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In memory of Rabbi Harry Jacobi MBE
uploaded : Sunday 19th May 2019 at 11:51
by : Rabbi Alexandra Wright
Note from our Editor Carol Gould:
Harry's funeral service at Golders Green Crematorium was so well-attended that it overflowed into the outside grounds. I saw this as a tribute to this dear man who, along with his wife Rose, was always so kind to me and loved attending my lectures around London. Rest in peace..
Address by Rabbi Alexandra Wright at the Prayers in Memory of Rabbi Harry Jacobi MBE
(R. Shmuel ben Yehoram v’Sarah)
29th April, 2019 - The Liberal Jewish Synagogue
Wife: Rose (died 19 January 2014)
Children: Margaret m. to David Ehrlich
Richard m. to Lyn
David (died 12 December 2016)
Grandchildren: Yoni and Tali
Josh m. to Philippa – Zac (3) and Harry (9 months)
Brother-in-law Benji m. to Katie
Introduction to the Prayers
This afternoon at Rabbi Harry Jacobi’s funeral, attended by hundreds whose lives he touched in such significant and meaningful ways, Rabbi Andrew Goldstein quoted from Psalm 1 and Psalm 24 and I would like to begin our service this evening with another Psalm which calls to mind a man of honour and righteousness, of truth and unshaken faith in God.
Adonai, mi-yagur b’oholecha, mi-yish’kon b’har kod’shecha.
Eternal God, who may abide in Your house?
Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?
Those who act honourably and righteously,
And speak the truth in their heart;
Who have no slander on their tongue,
And do no evil to their neighbour,
And bring no shame upon their kin;
Whose despite those deserving of contempt,
But honour those who revere God;
Who keep their promises, even to their harm,
And do not go back on their word;
Who do not exploit the poor,
Or accept bribes to hurt the innocent.
Those who live in this way shall never be shaken.
Address for Shiva:
Amar Sh’muel: L’olam al yotzi adam et atzmo min ha-k’lal – ‘Samuel taught: a person should never exclude themselves from the community and that a person should always provide help to a poor person and not wait until they are in distress’ (Berakhot 49b, Hagigah 5a). Modest, gentle and unselfish, a servant to the communities he served, Sh’muel openly honoured anyone from whom he gained knowledge.
This is Sh’muel of Nehardea or Sh’muel bar Abba, or simply Sh’muel, the first generation Amora, head of the seminary at Nehardea in Babylonia – teacher, judge, physician and astronomer.
But these words could equally be applied to Moreinu Ha-Rav, Rabbi Sh’muel ben Yehoram v’Sarah, Rabbi Harry Jacobi, zichrono livrachah, of blessed memory, whom we accompanied on his final journey this afternoon and whom we remember with abiding respect, affection and gratitude. Like his namesake, Harry was modest, but with a strong streak of determination; he was conscientious and gentle, with a lovely sense of humour; a man of integrity and righteousness; he cared deeply for all humanity, his own experience of life, rather than giving him any sense of entitlement or privilege, had taught, perhaps even inspired him to serve others, to fight against injustice and to eradicate inequity and the evils of our time.
Like his namesake, he was appointed as judge to the Liberal Beit Din, unfailingly compassionate and courteous, he welcomed candidates before the court, putting them at their ease and giving them the sense of occasion and ceremony they sought at this significant moment of their lives.
Also like his namesake, Sh’muel, who built up the reputation and intellectual independence of Babylonian Jewry, Harry took the momentous decision not to make his planned Aliyah as the new State of Israel was established, but to build up and strengthen the diaspora community in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Shoah which had devastated his own family. And he did this throughout his whole life serving the communities of Southgate, Wembley, Zurich, and after retirement, South Bucks, as well as teaching and preaching in countless other communities who benefited from his presence, from his learning – and there was always learning whenever he spoke, whether at a Shiva or any other occasion.
Unlike his namesake, however, the story of his early life was one of trauma and loss, the story of a child and teenager, whose life became inextricably woven into the unspeakable history of the years leading up to and during the Shoah.
He celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the Friedenstempel in Berlin with Rabbi Werner van der Zyl officiating, just days before Kristallnacht, the last Bar Mitzvah to be held there. Richard told me that 64 marks of his Bar Mitzvah money were part of the reparations that Harry received after the war.
