Appreciation: Remembering Leon Davidoff
Not many people in Israel knew Leon Davidoff, but his family and close friends both in Mexico and in Israel are quietly mourning his loss.
For quite some time we had been aware that Davidoff’s unusual life story was rapidly coming to an end. He and his closest friends made great efforts over the last few years to help him sift through the options, to find a way for his legendary good will and his extraordinary dedication would be enshrined for posterity.
To the best of my knowledge, there have been few Jews in modern times who could match Davidoff’s leadership and performance. It would not be pretentious to assert that Israel was at the center of Davidoff’s world a good part of the time.
I was fortunate to find Leon Davidoff when I became ambassador to Mexico in 1964. He was really unique in his character and interests. While the majority of Jewish leaders in Latin America had been brought up in the heritage and the cultural legacy of Yiddish, Davidoff’s world was a mixture of his Mexican, Spanish, English and French heritage, all put at the service of Jewish and Zionist causes.
His special attraction was his ability to construct bridges to the outside Jewish world, particularly appealing to the rising Mexican intelligentsia, curious aboutIsrael and learning to be more modern.
The first outstanding Davidoff project I came across was the Cultural Institute, which he singlehandedly undertook, led and financed. For young Jews who retained their ties with the old traditional kehilla, the Institute became the center, deeply involved in Jewish problems and even as it forged ties with the rising Mexican middle class.
The Six Day War left the Jewish community quite shaken and confused despite the impressive military victory. The Jews of Mexico responded generously, but required aDavidoff to gather the Mexican writers and intellectuals to an evening with the Israeli ambassador to hear the moral and diplomatic case forIsrael’s actions in that war.
One of the most moving incidents on that dramatic day occurred when a middle-aged Mexican Jew asked to come up and shake the hand of the Israeli ambassador. He came up, shook the Israeli’s hand and returned to take his seat. But as he walked back, he suffered an apparent heart attack and collapsed, never to open his eyes again.
Davidoff’s determination to build bridges between Mexican Jews and Israel was demonstrated even more strongly. He and his wife loved Jerusalem and spent part of the year here. Writers and poets from various parts of the world were invited to come to his home. He felt as at home in Jerusalem as he did in Mexico, in Paris or in New York.
Aspiring to feel intellectually at home in all these cities may have been a far-fetched dream, and Davidoff was aware that he would have to invest as much of his life in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as he did in Mexico City and New York in order to develop and maintain his roots here green and living.
These were great ambitions but Davidoff was rarely deterred. This is why his friends will continue to value and cherish his legacy.
The writer is a retired Israeli diplomat.
(Tags: Latin American Jews, Leader, Israel)