Featured Institution

 Mr. Ephraim Zion’s Speech

The following is the full text of Mr. Ephraim Zion’s remarks at the 50th birthday celebration for Chabad of Hong Kong’s Rabbi Mordechai Avtzon.  Mr. Zion, governor of the GIA, has been a Hong Kong resident for 40 years. 

As one of the oldest members of the community and as a personal friend of Mordechai, I was asked to say a few words in honor of this occasion. I had immediately accepted as I consider it an honor and a privilege to be a part of this special day in Mordechai’s life. 

Well, Mordechai, welcome to your semi-centurial birthday. You have reached the 50 milestone. That’s a lot of timing enough to establish the character and temperament of a man, to know who he is and what he is made of. And we have known you through 25 of them. 

Both Hannah and I remember the first day when I saw you, we couldn’t believe it. You were just a young skinny boy with a tiny scattered beard that could hardly cover your chin, let alone your face. 

Our first reaction was: Is this guy for real? They send a 20 year old to a place like Hong Kong and a Chabadnik at that? We had serious doubts and somehow hoped that this young rabbi would be lucky to survive the numerous obstacles he was going to face. 

Little did we know who we were dealing with. Truth to be told we did not know you and neither did we detect a reservoir of talent in you or your ability to act, to create, to transform and make things happen.

Personally all my doubts were dispelled when I realized that you were more than real and you started to work with such energy, zeal and commitment that no one could stop you. 

The first test came when you stepped into the JRC and were so horrified by the state of the unkosher kitchen. What happened next was truly amazing. You rolled up your sleeves and set to work in order to kosher the kitchen, and since then your sleeves have never rolled down. Despite all the objections and resentments on the part of the kitchen staff and some community members, the kitchen became kosher and everyone could enjoy a kosher meal.

From then on you and your colleagues embarked on personal journey of making Hong Kong one of the most important and vibrant Jewish centers in Asia. Despite all odds, and with the help of Hashem, you managed to set up the first modest Chabad house and Synagogue at your home. Then together with other Chabad colleagues, you began to spread your wings all over Asia by setting up Chabad centers in almost every major country in Asia, from China, India and Thailand to Korea, Nepal and Vietnam. Today, anywhere you travel across Asia, you can always visit a friendly Chabad House that would welcome you warmly and make you feel at home. 

What a tumultuous and eventful ride these 25 years have been. What a transformation in our Jewish life! Your accomplishments were not only confined to Chabad Houses or Jewish centers. One of your most important achievements was the establishment of the Carmel School. 

It all started with a pre-school concept known as Torah Island, which I am sure most of you are not aware of. To see all those kids learning Jewish songs and holidays was such a joy. This little enterprise gave birth to the idea of setting up a Jewish school. 

Mordechai, when you proposed this idea, most people did not believe it was possible and many had doubts about such a school and some even ridiculed this idea as a Don Quixote dream. But you did not relent. For you there was no room for doubt, for negativity, or obstacles. These words did not exist in your vocabulary. On the contrary, you saw every challenge or difficulty as an opportunity for growth, development and for achieving your desired goal. 

You knew that Jewish survival is dependent on Jewish education and without Jewish education our future generation was at stake. For you, it was clear and natural that in a place like Hong Kong, all the more so that a Jewish school should have been established in order to bring us closer to our heritage. And thank G-d, with the help of Ivan Greenstein and other supporters who believed in this enterprise, the Carmel school was finally founded in 1991. I can’t think of a better way to accomplish our mission here on earth which is to spread the Jewish message of light and goodness in the world. 

No less important in achievements is your compassion and devotion towards people who are sick in hospitals or people who are imprisoned for one reason or another. This truly compassionate behavior of yours is highly underrated. Very few people would do that and I personally find it very uplifting. 

I know from our personal experience how much support and compassion you had displayed towards people who faced tragic events or those who faced great personal distress and suffering. I am sure all these acts of kindness are recorded in the heavenly court and you will merit a long and healthy life. 

Dear Mordechai, not all these successes and achievements came easy. On many occasions life was not a bed of roses for you. I know that, I have been there and I had witnessed all your ups and downs including some mistakes, error of judgments, disappointments, criticisms and personal attacks. I saw all that and I felt your pain, your anguish, your heart-ache, your torment, but I also saw and witnessed your strength, your tenacity, your determination and the conviction of the rightness of your cause. 

Through it all you stood tall as a mountain firm as a rock, strong as a fortress, deeply believing that Hashem is with you and with his help, you will overcome all obstacles and accomplish what you set out to do.  

Mordechai, that’s what sets you apart from the rest of the pack and that’s why you are so special to us. You are a wise, intelligent and caring soul and contribution towards the enrichment of our Jewish life is legendary. 

For all that you had accomplished in your life, from the education of our youth, to the spreading of our Jewish values in our community and all over Asia, for your loving family, your endless energy, your strength and all the ways in which you continue to teach and inspire us, we wish that your 50th birthday will be your happiest yet and that you have many more, all of them in good health, happiness and joy from your family, your children and your future grandchildren. 

Happy 50th birthday and enjoy the second installment of your second childhood with greater wisdom, higher achievements, and greater fulfillment.