A distinguished Australian Jew and educator, Abraham Rothfield won the Military Cross and Bar for outstanding bravery in action in World War I.
Rothy, as he was affectionately known in Australia, was born in Gateshead and gained a BA at Durham University. At the outbreak of World War I, he was already serving in a territorial unit of the British Army, 15th (county London) Battalion, the London Regiment (Prince of Wales, Civil Service Rifles). He was subsequently commissioned in the 14th Bn, Durham Light infantry and in the last stages of the war, transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He held the rank of Lieutenant.
His distinguished war service in the battlefields of France earned him the prestigious Military Cross and Bar. He was not only courageous, but also very kind and if he found a soldier asleep whilst on guard duty (a very serious offence), Rothy would let the man sleep and take over his duty.
According to the British Jewry Book of Honour, the citation for his MC reads:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Although exhausted by illness he successfully led a daylight raid into the enemy trenches, inspiring everyone by his unexpected presence, and taking all his objectives with the greatest skill and gallantry. He has previously done very fine work of the same description.’
The citation for the Bar to his MC reads:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a company which was heavily attacked three times. During the bombardment he walked along the top of the trench to reorganise the men. He was badly wounded, but continued to direct operations until unable to do so through loss of blood.’
After the war Rothy taught for the London County Council in its secular schools. In 1924, after the death of Mr MA Cohen, he came to Australia to be headmaster of the NSW Board of Jewish Education. He officially retired in 1957 but after an overseas trip, returned to the Education Board teaching staff until his second retirement in 1964, when the Board named him Headmaster Emeritus in recognition of forty years of loyal service. This role involved not only teaching, but also employing, training and supervising many other teachers throughout the community and also developing much needed teaching aids for them.
With his extensive knowledge, profound love of Jewish learning and his personal leadership skills, Rothy was a gifted and effective teacher of Bar Mitzvah boys. Where he could, he would teach them how to chant any haftorah portion, not just the specific one for the day of their Bar Mitzvah. He was also a wonderful chazan and for many years led High Holy Day youth services at The Great Synagogue. Such was his knowledge of chazanut that professional chazanim would seek his advice.
In 1926 Rothy became the founding scoutmaster of the First Sydney Judean Troop. A second scout troop began in 1927, after which a Wolf Cub pack and a Rover Scout troop were set up. A Girl Guide company was also established by Rothy’s first wife, Anne, who, like her husband, was also a teacher.
By 1951 Anne had died, leaving him two adult sons and in that year, he married Olive Jacobs, a widow with a son and daughter.
Abraham Rothfield was also an enthusiastic member of NAJEX. He died in 1968 and his military medals are on display at The Great Synagogue, Sydney.
For more information on this wonderful leader and role model, refer to Rabbi Apple’s website Oztorah