He was a person of great wealth, but that was not his essence. It was only a byproduct of his sense of mission and the blessing of Rav Aharon. He is being eulogized as a philanthropist, but he was much more than a donor of millions of dollars to the cause of Torah and Jewish life. He was a doer, someone who constantly challenged others, pushed them to do more and never allowed them – be they roshei yeshiva, administrators, kiruv professionals, Israeli and American legislators, and political leaders – to feel complacent or satisfied with their already major accomplishments.
Part of his mission was to make those who actually toiled in the vineyard of Torah and Jewish life see that their glass was still only half full and that there was so much more yet to achieve and so many more Jews who had yet to benefit from Torah knowledge and a Jewish lifestyle.
The current vogue is to memorialize people by telling stories and anecdotes about them. Zev Wolfson was impatient with storytelling. He wanted to see results, action, innovative ideas, and risk-taking.
There are many institutions of Torah in the Jewish world that he helped found and build and then demanded that they stand on their own and succeed. His goal was always to bring more and more Jews to the waters of Torah. There are currently thousands and thousands of Jews who knowingly or not are indebted to him for having helped to create the tools for their return to Torah and tradition.
He never emblazoned his name on his manifold accomplishments and shunned all public acclaim and even public knowledge regarding his efforts and achievements. His tenacity and his vision were legendary and he abhorred hypocrisy and pettiness. He was a shrewd judge of people and assessed their potential strengths unerringly. And he demanded that everyone live up to their potential in helping rebuild Torah and the Jewish people. He made no allowances for time or comfort – his or that of others – when it came to the mission entrusted to him. And that was the secret of his many accomplishments that now dot the Jewish world – in France, Israel, United States, Canada, and other places where Jews are found in this world of ours.
There was probably no single person who helped the State of Israel in its formative years obtain favorable treatment from political leaders, legislators and administrators of governments than did Zev Wolfson. His efforts, again guided by Rav Aharon Kotler, were legendary and his accomplishments in this field were crowned with many successes. It is an untold story of perseverance and persuasion, of tenacity and dedication.
He had great influence on secular Israeli leaders to bring them to help support Torah schools and institutions in Israel. He was a fast friend with many prominent political leaders in the United States, France, Israel and other nations, but he never contaminated that friendship with any personal gain. Rather, he always actively advanced the cause of the Jewish people, its Torah institutions and the Jewish state with them. Even in his last years, when his health declined, when he met me in Israel, he would immediately ask what new projects I was working on. He never retired from his efforts on behalf of Torah and he could never understand how others sought to escape the burdens of the Jewish world even in their old age.
His devoted wife and loyal children will do much to continue his work. That is the legacy of the Wolfson family. But there was only one Zev Wolson and it is unlikely that we will see another one like him in our times.
May his memory be a blessing to his family, to those of us who knew him, and for all of Klal Yisroel.