Fall of a Jewish Lion”¨”¨”¨
Jerusalem today is booming. While property prices in the United States plummet, in Jerusalem they skyrocket. The city has a youthfulness and dynamism equaled in few places on earth. Tourists flock in record-setting numbers.
Much of its boom is due to the vision of one man, a visionary businessman and staunch Zionist who built the once-derelict and now top-of-the-line Mamilla and David’s Village section of Jerusalem.
Cyril Stein, who died last month and, as Chairman of Ladbroke’s once controlled the Hilton International Group, was the proudest Jew I came across in my eleven years in the UK. In a community often known for its reluctance to raise its head above the parapet, Stein was a Jewish lion, forever fighting for Israel and Jewish interests no matter the cost.
The distinguishing virtue of leadership is moral courage, a willingness to do the right whatever the price in reputation, resources, and popularity and by this standard Stein was the greatest of all contemporary Anglo-Jewish leaders.
Let me personalize this for a moment.
I arrived in the UK in December 1988, sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to strengthen Jewish life at the University of Oxford. What I encountered was an Anglo-Jewish community rightly famous for its generosity, social services, and communal institutions but noticeably lacking in proud and public displays of Jewishness. Unlike the United States, a nation where everyone except Native Americans is ultimately an immigrant, the British Jewish community seemed to behave at times as though they were strangers in another people’s land. Coupled with this was the tradition of European anti-Semitism, with no parallel in the US, which further caused Anglo-Jews to be less conspicuous. The belief in Britain was that Jewish interests were best served by lurking just below the radar.
Isaiah Berlin, Oxford’s greatest scholar whom I had the privilege of befriending, summed it up. Once, on a beautiful spring day, I told Sir Isaiah, after meeting with him in his office at All Souls, that I would accompany him on a walk down the Oxford High Street. As I assisted him with locking his door, my tzitzis, hanging at my side, became visible under my suit jacket. This sparked a conversation between us about public displays of Jewishness. Sir Isaiah was himself an immensely proud Jew who often criticized to me Jews at the University who hid their Jewishness and did not affiliate with the community. Still, he told me, that tzitzis worn on the outside and other public displays of Jewishness, like the Menorah I would erect in the Oxford city center each year on Chanukah, were out of place in a country that was not our own.
You can imagine, then, what a surprise it was to meet
who amid being one of Britain’s greatest and most high profile captains of industry celebrated his Jewishness publicly at every turn. Cyril was an immensely polished but in-your-face Jew. A few weeks after coming to know each other he insisted that I stop calling him Cyril and call him Reb Sender instead. And nothing disgusted him more than Jews who did not staunchly support Israel, the Jewish homeland and, after his wife Betty, the greatest love of his life. We began studying Talmud together weekly. The first fifteen minutes of each class was Cyril stewing about the abysmal treatment of Israel in the British press. They got away with it, he maintained, because Anglo-Jewry allowed it and at times even drove it. Always a warm and kind man and the consummate gentleman, there was only one sin that would excite his ire: a Jew who, in an effort to conform with public opinion, failed to stand up for Judaism and Israel.
As a philanthropist there was noone more generous and I have heard from reliable sources close to him that in his lifetime he gave away most of his fortune to charity.”¨”¨He was also the most loyal friend and in my 11 years at Oxford noone stood by me more steadfastly. Not because I was always right. I took controversial positions on many issues, including some with which Cyril himself vehemently disagreed. No matter. A friend was someone he would always stick his neck out for, whatever the consequence.
But as someone who endeavors in the field of marriage and family, the most touching aspect of Cyril was his tenderness as husband, father, and grandfather. This was a man who gobbled international corporations for breakfast. But when it came to even speaking about his family his eyes filled with tears. I remember how, at a small Shabbos reception at his home for his seventieth birthday, he got up to make a toast. “Why do we do what we do in life? Going to work, our communal involvement, attachment to Judaism,” he asked. “Fur de kinder,” he responded in Yiddish. Everything was for the kids.
He called me regularly about his eldest grandson, David, with whom I was friendly, sharing with me every aspect of his travel and education. He traveled to New York constantly to visit the grandchildren who lived there. Family to him was paramount, which is also why he so loved the Jewish people. It was his family. He would spare no expense and no effort for their welfare.
Anglo-Jewry never fully appreciated Cyril. He was too vigorous, too opinionated, too determined. He cared not a toss for communal diplomacy and niceties. If something precious was being trampled he roared and spent whatever charitable sum was necessary to correct it.
When Prime Minister Rabin made the Oslo peace deal with Arafat Cyril was publicly livid. How could Israel arm someone with so much Jewish blood on their hands? How could they give guns to his soldiers who were terrorists? But the community was Arafat-intoxicated and even friends shunned Cyril. But 1,000 dead Israelis later due to the worst unleashing of suicide bombers in Israel’s history – Cyril was vindicated. Today Arafat is remembered for the cold-blooded killer and terrorist he was.
A constant visitor to Israel with an apartment in the beautiful David’s Village development he built, he eventually made Israel his permanent home and departed this world surrounded by the golden stones of Jerusalem. And even as he departs, still his roar is felt and heard.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ served as Rabbi to the students of Oxford from 1988 to 1999. The international best-selling author of 25 books, he has just published ‘Renewal: A Guide the Values-Filled Life’ and ‘Honoring the Child Spirit: Inspiration and Learning from Your Children.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.