A Tribute To My Father…

Presented at the Opening of the Memorial Site at Kfar Yeoshua by Eli Shamir

April 30, 2004

Editor’s Note: This tribute was translated to Hebrew by Mrs. Orly Kenneth for the presentation.

I want first to thank those who participated in making this event and this project happen. I regret that my sister Ruth, who had wanted to share our father’s legacy with subsequent generations, is not here today to witness this appropriate and fitting occasion. My mother was well aware of the contribution that my father made to Israel since coming here in 1920. If she were alive, she too would greatly appreciate this honor. As the sole living survivor of his immediate family, I am truly gratified that my father is being honored and appreciated.

I’m going to present to you a perspective on my father that only a family member could provide. I will first tell of his devotion to Eretz Israel and its people. Then I want to speak of his professionalism and finally I want to illustrate his and my mother’s generosity.

My father was invited by Arthur Rupin in 1920 to Palestine to come and head the physical planning of the country. He decided to come, but wished to maintain a professional rather than political position. After Dr. Rupin died, his widow came to our home to read some excerpts from his personal diary to my father. In it, he had written that one of the best things he ever did was to invite father to come and help build the country. She also thanked father for his efforts to rename the road leading from Rehaviah past the monastery grounds ‘Rupin Road’.

When invited by Rupin, my father was already government town planner in Christiania, (now Oslo) Norway. Prior to holding this position in Norway, he had a promising career as a protégée of Professor Metzendorf in Germany. European colleagues, even Zionists, told him he would be crazy to leave his post in Norway. So why did he go when he had all these other opportunities ahead of him?

As a soldier in the First World War in the Eastern Front, my father became aware of the plight and persecution of East European Jews, which reinforced his support for Zionism. Why should he go to such a small country? Essentially it was “to build my country for my own people”.

While in Israel, my father was offered professorships at universities in the United States. Even though this would have provided a more comfortable life, he declined in order to devote his energies to his primary cause.

Richard Kauffmann was a true professional who put his work before personal gain. He was not politically ambitious. He did not seek either fame or fortune. He was the architect of many residences for well-known and well-positioned people. However, we never owned our own home. My father’s main concern was the well-being and environment of those who would come to Eretz Israel with little more than a dream. He knew that real communities were as much about people as buildings.

Richard Kauffmann was responsible for developing planned communities, and was the first one to do so. Examples include Kfar Yeoshua and many other moshavim shituffiyim, moshavim, kvutzot and kibbutzim, as well as beautiful garden suburbs like Rehaviah, Beit Hackerem, Herzelia Pituach, Achuzah, and many more. I could go on extolling his many accomplishments, but you are doing that with this project. I can provide the more personal side of his professionalism.

My father was modest. He never put himself in a position to praise his own work. He let his work speak for itself. Neither did he assume an air of importance often shown by his contemporaries. I overheard him say to mother “I learn something new every day”.

People came from other countries to learn about his work and he willingly shared his ideas, concepts and knowledge with them. Visits I remember include a group of Sikhs from India who were interested in learning about collective living. He explained and showed them plans of the different types.

In the 1950’s, the Planning Department in the Kiryah invited Sir Patrick Abercrombie, who was given his title for his work, as an expert in planning. Like father, Abercrombie was also a Member of the Town Planning Institute. (You become a member only by invitation.) Sir Patrick, who knew father from years before Israel became a state, gave a talk in Tel Aviv. Hearing about it, father took me with him to the talk. Sir Patrick, when he saw father in the audience said to the gathering, “I don’t know why you invited me. You have Richard Kauffmann here. He can tell you what to do and how to do it. You don’t need me.”

The Planning Department also invited architects and engineers from the United States as experts. They took several days out of their schedule to visit my father in his office. They learned, observed and absorbed his work. They asked him for materials and plans to teach his concepts at Yale and other universities. I personally traveled to Tel Aviv to deliver the plans to them. There were many more such visits.

My father and mother were generous. When times were financially rough, he was concerned for the well-being of the people who worked for him and their families, paying them fully when there was little work, even if it meant that his own family had to skimp. He and mother were willing to share everything they had.

I remember many times when people came to meetings at father’s office, they would be treated to an impromptu meal offered up by my mother at short notice. My mother would always, somehow, put together a nourishing meal so no one would leave hungry.

When my sister and I were little, and we were living in a rented flat (an old Arabic house with a big hall), I remember climbing out of bed and watching all of the guests who were enjoying the gatherings. Sometimes there would be forty or more guests. At different times, high officials, intellectuals and working-class individuals would visit and were given the same interest and concern.

On Friday evenings in Rehaviah, everyone knew that it was ‘Open House at the Kauffmanns’. There was always an extra plate in case someone in addition to those invited came. Many would simply drop by unannounced for coffee, cake and conversation afterwards. Mother always started baking on Thursday mornings. The discussions would usually be stimulating because of the variety of interests and background of the guests. Years later, people would tell me how fondly they remember those Friday evenings at our home, especially the warmth and the welcome they received.

My parents often provided help to others. This help initially came in the form of financial assistance and advice to those in our extended family and others who were emigrating to Eretz Israel. Starting in the early 1930’s my father advised and helped make arrangements for individual families to bring the assets they could, in one form or another, so they could set up their homes. Later we traveled to Yugoslavia to meet family members to advise them to bring heavy road building equipment and other such machinery that was needed in Eretz Israel, since they could not bring money out of Germany at that time. One Holocaust survivor said to me later, “You know, when I came, your father gave me a job in his office until he found an appropriate job for me. To your father I came for help. To your mother I came for moral support and to have someone to talk with.” There were many others that were helped by finding jobs and providing other assistance.

Because of his reputation, many people came to father asking for help. People who were living in Israel mistakenly thought that he would be well off. This was never the case. We were never wealthy in financial terms. But we had other riches that no money can buy.

I feel very privileged to be the daughter of these two truly special people. I feel very rich with the heritage and values they taught me by their example.

Esther Kauffmann Forsen