the Canada-Israel Committee (when he was president of the Canadian Zionist Federation), and at Bar-Ilan University.

Kurt showed loving concern and wise counsel and participated in multiple Weinberg and Rosenfield family celebrations over many decades.

I also was privileged to pray alongside Kurt on Yom Kippur at Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem’s Old City almost every year for the past 25. I will forever treasure the meaningful conversations I had with this righteous man on the holiest night of the year.

To me, Kurt Rothschild stands as the ultimate exemplar of selfless Jewish commitment, Zionist steadfastness, and national unity.

 David M. Weinberg is Israel office director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).