Austrian President Thomas Klestil hosted an official reception for a Jerusalem rabbi who is the spiritual leader of a community of Jews forced to leave Austria in 1938.
Klestil used the recent occasion to issue warm words of praise for Rabbi Akiva Ehrenfeld of Kiryat Mattersdorf in Jerusalem. The two men also met last year, when Klestil visited Israel.
The Austrian president told Ehrenfeld that his government would provide financial support to projects in Kiryat Mattersdorf, including a kindergarten and a home for the elderly.
Ehrenfeld, the son of the last rabbi of Mattersdorf in Austria, said he had come to Austria “to create a bridge between Jerusalem and Vienna.”
The Austrian city of Matterdorf, now known as Matterburg, had been a thriving Jewish community for centuries, Klestil said, calling it “a center of faith and studies.”
The Israeli ambassador to Austria, Josef Govrin, and the president of the Austrian Jewish communities, Paul Grosz, also attended the reception.
“The really moving events in our lives never happen when we expect them,” Klestil said at the ceremony, held at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. “I experienced such an event last year when I visited Jerusalem.”
During his state visit to Israel in 1994, Klestil went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and gave a speech before the Knesset. But the most touching experience was his visit to Kiryat Matterdorf, he said.
“We all did not know that to expect in a community of surviving former Austrians who had escaped the darkness of the Nazi times,” Klestil said.
“And when you spoke”, he said, “I think nothing during all my international visits as words `God bless Austria.’”
“I thanked you then for the obviously indestructible love of may Jewish compatriots. I thanked you for the deep and better longing for our Austira, which we have for long time neither recognized nor responded to,” the president also said.