Getting the big picture

By Simon Rocker, May 27, 2009
Rob Weinberg overlooking Haifa’s stunning Bahai Gardens

Rob Weinberg overlooking Haifa’s stunning Bahai Gardens

You might not think twice about a name like “Weinberg” among supporters of a new Israel-linked charity.

But Rob Weinberg, trustee of the Friends of the Haifa Foundation UK, is not your average north-west Jewish Londoner: he is in fact a Bahá’í, who grew up in Canterbury.

He was recruited to the charity by Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks — sister-in-law of Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks — who set it up to promote the city as a symbol of multifaith harmony.

Often celebrated as a model of peaceful existence between Jews and Arabs, Haifa is especially significant for Bahá’ís, who have their international headquarters on Mount Carmel. The Bahá’í Gardens, one of the city’s leading tourist attractions, contains the shrine of the Bab, the spiritual mentor of the founder of the faith, Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh, exiled from his native Iran, himself is buried in Akko where he died in 1892.

“I know Haifa very well and have spent a lot of a time there,” said Mr Weinberg. “It’s a beautiful city with a special atmosphere.”

His father, originally from South Africa, and his mother, from Stamford Hill, London, are both Jews who adopted the Bahá’í faith, a universalist monotheism that sees a fundamental unity underlying all the great religions. “When you become a Bahá’í, you are not rejecting your past or your heritage,” Mr Weinberg said. “You are opening yourself to a bigger picture.”

His faith and family origins give him “a very special connection” to Haifa, he said. “I go every few months to work in the public information office of the Bahá’í World Centre. When I was 18, I went to work in the Gardens – which made me realise I was not cut out for gardening and hot weather.”

A radio music producer and author of a forthcoming guide to film music, who lives in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Mr Weinberg is now a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís in the UK. Among the 6,000 community in Britain are a number of Iranian Jewish background who left Iran after the Khomeni revolution in the 1970s.

“The Jewish community has expressed great support for the Bahá’ís who are facing severe persecution in Iran and some other countries in the Middle East,” Mr Weinberg said.

Seven leading members of Iran’s Bahá’ís have been detained by the authorities for a year, others have been executed and followers of the faith remain barred from higher education in the country. “The other disturbing thing is that the state-run newspapers are pumping out anti-Bahá’í propaganda on a daily basis,” Mr Weinberg said.

By contrast, the foundation aims to show Haifa as a place where members of different religions live peacefully together.

Grateful for Bahá’í support for her project, Mrs Susskind-Sacks said: “When we needed to register the foundation, they were the first to help us.”

Another of the trustees is Muslim social campaigner Nic Careem, who has produced several performances in the UK of the play, “And They Came For Me”, based on the experiences of Anne Frank’s step-sister Eva Schloss. One of the foundation’s plans is to stage it abroad using actors drawn from across Haifa’s religious and ethnic communities.

Last updated: 2:19pm, May 27 2009