We are deeply saddened to inform you that Herbert Pundik passed away yesterday, December 8th at his home in Tel Aviv. Herbert co-founded Humanity in Action together with Judith S. Goldstein in 1997. Our hearts go out to Herbert’s wife Sussi, their beloved daughter Michal, their grandchildren, and to all who were touched by his remarkable leadership.
Written by Judith S. Goldstein
I must admit that I never thought I would have to write about Herbert Pundik in the past tense. It is not that I thought that he was immortal—that would have been beyond reason. But I could not conceive of an active and vital life without being able to engage with this extraordinary man. Herbert was a mentor, an intellectual guide, a visionary and an unfailing critic. With his extraordinary wife Sussi, they lived in the epicenter of their family and adoring friends—authors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, artists, historians, anthropologists and scholars in diverse sectors.
By profession Herbert was a journalist and an interpreter of national and international events for his vast Danish public. His skills, knowledge, judgment and ambitions brought him to a position of remarkable influence in Denmark and beyond. As a non-Dane I could only get a sense of his formidable stature and influence in his country of birth.
I was working for an American non-for-profit involved in fostering American-Scandinavian ties when I went to Denmark for the first time in the early 1990s. I was told that I had to meet him. He was editor-in-chief of the prestigious and important newspaper Politiken.
He and his wife Sussi had been refugees in Sweden as part of the extraordinary rescue of Jews in Denmark in 1943. They were survivors of the Holocaust, ever grateful to the Danish people for having saved them and the Jewish community. In 1954 they decided to move to Israel where he continued his career in journalism. Many years later, he became editor-in-chief of Politiken and lived part-time in Denmark while Sussi and their three beloved children stayed in Israel.
Before departing for Denmark I had fortunately found someone who made a precious introduction to this very busy man. We sat at his habitual corner table in the dark interior of the King Frederick Hotel. I was in awe. He was skeptical of the work I was engaged in, but ever courteous. That was the beginning of my 30 year-long apprenticeship of learning and, almost always, following his counsel. When the idea came to start an educational program for American and Danish university students, I asked Herbert if it would be possible. Yes. Go for it. He then envisioned the structure, assembled the contacts, named the idea and project Humanity in Action and placed Danish history and culture, during World War II, as the bedrock for our work about democracy and resistance. In addition to his numerous responsibilities, he was the organizing chair and intellectual guide of Humanity in Action Denmark.
For years, he was steering a modest-sized ship of ideas and programs. As Humanity in Action grew steadier and larger, he was pleased but ever vigilant about our course or trajectory. After he retired from Politiken he spent most of his time in Israel. He became a columnist and a vital interpretive link between his beloved country of birth and his beloved adopted country in the Middle East. He returned to Denmark with great frequency to speak about the bewildering mess of politics in and between both places. He never gave up trying to explain the two countries’ political and cultural successes and failures.
He turned over the leadership of the Danish Humanity in Action Board of Directors to others but often spoke at our international conferences. Despite our great efforts, those meetings sometimes failed to meet the high standards of intellectual dialogue he set for himself and us. We constantly tried to catch up.
A few years ago, Humanity in Action commissioned a stunning animated film: “Make Reality.” It is a beautiful visual articulation of Humanity in Action’s values and aspirations, the dangers of tribalism and the hard work of maintaining decency and respect for people who differ from us. We dedicated the film to Sussi and Herbert. That dedication barely conveys the depths of gratitude that we owe to these two extraordinary people who have shared with us so much knowledge, history, wisdom, generosity of spirit and strength of character. Never before have their moral voices been more important and relevant to understanding the past and the deep challenges of the present in Europe, America and the Middle East.
May his memory be a blessing for us all.
Judith S. Goldstein