Motti at his 90th birthday party

IN SEPTEMBER 2007 Barbara Faktor and Steve Weiner, Motti’s children, organized a wonderful 90th birthday party for Motti to which he invited 180 friends. I had the privilege and the pleasure of being counted amongst Motti’s friends and so I too enjoyed the warmth, fun and laughter of this party and the love that exuded from his threegenerational family and friends. Little did we know that just a few short months later he would develop serious heart problems. Motti passed away on December 31st 2007, as Steve said, just after he had managed to write tens of thank you letters to the family and friends who brought him presents. I, too, received a very beautiful and moving letter from Motti, a very personal one, which reflected the love, respect and gratitude he felt for me and for Esra. “Twelve and a half years ago you asked me to open a second hand shop for funds for Esra’s many projects – I knew nothing about second hand shops, I didn’t think I could handle bargaining with Israeli Jewish and Arab buyers, I couldn’t even speak Hebrew. Merle, it was for you that I accepted the challenge... I was determined not to let you down... You gave me the opportunity of making a small contribution to the Israeli society and a larger contribution to Esra. You became my friend – and for that I am most grateful. "Motti was a gentleman in the grand sense of the word, full of respect for people, a charmer, someone who relished life. I remember his 80th birthday party and the special award dinner-dance that we in Esra gave for him and for Ita – how he loved to dance, to flirt, this debonair, ‘dapper, mischievious gentleman’. Jack Ziv-El, a close friend, writes: “Motti loved life and entered all activities with a verve, which made everybody else around him join in the fun. Molly, his wife, loved all kinds of music and so after the war they decided that ballroom dancing was a worthwhile activity. They started demonstrating to their friends the latest steps whether it was the Twist, the Cha Cha or the  Tango. It was a jolly sight to see them dancing and it inspired other young couples to emulate them. Accordingly, in order to catch up, we as young couples soon organized some dancing lessons with a professional and together we started having the time of our lives on the dance floor.  Motti,” reminisces Jack, “ believed in physical fitness and exercised every morning during his whole life. It was natural for him in those days to organize the husbands of his circle of friends to periodically go climbing the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. Our wives were most forgiving! Our aim when hiking was not to be left too far behind Motti. He was always leading the way up the slopes on these expeditions. To compensate our wives for their ‘sacrifice’, Motti suggested we take trips to Lorenco Marques in East Africa. There he introduced us to good wine and good eating. It must be admitted that at the time we did not quite know what we were eating, and better so”. With the same energy and excitement that he invested in living and dancing, Motti invested in setting up in 1995 and running the Esra nearly new shops. (He didn’t want to call them ‘second hand’). He was the creator of this large and significant Esra project and he undertook tremendous responsibility in operating and developing them. He was an outstanding, unique volunteer - the epitomy of a great and committed volunteer who gives of himself totally and with passion, his strengths, skills and energies for the good of the community. Motti put to use in running Esra’s charity stores the vast experience and acumen which he had gained in commerce in South Africa where he and Louis Zinn managed Club Outfitters, a leading men’s outfitting enterprise. Esra’s stores supply clothing and household goods to new immigrants, the needy and foreign workers at a nominal cost, but with great personal respect for the purchaser. Motti also created a project within the stores which gives the toys that are donated to the shops to hospitals in the area and to the indigent who are referred by the Welfare Services. For thirteen years on a daily basis Motti coordinated and activated with warmth and caring a team of 60 volunteers which he led by example. He was at work at 7am schlepping, carrying, sorting out the goods. He knew no bounds. Nothing deterred or was too much or too menial for the octogenarian Motti who volunteered physically with amazing energy 42 hours a week. He fathered his team of volunteers and befriended his motley cadre of buyers who would leave the shop with a feeling that somebody cares and gives them respect, because Motti felt for their plight, listened to them attentively and gave them advice and sold them goods at prices they could afford. Jack writes that “Motti earned his respect by respecting others and particularly the underprivileged black people in South Africa or people in Israel who fell on hard times”. But Motti also worked after hours. His mind never stopped ticking on the shop. He would come to us with his plans all carefully calculated of how we could and should move to new premises, each time larger and costing more, to ultimately expand the shops, business and income. Always daring, far-sighted and right, we did what he planned and we grew and grew. Motti wrote me once that his spirit of volunteering was instilled in him by his first wife Molly Abramson whom he married in 1941 and who was the mother of his two children, Barbara and Steve (both of whom live in Israel). After the war ended and he began to work in the gent’s clothing business and successfully ran several stores in Pretoria he and Molly started providing soup and sandwiches to two large schools (1200 children in each) of black poor children aged 5-18. They also initiated the establishment of a health clinic, which was called the Weiner clinic which was manned by two nurses and doctors. And Jack writes that “Motti was a light touch when it came to charitable or Zionist causes. He needed no harangue when we came into his President's Outfitters to ask if he was interested in contributing. "Motti’s zeal and humility are not surprising when one looks at his early history. Motti was born in Pretoria, South Africa on 22.09.1917. His parents emigrated from Lithuania to South Africa in 1911. They had seven children of whom Motti was the third. Motti studied at “East Central” which was known for its anti-semitic atmosphere. He left school at the age of 15 and worked in a flour mill to help support his family. His father’s business went insolvent during the depression years, a blow from which he didn’t recover.During these years Motti learned what it was to be poor and of the importance of self respect. During the following four years Motti worked in six different places, when each time he improved his position and salary. Ralph Lanesman, a close and longtime friend writes of the young Motti: “My earliest memories of Motti Weiner reach back to my school days when in 1940 I witnessed Motti with the Pretoria Regiment (PAO) marching through Pretoria on its way to the railway station en route to its training base after having been called up as a Citizen Force unit for full-time service in World War II. Subsequently, Motti was transferred to the mobile Air Force as its Regimental Sergeant-Major where he supervised the transfer of thousands of men to the front lines in East Africa, the Western Desert and Italy. Thereafter he himself, after persistent agitation, was transferred to the Italian war front, where he served to the end of operations.” Jack also talked about those days saying that Motti earned the admiration and respect of the Jewish community in Pretoria at an early age. At the outbreak of the 2nd World War South Africa was a country where there was no conscription in spite of General Smuts declaring war on Germany in September 1939. A large part of the white population was not sympathetic to the allied war effort against the German axis and there were many who were sympathetic to the Germans. In 1939 Motti, aged 21, was one of those who volunteered to serve in the forces and fight the Germans. Volunteering for worthwhile causes was in his blood all his life. Motti too wrote me about his time

