Walter Robinson was a giant of a man with a giant personality and giant visions who overcame giant challenges

By David E. Kaplan

Each person’s passing is customarily marked by a stone revealing name, dates, a biblical reference and messages from loved ones. For Walter Robinson, who passed away 2 August 2023 aged 99 in Herzliya Israel, there already exists a stone  – a mighty one that has windows, doors, balconies and patios for it is a stone not marking of a person’s passing but of a community’s celebration of life. That stone – more like a sparkling gem – is called Beth Protea, a retirement home perched in the city of Herzliya north of Tel Aviv in central Israel and it would not exist were it not for the grit and determination and always inspiring presence of Walter Robinson.

At Home in Israel. Named after South Africa’s national flower, the pride of the community in Israel, Beth Protea.

When Beth Protea was just an idea – an abstract conversational point “between men enjoying a scotch” as Beth Protea’s oral folklore records  – it was Walter who grabbed that idea like a ‘loose ball’ in rugby and ran with it. There were no shortages of “tackles” along that tumultuous run for touch but nothing was going to stop this Irishman, also South African but most of all, an Israeli and a feisty proud Jew. Armed with a multitude of talents, exuberant personality, a power of persuasion delivered in lyrical  Irish, and a team of merry men, all very able and ably plied “by copious amounts of whiskey,” as Walter put it to this writer in an interview many years ago, Beth Protea was transformed from an “good idea” to the pride of the Southern African community in Israel.

I remember as a much younger young man attending Beth Protea meetings where Walter would hold the floor. Waiting for the right moment to enter the verbal fray, with a loud authoritative but so pleasantly lyrical voice,  he would  present his argument, so well packaged and when the odds were stacked against him – as they frequently were – not hesitate to bring the full weight of G-d behind him as he so adeptly dived into the Torah portion of the week and selected that which served Beth Protea best. I have no doubt, with Walter’s hand, G-d had a hand too in ensuring the success of Beth Protea.

Walter Holding Forth. Always a pleasure to listen to, the founder of Beth Protea Walter Robinson addressing a gathering in the Gallery at Beth Protea.

Before getting the Beth Protea project off the ground, finding the funds proved the first of the proverbial ‘tackles’.  Walter related to this writer that “We held our first fundraising campaign back in 1985 in Haifa where there was quite a large resident Southern African community and after our presentation, you won’t believe the first question someone asked. “What are you guys planning to serve for lunch?” Can you believe it? That was the first question asked by this crowd of South Africans! We had no land to build on; we hadn’t raised a dime, and people wanted to know what we would be serving for lunch.”

Quick off the mark, Walter replied, “Well, if you don’t start donating, there will be no dining room in which to serve lunch!”  and nearly three decades later, it was Walter himself with his beloved Fanny, themselves residents at Beth Protea, who would be sitting in that dining room  and be asking:

 “What’s for lunch?”

It was only fitting that Walter would spend the final leg  of his life’s journey in the ‘The home that Walter built’. 

Inspirational Leader. Walter on being appointed in 2013, ‘Hon. Life President of Beth Protea’ being flanked by the then Chairman of Keren Beth Protea Colin Schachat (l) and then present Beth Protea chairman, Isaac Lipshitz.

Before Walter and Fanny arrived to settle in Israel, there had been  a group who were toying with the idea of a retirement home but  mainly to cater for parents who were left behind in South Africa. The concept found little traction until Walter’s arrival from Cape Town in 1981. Well-known and respected for his communal work back in his adopted South Africa, the ad hoc group roped him in and within a few months of his arrival in Israel, he was chairman of a steering committee. “They allowed me to unpack my suitcases first,” he bellowed with his boisterous Dublin guffaw. That Dublin accent was his inimitable trademark and  it was only fitting that at his funeral – which in the words of his children was “a celebration of his life” – began with the playing of a joyous Irish song that many, familiar with the lyrics, joined in. Tears gave way to smiles as the song touched on life, lasses, love, green landscapes and whisky. The music and its message resonated and encapsulated the adventurous life of a man’s journey, a journey that spanned five countries ending in Israel but beginning in Dublin, Ireland, where Walter qualified as a civil engineer at Dublin’s prestigious Trinity College.

It was while there during WWII that Walter nearly ended up in jail and was rightly proud of it!


