Oxford Chabad Society mourns passing of Lady Jakobovits

Thursday, 27 May, 2010 - 6:43 am

Lady Amélie Jakobovits, widow of the late British Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, passed away on Friday after a short illness at the age of 81.

Known affectionately by the Anglo-Jewish community simply as “Lady J,” she was eulogized by the current British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, as “an extraordinarily vivid figure of seemingly inexhaustible energy and effervescence.”

Born in Ansbach, Germany, the daughter of Rabbi Elie Munk, she survived the Holocaust by escaping to Paris in 1937 and then to Switzerland. It was there that she met Immanuel Jakobovits, shortly before he became Chief Rabbi of Ireland. He later went on to become the rabbi of New York’s Fifth Avenue Synagogue, a position he held until 1966 when he was called to the Chief Rabbinate of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth.

An indefatigable community activist and considered a learned woman in her own right, Lady Jakobovits founded the Association of United Synagogue Women, and was a patron and supporter of Emunah, Jewish Care, the Chai Cancer Care and WIZO-Women’s International Zionist’s Organization, as well as other many other causes.

Lady Jakobovits at Oxford Chabad Society

Oxford Chabad Society had the pleasure and honour of hosting Lady Jakobovits a few years ago when she gave the annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture for the Chabad Society. She spoke about her escape from the Nazis over the border to Switzerland, while hearing Nazis soldiers approaching and shooting overhead.

Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, who invited Lady Jakobovits to give the lecture, remarked that she was an extremely warm and inspiring person who saw herself almost as the mother of Anglo-Jewry.

As a passionate advocate the Jewish laws concerning family purity, she was an ardent supporter of the Chabad desire to build mikvaot in Jewish communities throughout the United Kingdom and abroad.

“It meant a great deal to us that she contacted us personally to offer encouragement, blessings and support for our project to build a mikva in Oxford,” says Freidy Brackman, co-director of Chabad of Oxford.

She was also no-stranger to the Lubavitch House, the British HQ of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in London, being invited in 1968 as the guest of honour with her husband to consecrate the then newly-built centre. She is pictured (right) presenting prizes at the first Ideal Kosher Home Exhibition, held at Lubavitch House in 1978.

Rabbi Yitzhak Schochet of Mill Hill synagogue said: "She was a larger-than-life figure, widely known and loved. We will miss her deeply...  She was first on the phone with warm wishes whether in good or difficult times. I have letters sent on the occasion of Mazal Tovs. She even called me a little while back just to congratulate me after a TV interview. Such was her character. Always attuned, always aware, always there.”

‘Lady J’ and the Rebbe

My Encounter with the Rebbe, an oral history project established in 1998 to document the unknown and untold stories of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's life, was due to interview Lady Jakobovits the very day she was taken ill.

“We had an interview scheduled for Tuesday, May 4th”, explains the Rabbi Yechiel Cagen, My Encounter with the Rebbe producer. 

“The camera crew was packed up and en route, the questions were written, and the interviewer ready to roll. Early that morning her daughter, Shoshana Turner, called us in New York saying that her mother wasn’t feeling well, and that the interview would have to postponed for a couple of days... Two days later, on Friday morning, we heard the news that Lady J. had passed away.”

Although Lady Jakobovits passed away before she was able to give her account of her relationship with the Rebbe, she had given a number of details prior to the interview.

“What she did tell us, on several occasions,” says Rabbi Cagen, “was that she remembers the Rebbe visiting her father on Friday nights, and the two would spend hours discussing Torah.”

In addition to those memories, they had planned to discuss with her the Rebbe’s correspondence with her late husband.

“Their interactions covered many issues, including matters concerning the London Jewish community, and issues related to Israel’s security,” explains Rabbi Cagen.

“On several occasions, Lord Jakobovits met with the Rebbe in person in a private audience. Lady Jakobovits visited with the Rebbe several times, as well.

Comments on: Oxford Chabad Society mourns passing of Lady Jakobovits

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