09 November 2008
Today, at its weekly cabinet meeting, the government authorized the appointment of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau as Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council. He will succeed the late Joseph (Tommy) Lapid.
Rabbi Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrków, Poland, the scion of a well-known European rabbinic family. During the early years of the war, he was incarcerated in the Piotrków ghetto. In October 1942, his father and brothers, along with the majority of the Jews of their town, were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they were murdered. Lau and his mother managed to escape the deportation. In November 1944, during a selection, Rabbi Lau’s mother had him stand close by his brother Naftali who was slated to be sent to a forced labor camp. Lau’s mother was sent to her death, but the two brothers were deported to the Czenstochov forced labor camp and from there to the Buchenwald concentration camp. When Buchenwald was liberated by the US armed forces, eight-year-old Lau (nicknamed Lolik) was the youngest surviving prisoner. Following liberation, Lau emigrated to Eretz Israel on a ship of orphaned refugee children.
Rabbi Lau has served in many rabbinic capacities, among them Regional Rabbi of Northern Tel Aviv, Chief Rabbi of Netanya and Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffe. In 1993 he was elected Chief Asheknazi Rabbi of Israel, a position he held until 2003. In 2005, he was re-elected Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffe. In 2006, Rabbi Lau was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement and special service to society and the State of Israel.
Rabbi Lau’s autobiography, Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy was published during the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald. It tells the story of his experiences during the Holocaust, growing up in Israel, and how the memory of his childhood during the war influenced him as a rabbi and communal leader.
“I welcome and am delighted by the decision to appoint a man of such high caliber Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, a remarkable man I have been privileged to know personally for many years,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. “The issue of the Holocaust is close to Rabbi Lau’s heart, and he sees in Holocaust Remembrance both Jewish and universal values. Rabbi Lau has strong, deep ties to Yad Vashem, and has already contributed significantly to Holocaust commemoration and its legacy.”
“With feelings of awe, I thank Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the members of the government who ratified the appointment, for choosing me to serve as the new Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council,” said Rabbi Lau. “As we mark 70 years since Kristallnacht - the violent outbreak that marked the beginning of the Holocaust - this appointment is especially meaningful to me. My life experiences echo in the walls of Yad Vashem, and are found in the documents and exhibits therein. I have been privileged to witness up close Yad Vashem’s activity in Israel and around the world for many years, and I have great respect and admiration for the Chairmen of the Council and Directorate who preceded me. Chairman of the Directorate Avner Shalev is the great visionary and builder of Yad Vashem and I am convinced, from our many years of acquaintance, that we will work together to continue to support and develop this institution, which is unrivalled anywhere else in the world. I am dedicated to giving my time and energy to fulfilling the commandment ‘Remember what Amalek has done to you’ in our generation.”
From the online exhibition, “To Build and to Be Built” on Holocaust Survivors in Israel: (includes a speech, photos and information about Rabbi Lau).
Contact: Estee Yaari / Foreign Media Liaison / Yad Vashem