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He Never Says No: Kurt Rothschild Is Still the Consummate Giver

Yonoson Rosenblum

Although he claims he can’t take on any new projects as he is already approaching ninety, Kurt Rothschild, chairman of World Mizrachi, never refuses a plea for assistance. After a lifetime of indefatigable accomplishment, in evaluating his role in countless projects in Toronto, Israel, and around the world, the most he offers is, “I am active.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Before an interview, there is usually a frisson of nervous anticipation, sort of like a first meeting with a proposed shidduch. That is not the case as I head to my interview with Kurt Rothschild, chairman of World Mizrachi, at the organization’s headquarters adjacent to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue.

Kurt and I have been friends for years, and if I needed a favor, there is no one I would turn to with more confidence of a successful outcome than Kurt. We first met over fifteen years ago. My wife was then the social worker at SULAM, a Vizhnitz-run kindergarten for developmentally delayed children. SULAM had put in a request that was bogged down in the Jerusalem municipality’s bureaucratic labyrinth. Then a friend told me, “Kurt Rothschild is in town. He never says no, and he knows everybody.”

I found out that my friend was right. Kurt did not know me and he certainly did not know SULAM. Yet he immediately agreed to help, and within a few days the matter was favorably resolved. The irony of a Vizhnitz institution contacting the chairman of World Mizrachi never occurred to him.

So I harbor scant hope that Kurt will reveal to me something that we have not previously discussed in our many hours of conversations, over the years, in his Rechavia apartment or his Toronto office. But the unlikelihood of scoring a scoop is not my sole source of apprehension. I anticipate that he will be profoundly uncomfortable talking about himself. A close associate from Toronto once described Kurt to me as “the least egotistical man I know.” Even approaching ninety, he is the consummate man of action, with neither the time nor inclination for navel-gazing.

A lack of ego is the most admirable of traits, especially when coupled with a lifetime of accomplishment, but it can make for a more difficult interview subject. Kurt does not disappoint me in this respect: When asked about his role in the countless projects in which he is involved in Toronto, Israel, the United States, and the former Soviet Union (FSU), the most he offers is, “I am active.”


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