It’s difficult to know whether Frankfurt-born philanthropist Fred Worms, who died
on Monday at age 91, should be referred to as a German, a Brit or an Israeli. In
fact, he too had an identity problem in this regard judging by his autobiography
A Life in Three Cities: Frankfurt, London and Jerusalem published in June
The highly successful businessman and benefactor greatly
contributed to developing the cultural, sporting and religious landscape of
Jerusalem and Israel. He is best known for establishing Kfar Hamaccabia in Ramat
Gan, which hosts the Maccabia Games, and cofounding the International Jewish
Sports Hall of Fame.
Though he and his wife Della only made aliya in
2009, they have been active in the life of the country for
“We’ve been making aliya for 50 years, but two years ago we
completed the process and did it properly,” Worms told The Jerusalem Post last
“I had a remarkably lucky and wealthy business career, and I knew I
had to pay something back to ‘Medinat Yisrael’ [the State of Israel] and Hashem
[God], so I’ve been busy for many years doing just that.”
amassed his wealth as an entrepreneur in engineering, automobile accessory and
real estate in post-World War II Britain, gave together with his wife to the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem to build the Scopus Student Village, the
capital’s Botanical Gardens, the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, Hillel, the
Israel Museum, Emunah, the B’nai B’rith World Center, the Pelech and Efrata
schools, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Steinsaltz Institute for Jewish
Studies and the Jerusalem Foundation, among others.
Worms was born into
an Orthodox home in Frankfurt on November 21, 1920. He was a Zionist from an
early age and a member of the Habonim Dror movement. When the Nazis came to
power in Germany, it was no longer possible for Jewish schools or youth groups
to have their summer camps in Germany and the Habonim camp moved to Switzerland
where Worms took on a leadership role.
As life in Germany became
increasingly difficult for Jews, Worms’ mother, Meta, who divorced his father
when Worms was 10 years old, decided Germany had become too dangerous, and so in
April 1937 she sent her son, who was then 16, to London.
He enrolled at
St. Paul’s School in Hammersmith.
Going to a church school was a major
culture shock for the boy who only a few weeks earlier had been a pupil at the
Samson Raphael Hirsch School in Frankfurt.
After leaving school in 1939,
Worms applied for a job as an articled clerk with a highly reputed accounting
firm. The young man had the audacity to tell his employer that he would not work
on Sabbath or other Jewish holidays. The employer, who had offered him a good
salary, was taken aback and reminded him that he was in the heart of London, not
the East End, then a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Worms apologized for
wasting the man’s time, but the employer, who was also Jewish, was impressed
with his integrity and made the concession.
When the war broke out,
Worms, like many other German refugees during the war, both Jewish and
non-Jewish, was interned as an enemy alien briefly.
worked as a chartered accountant and eventually became an entrepreneur in the
engineering and motor car industry.
In 1950, Della Rosenberg, a pretty
young woman at the Norrice Lea Synagogue, caught his eye, and he found himself
concentrating less on the service and more on her. He proposed to her after a
They were engaged for nine months and married in
the Norrice Lea Synagogue on February 6, 1951.
The couple had three
daughters – Nadia, Hilary and Caroline – who each left home at age 18 and
settled in Israel. It was in the cards that their parents would
Fred and Della Worms, an inseparable couple, frequently visited
Jerusalem not only to visit their daughters, grandchildren, and eventually
great- grandchildren, but also to attend to their many philanthropic
Through the Fred and Della Worms Charitable Trust and the
separate Fred Worms Charitable Trust, they supported numerous causes in Britain
and Israel, particularly those supporting education, cultural heritage, the
arts, the environment and conservation.
In 1998, Queen Elizabeth II
conferred the title of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
on Worms in appreciation of his exceptional efforts as chairman of the B’nai
B’rith Housing Association of Great Britain which had provided housing for the
Worms, a lover of sports, belonged to the Maccabi Sports Club.
After serving in various positions with British Maccabi and the Maccabi World
Union, Worms succeeded Pierre Gildesgame as president of the MWU, serving in
that role from 1982 to 1986. In 1994 he was elected honorary president, and
retired from the post on May 2, 2010, to coincide with Herzl’s 150th
In 1992, Della and Fred Worms were awarded the Jerusalem Medal,
designed by Jacques Lifshitz, for Benefactors of the Holy City. Two years later,
they were made honorary fellows of the Israel Museum.
The Worms have been
committed supporters of the Israel Museum since soon after its establishment,
but their most meaningful contribution came in 1990, when Jerusalem mayor Teddy
Kollek, the founder of both the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Foundation, was
celebrating his 75th birthday.
Worms asked him what he wanted for his
Kollek replied that he would like to pray in the Cochin
synagogue. The Worms were quite happy to pay for his trip to India, but that’s
not what he meant. Kollek wanted to pray in the Cochin synagogue in
He wanted the ancient synagogue to be brought to the capital
and to be permanently installed in the Israel Museum.
Kollek’s wish was
their command, and the Cochin synagogue, which had been dismantled and
reassembled at the Israel Museum, was formally opened to the public in June 1995
with the participation of the Indian ambassador and some 400 Indian Israelis
from Bombay and Cochin.
In June 2011, Worms received the Teddy Kollek
award in a ceremony at the Knesset, particularly meaningful in light of his long
and close relationship with the famed Jerusalem mayor.
When the Worms
family first acquired a property in Herzliya some 50 years ago, they continued
to commute to London, where so many of their friends had summer
But later, thanks to Kollek, they moved to Jerusalem. They were
looking for an apartment for one of their daughters and Kollek suggested that
they purchase a ruin in Yemin Moshe from the Jerusalem Foundation and rebuild it
in accordance with their needs.
This is exactly what they did, including
building a separate small apartment for themselves. They later moved to King
David’s Court, adjacent to the King David Hotel, which became their permanent
home when they made aliya in 2009 and not just their holiday
Notwithstanding advancing age, Worms continued his philanthropic
activities in Jerusalem, and never lost his enthusiasm for Jerusalem’s cultural
life. He participated in recent events at the Israel Museum, in mid- April he
attended the launch of the Living Water section of the Children’s Discovery
Garden at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, and in January was in the audience
for British actor David Weston’s presentation at the Konrad Adenauer Center of
Shakespeare in Jerusalem.
Worms made aliya to Jerusalem, a city that he
loved dearly, more so because the walls of the Old City were visible from the
balcony of his apartment.
His final resting place is neither in Frankfurt
nor in London, but Jerusalem, which captured both his heart and his
His funeral took place at Har Hamenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem’s
Givat Shaul on Monday evening.