in the army - that in 1943 he had to accompany 220 prisoners (young soldiers with discipline problems) who were sent to Italy to join various flying squads. It was a very difficult mission: a boat trip lasting six weeks to Casablanca, four days train trip over the Atlas mountains and Algeria. From there by boat to Napoli and by train to Bari. During this long journey Motti had to put down a rebellion of the prisoners who tried to improve their living conditions. It was at this period said Motti that he learned the importance of team work and assuming responsibility. “When he was demobilized, he went into business” writes Ralph. “He was well-known in Pretoria amongst all elements of the town and his contacts were innumerable. His affability, sense of humor and concern for others earned him a very large circle of friends. His war-time service led him to take a long and worthy role in the affairs of South African Jewish Ex-service League. On reaching retirement age, he and Ita made aliyah to Israel when a new chapter in his life started and he immersed himself into the activities of Esra”. Motti died at the age of 90 in a retirement home where he lived with Ita who died a year before him. He continued his volunteering activities until almost the end, enjoying each minute he spent in the shops. In Jack’s words: “And so we will miss Motti for his friendship, his generosity of spirit, his energy and his sense of humor". God spared him for us until he turned 90. Thank you for the privilege and the memory”.

My grateful thanks to Barbara Faktor and Steve Weiner, Ralph Lanesman, Jack Ziv-El and Liz Trakeniski for contributing to this article.

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Merle Guttmann

Merle Guttmann was born and educated in Zimbabwe and immigrated to Israel in 1962. She is well-known in Israeli Anglophone circles and Israel’s social and volunteer fields. A social planner, ...

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