Petirah of a Gracious Lady

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The reaction to the petirah of Lady Amelie Jakobovits z”l shows how to be loved and admired as a person, bring great tribute to the Torah, win widespread recognition – all while maintaining uncompromising fidelity to halacha and hashkafas Yisrael.

What follows is an excerpt from the Jewish Chronicle announcement:

Born Amelie Munk in Ansbach, Germany, she survived the war by escaping to Switzerland, and met Immanuel Jakobovits when she was 19, shortly before he became Chief Rabbi of Ireland. [YA- Her father was the famous leader of Parisian Orthodoxy, Rabbi Elie (Call of the Torah) Munk.]

The founder of the Association of United Synagogue Women, Lady Jakobovits was a patron and supporter of numerous causes including Emunah, Jewish Care, Chai Cancer Care and Wizo.

At a ceremony in London in 2002 to present her with honorary doctorate from Israel’s Bar Ilan University, which was attended by 500 people including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Lord Kalms saluted her as a “blessed lady with a blessed smile”.

After her husband’s death in 1999, she maintained a busy schedule of speaking engagements and charitable activities, recognised by her 30th place in the JC’s list of 100 most influential British Jews three years ago.

Her Hendon home was called Immalie, an amalgam of Amelie and her husband’s first name.

Lord Jakobovits’ biographer, Chaim Bermant, wrote of her 20 years ago: “She is…religious without being sanctimonious, prefers perfume to incense, has high standards herself without being censorious about the failings of others, and gives the impression that Judaism not only can be fun but jolly well should be.

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3 Responses

  1. mb says:

    Wonderful obituary from today’s (May 13th) London Times

    All the conventions pointed to Amélie Jakobovits being known simply as
    the widow of a very successful Chief Rabbi, a kind woman who stood in
    her husband’s shadow and, when he was no longer alive, spent time with
    her children and scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.But that
    was not the woman whom the British Jewish community got to know as
    “Lady J”, the rank to which she was entitled when her husband Immanuel
    Jakobovits was first knighted and later became the first Chief Rabbi to be ennobled. To Jews in Britain and the Commonwealth, of
    which her husband was the supreme religious leader, she was always treated with respect and a great deal of affection. When she
    became a widow in 1999, she immediately became known as Anglo-Jewry’s Queen Mother, although she prefered the title Lady J.
    As Chief Rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits healed communal divisions, avoiding what had threatened to be a religious schism and
    introduced the Jewish day-school system to Britain with great success and did a considerable amount for relations with other
    religions.His wife had an innate sense of what his flock needed. It was she who entertained politicians and archbishops, always
    serving traditional Jewish fare, usually including her own recipes for chicken soup and gefilte fish. And if that gave the impression of
    her being a conventional “Yiddisher Mama”, her conversational skills, dress sense and gift of healing personal and public rifts
    completely refuted the idea.
    She was born in Amsuch, Bavaria, in 1928, the daughter of the town’s rabbi, Elie Munk, and his wife Fanny. Eight years later, Munk
    was appointed to the pulpit of the Rue Cadet synagogue in Paris, the city of his birth. The community, like its rabbi, was extremely
    orthodox, but very conscious of the world around it. Munk transferred his respect and knowledge of other faiths to his eldest child and
    he also imparted a love of culture, language and tolerance as well as the essentials of her faith.When Germany invaded France,
    Munk was called up and joined the Foreign Legion, while his wife and family escaped from Paris just as the Nazi bombardment
    began. They boarded a train that they hoped would take them to Spain, but got no farther than a town close to Orléans, where there
    was a refugee camp. It was also close to the Legion barracks and 12-year-old Amélie was sent by her mother — whom Amélie had
    talked out of committing suicide by standing in the middle of a road waiting to be run over — to get on a bicycle and try to find her
    father. Remarkably, she did. After the defeat of France, the rabbi left the Legion and the Munks, by now with four children, found a
    home in Toulouse and spent much of the rest of the war in hiding, trying — and succeeding — in being one step ahead of the Nazis
    trying to root out all the country’s Jews. Eventually, they escaped to Switzerland where they found a safe haven.After the war, they
    returned to France and Rabbi Munk, who had been acting as a chaplain to displaced Holocaust refugees, was back in his Paris
    pulpit. By various machinations of her father, Amélie was introduced to Immanuel Jakobovits, a young German-born rabbi who was
    now minister of London’s Great Synagogue — a shell of a building that had been destroyed by bombing.
    He proposed to her towards the end of 1948 at the top of the Eiffel Tower and they were married soon afterwards.A few months later,
    in January 1949, the pair moved to Dublin, where Jakobovits had been appointed Chief Rabbi of Ireland, the beginning of his rise to
    the top. It was there that she learnt to be an outstanding hostess. Nine years later, while on a lecture tour of the United States, her
    husband accepted the position of rabbi of the then uncompleted Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York, which soon became the most
    fashionable Orthodox Jewish house of prayer in the city.He and his family stayed there for eight years until his appointment as Chief
    Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth in 1967.Amélie had never lived in Britain before, but
    took little time in settling down with their six children. She could have spent her time socialising with other women in her community,
    enjoying the prestigious life she was now able to take up and doing a little entertaining, but that was not her way.Immediately, she
    accepted roles actively working in Jewish organisations, who were somewhat shocked to realise that she regarded being a patron as
    much more than a sinecure. As the years went on, she got to know a wide swath of people in British life. On a weekend visit to
    Buckingham Palace she recalled how servants had unpacked her suitcase and laid out her husband’s prayer shawl on her bed,
    thinking it went with her nightdress.Margaret Thatcher became a close friend and when John Major succeeded her as Prime Minister,
    he and his wife Norma also exchanged frequent visits. Later Tony Blair and his wife Cherie became friends, too.
    When her husband died in 1999, she decided to maintain her links with a large number of Jewish organisations. But more than that,
    she took on a personal role that became identified with her —visiting the sick and grieving parents and keeping in contact with
    relatives of friends who were ill. She is survived by six children and reportedly more than 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
    She always said it was unlucky to count them.
    Lady Jakobovits, widow of the former Chief Rabbi, was born on May 31, 1928. She died on May 7, 2010, aged 81
    Written by Michael Freedland and reprinted with permission from The Times, Thursday May 13th

  2. cvmay says:

    What a woman!!! Kol hakavod!!
    Three words jumped off the page at me; SMILE–JOLLY–& FUN.
    Perhaps if we increase these three items in our Avodas Hashem and in our relationship with others, Judaism would once again be looked upon as ‘pleasant to man and pleasant to the one above’.

  3. mb says:

    Lady Jakobovits z”l

    Lady Amelie Jakobovits, known affectionately to Anglo-Jewry as Lady J, was an extraordinarily vivid figure of seemingly inexhaustible energy and effervescence. A Holocaust survivor and the daughter of the Chief Rabbi of Paris, Rabbi Elie Munk, she married Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits while still a teenager. Together they formed a formidable and inseparable team, as he became Chief Rabbi of Ireland, then rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York, and then Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth. After his death in 1999 she emerged as a leader in her own right, speaking and lecturing throughout the world.
    She had warmth, charm, wit and deeply felt faith. She was constantly active, visiting the sick, comforting the bereaved, supporting the many Jewish and medical causes of which she was president or patron. She believed passionately in the sanctity of the family, and remained close to her six children and more than a hundred grand- and great-grandchildren. She was a larger-than-life figure, widely known and loved. We will miss her deeply.

    Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks
    7 May 2010