Generations: Warren Lefort

Imagine you are 10 years old.  You and your family have been living near Dusseldorf, Germany. In 1933, Hitler’s strict anti-Jewish laws make it impossible for your father’s furniture business to continue.  Your mother, especially perceptive, realizes your family must leave Germany. Ultimately, your parents decide to move to Palestine and your father travels there first in August 1934, leaving you behind with your mother and your 4-year-old brother. Now you are struck down with appendicitis and your stay in the hospital forces you, your mom and your brother to miss your boat to Palestine.  Eventually you arrive there in November 1934. 

Just as your family begins life there, your mother becomes so ill that you and your brother must be placed in a children’s home in Haifa. It becomes clear that your mother must live in a different climate. Your family leaves on a boat from Haifa.  “I remember that an Arab worker had to carry my mother on his back, jumping from the tender to the ship that waited in the stormy Mediterranean,” explains Warren. Your family makes its way to Trieste and to a small town in the mountains where your 33-year-old mother dies 2 weeks later. Your father is utterly bereft and does not know where to turn, thinking you should return to Germany!  You convince him this is not possible and you discuss joining his brothers in Amsterdam.  So at 10 years old, you go the train station and buy tickets for all of you to travel there.

This is only a year in Warren Lefort’s life.  At 94, his memories are vivid with exact dates recalled. His father remarried a wonderful woman who became a mother to Warren and his brother. Their family eventually made their way to New York and then Cleveland (his dad thought Cleveland on Lake Erie would have a beautiful sandy beach!) and each chapter of his life is a story unto itself. In 1952, he made his way across the country, headed for Seattle, but one look at Golden Gate Park convinced him that the Bay Area would be home. Warren learned languages wherever he went, traveled the world through his work, and ultimately founded his own very successful accounting firm. He and his wife Edith, along with their son and daughter, joined Rodef Sholom 50 years ago, in time for his son’s Bar Mitzvah, and Warren has been a member ever since.

When asked why he remains a member, he recalls his father praying every morning and his mother making him promise to marry a Jewish girl. He says: “It’s tradition.  It’s our ethical and moral background. And it’s very important that young people know the history of what happened.”