Grapevine: Rev the storyteller

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 (photo credit: JCT)
(photo credit: JCT)

The invitation for the book launch hosted by Ivor and Ruth David in their spacious Katamon apartment listed the starting time for the reception as 7 p.m, but close to 100 people had arrived long before that, and not only filled the huge living room, but also the adjacent 100 sq.m. balcony.

The launch was in honor of Tom Rev, a retired Sydney Australia butcher, who now lives in Jerusalem with his wife Sue. The Davids also made aliyah from Sydney, and their friendship with the Revs goes back some 40 years. Also helping to organize the event were fellow Australians Joe and Anna Krycer, who happen to have come on aliyah from Melbourne, but far away from the southern island continent, long-standing rivalries no longer exist. During the chit-chat prior to the formalities, accents heard in different parts of the room and the balcony were Australian, British, American and South African. There may have also been a Canadian accent here and there, but it was difficult to discern.

Tom Rev, a big, burly man with a winning smile and a heart and soul to fit his frame, was born in Australia to Hungarian Holocaust survivors. It was a traditional Jewish family, but not very strict in its religious practice, and not sufficiently affluent for Tom to be sent to a Jewish Day School. In fact, he was rejected by the person in charge of enrollments at the Jewish Day School, and ended up in a Catholic School.

As a result, he’s not very learned in Jewish studies, but he has an extremely strong Jewish identity, an unlimited desire to help others and make them feel welcome in his home, and a gift for storytelling. Rev simply loves to tell stories, and nearly all of them involve miracles that happened to him or people close to him. Some of his listeners put these events down to coincidence, but Rev regards them as gifts from God of whose presence he is constantly and consistently aware.

Over the years, many people have suggested that he write a book – but though he is a great talker, Rev is not a writer.

A sketch for the upcoming Machon Tal campus (credit: KIMMEL ESHKOLOT ARCHITECTS)
A sketch for the upcoming Machon Tal campus (credit: KIMMEL ESHKOLOT ARCHITECTS)

Along came another miracle in the person of Rabbi Nachman Seltzer, a professional writer, practicing rabbi public speaker, choir director at Shira Chadasha and journalist at Hamodia.

Someone whom Rev had met in passing at a synagogue, and to whom he had given his name and phone number, after telling him one of his stories, called him many months later and suggested that he contact Seltzer. He did. They met. There was instant chemistry – and all the rest is history.

The book, though repetitious to some extent, is a real page-turner, and makes for a quick read of its 264 pages.

Needless to say, Seltzer was at the launch and was also one of the speakers, as was Rabbi David Kahn, the Chief Editor at Feldheim Publishers, who said that Nachman Seltzer is very much in demand as a book writer, but The Maggid of Sydney is not exactly the kind of book that he usually writes. When Kahn asked Seltzer why he was writing it, the reply was that he was doing it as a mitzvah (good deed). 

It is certainly a mitzvah to publish some of the stories that Seltzer heard from Rev. 

Having heard stories from many people over the years, Seltzer, who has written some 50 books, said that every person in the world has stories “I know because I write them. But not everyone recognizes a story. Tom always opens his eyes.”

Much of the book, directly and indirectly relates to the late Kamarna Rebbe Menachem Munish Safrin from Bnei Brak, who accepted all human beings as equals regardless of whether or not they were Jewish or whether or not they were religiously observant. Rev, and his father before him, had a very special relationship with him and with his sons who followed in his footsteps.

A remarkable story of Jewish Hungary

■ ONE OF the stories in the book bears telling, and there is no doubt that Rev himself has told it over and over. But it is a truly remarkable story. 

Rev’s family originates from Paks in Hungary, and at some point relocated to Budapest. But when they were in Paks, his great-grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. In honor of the occasion, his great-grandfather Yitzhak Rosenbaum, commissioned a Torah Scroll from Jerusalem which caused great joy in the local Jewish community when it arrived.

After the war, Rev’s grandfather returned to Paks to see if there were any survivors like himself and whether anything at all remained of the Jewish community. There was nothing – not a mezuzah, no Sabbath candlesticks and no kiddush cup. Despondent, he walked through the streets, and happened to bump into the local priest who asked him to come with him.

The priest had rescued the Torah scroll from being looted or destroyed by the Nazis, and had kept it safe, waiting for it to be reclaimed by its rightful owners. The scroll was eventually taken to Australia by Rev’s grandfather, and was later saved from a fire and brought from there back to Jerusalem from where it originated.

Another interesting story which is in the book, but was only hinted at during the launch is that of master clarinetist Chilik Frank, whose life Rev was instrumental in saving. 

To the delight of everyone present, Frank began to play a plaintive Hassidic tune. Seltzer and Kahn began to sing to it, and soon most of the males present joined them. It was quite a moving experience. 

But to actually find out why Frank’s life was in danger, and how it was saved – you’ll have to buy the book.

Honorary fellowship awarded to Larry Krauss

■ AT THE Jerusalem College of Technology graduation ceremony this month, an Honorary Fellowship was awarded to Larry Krauss, the outgoing Chairman of Canadian Friends of JCT and major supporter of the College. During the ceremony at the Lev Campus on June 13, Krauss announced he would step down from the board of CFJCT effective June 30. Among the graduates were 24 from JCT’s Selma Jelinek School of Nursing, 17 in accounting, and 23 in business administration. In addition, five students earned master’s degrees.

Krauss and his wife Sarah are long term supporters of JCT, and on behalf of the Krauss Family Trust have pledged to make a seven figure gift to the capital campaign for the future Tal campus for JCT’s female students. The new Tal campus, scheduled to open in 2026, is a $120 million project.

■ OPENING CELEBRATIONS for the new National Library building are scheduled for mid-October of this year. Throughout the opening week and in the months to follow, the Library will host a broad range of events and programs. But even before that on August 9, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish literature will be awarded to Ido Gefen, the author of Jerusalem Beach and Daniella Zamir, the book’s translator. She will be the first translation winner in the 17-year history of the prize.