A Recreation Area in the Jerusalem Hills for Stephen Wolnek

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

This lovely recreation area in Shoresh Forest commemorates the life, work and values of Dr. Stephen (“Steve”) Wolnek.

On November 3rd 2016 the family, colleagues and friends of the late Dr. Stephen (Steve) Wolnek gathered in Shoresh Forest to inaugurate a new recreation area that KKL-JNF has dedicated to his memory. The recreation area is situated on a site once occupied by a fortified military post that commanded a view of the Burma Road and provided a lifeline for Jerusalem when it was under siege during Israel’s War of Independence. Apart from its wonderful view of the Jerusalem Hills, the site symbolizes both Israel’s enduring strength and the quality of life it offers, two issues of prime importance for Steve.

“Steve died on the fifth of January, 2016, while still holding office as President of MERCAZ and Masorti Olami, which represents the Conservative Movement in national institutions,” said Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, who is Executive Director of MERCAZ and Masorti Olami and a member of the KKL-JNF Board of Directors. “The recreation area and the forest around it are dedicated to the memory of Steve and the values represented by the Conservative Movement: a profound commitment to tradition combined with a connection to the modern world, Jewish pluralism, settlement, environmentalism, equality and democracy. Our objective is for all members of the movement, in all eighty of its communities in Israel, together with those who live abroad, to come here and engage in activities compatible with the environmentalist and Zionist values that KKL-JNF represents,” he said.

Director of KKL-JNF’s Israel Fundraising Department Michael Ben Abu, who presided over the ceremony, invited Steve’s widow Elysia and their two sons Seth and Ivan, together with KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar, to unveil the memorial to Steve.

In his speech at the ceremony Danny Atar told those present: “This recreation area pays homage to a man who has contributed a great deal to Zionism, the Jewish People and Israel. I experienced the power and grandeur of the Conservative Movement when I met members of the Noam Youth Movement at Kibbutz Hanaton. Young people were always the standard bearers of Zionism as it resettled the Land of Israel, guarded the borders and worked the land, and the young people of the Conservative Movement are worthy representatives of this tradition.  The Jewish National Fund is proud to be the partner of such an important movement, of which Steve Wolnek was head. Today’s event will strengthen the connection between the Conservative Movement and KKL-JNF for ever more. We are one family.”

President of MERCAZ USA Dr. Marilyn Wind spoke of the meaning of the name Shimon, which was Steve’s Hebrew name. "It means one who hears, who listens with the intention of serving his people", she said, and she reminded those present that Steve had served as president of numerous organizations that work for the benefit of the Jewish People. “I had the honor of working with him, and I am honored to be present at this ceremony that honors him,” said Dr. Wind.

Dr. David Breakstone, Vice Chair of the World Zionist Organization, said in his speech: “Ten months ago I took soil from Israel and laid it upon his grave. Today, something of his spirit will linger on Israeli soil, too.” He said that at the last Zionist Congress Steve had fought determinedly and uncompromisingly for his views and that when he – Breakstone – had asked him to calm down a little and “drop into a lower gear,” Steve had been unable to understand why. After all, he was acting for the benefit of the Conservative Movement and the Land – how could anyone remain calm when dealing with matters of such importance?

“Like Binyamin Zeev Herzl, Steve was not in the best of health in his latter years, but he nonetheless continued to engage in energetic and vital Zionist activities until he drew his final breath. Steve strove to make Israel an ideal society, and we have an obligation to follow in his footsteps,” said David Breakstone in conclusion.

Masorti Olami President Gillian Caplin spoke of the two years she spent working with Steve. She described his tremendous work for the Conservative Movement in the USA and Israel, his commitment to the organization and his love for Israel. “He was my mentor,” she said. “He always shared his knowledge and his vast wealth of experience with me. I miss him very much, both personally and professionally.”

Rabbi Jerry Epstein began his speech with a parable about a king who paid one of his workers in full, even though he worked only half days. When the other workers complained, the king told them that this particular worker achieved more in half a day that the others did in a full one. “That’s how Steve was,” said Rabbi Epstein. “He achieved more in half a day than most of us can get done in a whole day. Those who worked with him had trouble keeping up with him. Challenges did not daunt him, and everyone knew that whenever a complex task had to be performed, Steve would get it done. He simply worked harder and more intelligently, and thanks to him MERCAZ Olami became a force to be reckoned with in the national institutions. What’s more, he was also a successful businessman and a family man whose eyes sparkled and whose face glowed whenever he thought of his family.” Rabbi Epstein wished Elysia Wolnek long life, said how much he missed Steve and stressed the need to continue along the path he had mapped out.

Rabbi Tzvi Graetz spoke of the symbolism of the recreation area’s inauguration date, which occurred just after Shabbat Bereishit, on which both the world and Man were created, and before Shabbat Noah, for Noah was a just man who saved the world from destruction. “Man is born with remarkable strengths,” said Rabbi Graetz. “He can create worlds and destroy them. His ability to choose can raise him to great heights, or plunge him to the depths of the netherworld. The creation of a proud, traditional and pluralist generation in Israel, that’s what Steve believed in.”

Rabbi Graetz thanked Danny Atar and said that without the push he had given the project, this corner in memory of Steve would not have come into being. He thanked Michael Ben Abu and Yuval Itah of KKL-JNF and Tehila Reuben and the staff at MERCAZ Olami for having organized the event.

Steve’s wife Elysia Wolnek likewise thanked KKL-JNF, all those who had come to the event to pay their respects and also those who had been unable to attend, but who had helped to commemorate Steve. Ivan Wolnek, Steve’s son, read the Planter’s Prayer, and Elysia, together with Danny Atar, planted an oak tree in the recreation area as a harbinger of the many additional trees that would be planted there in the future. Moshe Cohen of KKL-JNF’s Board of Directors read from the Book of Psalms, and the inauguration concluded with the singing of HaTikva.

This lovely recreation area in Shoresh Forest, which commemorates the life, work and values of Dr. Stephen (“Steve”) Wolnek, will become a center of activity where members of the Conservative Movement, young and old alike, will get in touch with nature, the Land and the State.