Lord George Weidenfeld, who was dedicated to interfaith relations and who worked to save Christians from Muslim persecution in the Middle East, died on Wednesday.
Lord George Weidenfeld, a British-Jewish publisher and philanthropist, known for funding the rescue of 2,000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians who were being threatened by the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, died in London on Wednesday at the age of 96.
Weidenfeld, a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords legislature, was devoted to promoting positive interfaith relations. He fled Nazi persecution and escaped Austria to the UK on the cusp of Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938.
In the UK, he co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicholson and later received the British aristocratic title of “life peer.”
Inspired by his past as a Jewish refugee, he was heavily involved with Jewish and Israeli charities, and in recent years funded the escape to Europe of 42 Syrian-Christian families.
He said his work on behalf of threatened Christians was an effort to thank British Quakers for helping him when he first arrived in Britain.
“We have been deeply moved by the plight of Christians in conflict-torn Middle East countries, and we are supporting the transfer of Christian families to safe havens where they can lead normal lives,” Weidenfeld told the Times of Israel last year.
A “Bridge Builder” and A Source of Wisdom
“As a bridge-builder, he devoted all of his energy toward issues that are still as topical as ever: the dialogue between the faiths to Europe’s relationship with Israel to European integration. He fought for values and ideals even when he faced resistance,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said of Weidenfeld in a statement on Wednesday, reported the Associated Press.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he was “saddened to learn” of Weidenfeld’s passing, saying “he led a long and amazing life, traveling a unique path from refugee to Peer. His countless personal achievements were always accompanied by his remarkable work for the benefit of the Jewish people, the State of Israel and humanity as a whole. He will be remembered as an innovative publisher of important works and for his dedication to higher education in Israel, the United Kingdom and across Europe.”
“I cherished our meetings over many years in which I profited from the breadth of his wisdom,” Netanyahu said, and conveyed his “most sincere condolences to Lord Weidenfeld’s family and to all who knew him. Their loss is our loss.”
Member of Knesset (MK) Isaac Herzog, Israel’s opposition leader, called Weidenfeld “an avid Zionist and lover of Israel” who as the right-hand man of Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, “envisioned, initiated, and promoted programs for the State of Israel, its Jewish character, security, and defense.”
The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald Lauder, said he is “deeply saddened that George has left us. He had great wisdom, and he was a friend who always gave me valuable advice. Until the end, his mind was as sharp as ever, and he never retired. George managed to squeeze several lifetimes into one….George never forgot what Christians had done to save him, and only a few months ago, he set up a foundation to rescue thousands of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. He said he had a debt to repay, and he meant it.”
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said Weidenfeld showed a strong commitment to community service.
“One of Lord Weidenfeld’s last acts — rescuing Christian families from Syria and Iraq and resettling them elsewhere — exemplifies the legacy of a man we should all endeavor to replicate,” the chief rabbi said.
Weidenfeld is survived by his wife, a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
BY: JNS.org, United with Israel Staff and AP
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