Less than four months later, he left his mother for the last time at the age of 13 ¼ for Holland where his uncle lived. Unable to stay in the family’s apartment which was already overcrowded, Harry was interned and following a serious illness was moved and then rescued from the Dutch Jewish community orphanage with forty other children and a handful of adults by Gertrude Wyssmuller-Meijer, later honoured as one of the Righteous Gentiles. They were taken to the port of Ijmuiden (I-Moyden), where they boarded the SS Bodegraven and left Holland moments before the Dutch capitulated to the Nazi invasion of their country. As he turned back to watch land recede, Harry could see that the Dutch had set fire to the oil refineries in an attempt to prevent the Nazis from entering the port.
It was a dramatic voyage - the boat was strafed by German bombers – but eventually Harry disembarked at Liverpool on 20th May, 1940.
He was housed by the Manchester Jewish Refugee Committee in a hostel in Manchester. Apprenticed as a mechanic to a garage, a legacy of this early employment is a small thin book of beautifully precise drawings and notes of internal combustion engines.
He joined the Army in 1945, just as the war ended - the West Kent Regiment and then the Jewish Brigade - was naturalised as a British citizen in 1947 and changed his name from Heinz Martin Hirschberg to Harry Martin Jacobi, taking his mother’s maiden name.
Following demobilisation, he returned to Holland to members of his family who had survived the war. Harry began to prepare for Aliyah to Israel, but in 1949, he travelled to London as a Young Adult delegate to the World Union Conference and it was there that he heard Rabbi Leo Baeck’s presidential address – a towering figure who had survived Theresisenstadt – and whose call for the rebuilding and advancement of progressive Judaism in Europe touched Harry deeply and changed the course of his life.
He never stopped working and I must just share you one anecdote. I can’t remember if it was one Shabbat or a festival and I invited him to the bimah to recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading. There was a somewhat unseemly tussle up here as he insisted on leyning from the Torah, without apparently any preparation at all. He never abdicated his role as a Rabbi, wherever he happened to be.
His great passion, apart from his family and his Judaism was music. He loved classical music and programmes rescued from his flat over the past few months have included promenade concerts that he attended in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. He and Rose attended musicals and plays and Harry read voraciously – books and newspapers. There were two pieces of music he loved particularly, the quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto and the Benedictus from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. We will listen to part of the latter at the end of this service – it was a particular request from Harry.
Harry was an incurable romantic; his relationship with Rose had begun in the form of letter-writing, the young Harry in Aberdeen to Rose the other side of the world, one of eight brothers and sisters, members of the Jewish Religious Union in Bombay. He idolised her and every Friday evening, he would always have something to give to her and would enlist his children’s help to present it to her as part of their own family ritual between Kabbalat Shabbat and the meal. And he loved surprises. On their fiftieth anniversary, he arranged dinner in the same hotel, with the same menu and guests, this time with his children present, where he and Rose had been married fifty years earlier.
Last Wednesday, when Harry died – sadly on Richard’s birthday – I thought of the verse from the end of the Book of Genesis: Va-yar Yosef l’Efrayim b’nei shileishim gam b’nei Machir ben M’nasheh yul’du ul-birkei Yosef – ‘Joseph saw Ephraim’s grandchildren; the children of Machir, too, Manasseh’s son, were born on Joseph’s knees’ (Genesis 50:23). Harry, too, saw his grandchildren, Josh, Abigail and Hannah, Yoni and Tali born on his knees, as it were, and I know that he was such an important part of your lives, as you were an important part of his – his story, his character, his passions held your admiration and love. He rejoiced in Josh’s marriage to Philippa and Abigail’s engagement to Bruce – family celebrations that gave him so much pleasure. And he saw his great-grandchildren too, Zach and little Harry who brought him such joy and such a sense of fulfilment at the end of his life. Had he lived, no doubt he would have added to the list of the football teams he supported for the sake of his children and grandchildren, another two to Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool.
He bore his losses with stoicism, his beloved Rose in 2014 and his younger son David at the end of 2016. No one should have to lose a child in that inversion of the natural cycle, but it didn’t diminish the abiding sense of gratitude and appreciation he had for his life or the profound effect of his own personal faith.
He knew just how devoted and dedicated both you Margaret and Richard were to him throughout your lives, supported by David and Lynne and your children. In these last months, both of you were present for him at those difficult moments of consultants’ appointments and during those long hours on hospital wards. No children, no grandchildren could have been more devoted, more loving, more honouring of a father and grandfather – a man who will be remembered for his sincerity, his loyalty, his service to the causes of progressive Judaism in Europe, a man whose life exemplified the prophetic ideals of justice, compassion and truth and who served his God with an unshakeable courage and integrity. Zecher tzaddik livrachah. Amen