The year was 1944 and Walter and his student chums – all fervent Zionists –  started a newspaper called the Dublin Jewish Youth Magazine(DJYM). One day, Walter opens the evening paper, and “I see this MP, Oliver Flanagan, questioning whether the directors of the DJYM have a license to publish and whether our articles had been submitted for censorship as required by wartime regulations. Both were serious offences, carrying prison sentences. Of course the answer to both was – NO. Bugger it, we just did what felt was right,” says Walter, delighting in his mischievous past. Flanagan was a notorious antisemite who in his maiden speech in the Irish Lower House the previous year, had urged the government “to rout the Jews out of the country.”

Well this antisemite was not about to “rout” Robinson.  Once it was brought to fulminating Flanagan’s attention that “The owner of the paper’s printers was a great friend of Prime Minister Eamon de Valera and so if the printer could not go to prison, neither could we,” the  harassment halted. Walter’s Zionism continued to soar, culminating nearly fifty years later in his finest communal achievement – the opening of Beth Protea in 1992.

Walter Honoured. Seen here on the occasion of Walter being appointed Hon. Life President of Beth Protea are two of his grandchildren and (l-r) Herman Musikanth clutching the whiskey, Fanny (centre) and Walter.

Much would happen in the intervening years. Walter would work all over the world, beginning in Ireland, then the Scottish Highlands for three years and then further afield in Pakistan working in the naval dockyards of Karachi, followed by many years in South Africa where he met and married Fanny. Fanny I too got to know well when she was editor of Telfed magazine, a position that I would later assume. Walter and Fanny married in South Africa in 1956, and after a spell in Ireland and a trip through Europe, they settled in Cape Town where Walter joined the family engineering business. Their three children, Gary, Brendon and Rena, were born there and educated at the Jewish day school, Herzlia School, where Walter was active on the board serving as vice-chairman and subsequently chairman. How poignant, as was pointed out by one of his children in a tribute at the funeral,  that from the school he immersed himself in Cape Town ‘Herzlia’ to the retirement home in the city of ‘Herzliya’ he immersed himself in Israel – covering the bookends of life’s journey – were  associated with Theodor Hertzl, whose line, “If you will it, it is no dream” pertained to Walter who transcended that other journey throughout his life –  from dreamer to doer

Living the Dream. Passionately supportive of Herzlia School in Cape Town, South Africa where he served as vice chair and chairman, Walter Robinson applied the inspirational words of Theodore Herzl at the entrance to the school to his monumental project in Herzliya, Israel – Beth Protea.

One of Walter’s other kids had it right when said in tribute “He made the impossible possible,” and to understand how, the words of one his good friends who worked very closely with Walter to get Beth Protea literally “off the ground” come to mind. At a special ceremony I attended conferring on Walter  ‘Honorary Life President of Beth Protea’ in 2013, Beth Protea’s “financial whiz” Herman Musikanth poignantly summed up Walter’s extraordinary leadership skills:

Walter led out front, completely absorbed and dedicated, causing all those around him to follow. It was the trust, the honesty of purpose and his personal efforts, generated through his leadership that created the support.” Quoting the words  of Albert Pike written in the early 1800s that “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and this world is, and remains, immortal,” Herman concluded with – as I do now:

 “I believe that Beth Protea is probably as immortal as one can get.”

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

6 thoughts on “FAREWELL “MR. BETH PROTEA”

  1. A beautiful tribute and history of Bet Protea and Walter Robinson, a dedicated man who pursued his dream with passion and dedication. May his memory be blessed. My condolences to his family.

  2. Yasher koach Dave on this most inspirational,moving tribute to Walter Robinson z”l,
    clearly a most remarkable,inspirational Irish-African-Israeli man of passion & dedication to Our Miracle Land-may his memory be a special blessing.

  3. David, What a remarkable and magnificent tribute to our beloved Walter Robinson!! You truly captured the essence of his persona, personality and inspirational qualities! He was a master of his fate and a giant of a man, in every possible way!!
    Thank you for this exquisite and emotional piece!!
    His memory will always be for a blessing and he will be remembered always with love and the greatest respect by his myriad friends and admirers!!
    Kol Hakavod David!!
    Rusty and Juliet Rostowsky

  4. A beautiful and fitting tribute to Walter, Dave! In addition to all his achievements, he was a hell of a nice guy!

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