Metaphorically speaking, he left us with his boots on – his MAHAL boots! The sad passing of Maurice Ostroff on Monday at the age of 90 brought to an end the tenacious spirit of a warrior who fought passionately to his last breath for the right of the Jewish People to be free in their ancestral homeland.
When once asked why he volunteered in 1948 to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, this former South African from Johannesburg said it simply and modestly: “I had a strong desire to identify myself with the struggle of the Jews in Israel and with the displaced persons fighting for the right to enter Palestine.
I had served in WWII and felt I could help.”
He did more than help, and he never stopped.
If, in 1948, Maurice commandeered a strategically important mobile radar unit near the Weizmann Institute, six decades later he still had his antennae up.
Operating from “ my ops room” on the fifth floor of Beth Protea – the Southern African Retirement Home in Herzliya – he tracked the movements of Israel’s enemies with his overworked computer challenging the lies and distortions of journalists, jurists, academicians and politicians around the world.
Morrie was unafraid to take on the mighty and prick their puffed up libelous bubbles.
Who isn’t familiar with his well researched epistles appearing in esteemed newspapers and blogs around the globe? Always respectful, never personal, but always hitting his target with pin-point verbal accuracy, this exceptional commentator on current affairs had the knack to marshal the English language and send it forth into battle on behalf of the Jewish state.
However, Maurice was not one to compromise his integrity in this quest – his mission was always “to reveal the truth” and “to set the record straight” as he so frequently expressed.
This attribute was poignantly articulated in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post when taking on Judge Richard Goldstone for his faulty report on Operation Cast Lead: “It is disappointing to observe the disproportionate amount of conjecture about, and attacks on, Goldstone the man, compared with the paucity of discussion about the actual content of the report and the faulty methodology used in preparing it.”
The exchange of the open correspondence between Maurice and Goldstone led to a close relationship and, finally, Goldstone retracting key findings in the infamous report that bears his name.
Who, today, seriously refers to the Goldstone Report as having any value? If it came to military budgets and a choice in deciding between another multimillion dollar F16 or Ostroff, “Our Mo” should have won hands down – such was his value in blunting the poisonous arrows of Israel’s enemies.
I was privileged to have known Morrie, as he was affectionately known, as a close friend and “comradein- arms.”
Three years ago, we co-founded with others, TbT (Truth be Told), a “Rapid Response Team” that tracked untruths about Israel in the word media and quickly researched the facts and responded within hours.
Because of the stature of this giant and the respect he engendered, our reports were published widely and we earned the respect of friends and foes alike.
His legacy is such that I pledge we will continue the work with increased vigor in this ongoing global assault against the Jewish state that we have coined: “The War of Words.”
Maurice was also a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a worldwide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias.
While most revered for his achievements with the pen, Maurice’s background lay in the sciences. In fact, he constructed the radar station he commanded in 1948 – Israel’s first – “from assorted junked parts.”
Such was his extraordinary talent to read a landscape and make magic from whatever was available. His versatility knew no bounds.
Educated at the University of Witwatersrand, Maurice held a masters degree in industrial engineering, a B.Sc. degree in mathematics and physics and a B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Administration and Commerce of South Africa where he was the Group Administrative Director of Morlite Holdings Ltd., an industrial conglomerate listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
He was a former chairman of the South African Technion Society and of the South African Stainless Steel Sanitaryware Manufacturers Association, as well as president of the Federation of Sanitaryware and Hardware Merchants Associations of South Africa, which elected him as honorary life vice-president.
Upon immigrating to Israel in 1980, he was appointed managing director of Orbit Medicenters Ltd., the company that initiated and brought to fruition, the Herzliya Medical Center.
He was also a member of the team that inspired and created Beth Protea and served as a member of its “chevra.”
A strong advocate for increased bilateral trade relations with his native South Africa and of advanced education, he served as chairman of the Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and on the Board of Governors of the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.
While most residents at retirement homes may feel they have earned the right to take it easy, this was not the case with Maurice, who was always revving up to launch into a new career.
Long retired from business, eight years ago Maurice made the news when he took on the “youngsters” in the competitive world of hi-tech.
Well into his 80s, he was granted a patent to secure authentication for credit card and other online Internet transactions.
Maurice’s patent attorney at the time explained that “patents are not granted until it is established that the prototype is indeed unique.”
Maurice himself may well fit into this category – he was unique.
At Beth Protea in March, Maurice was honored by TbT, Beth Protea and TELFED (The South African Zionist Federation in Israel) for his contribution to the State of Israel and the Jewish People.David E. Kaplan is a journalist, a cofounder of TbT and a former chairman of Telfed.