One of the country’s top mental health campaigners who raises funds and awareness alongside royalty after battling his own illness, a female Charedi community leader and the secretary of the All-Party Group Against Anti-Semitism are among those recognised by the Queen in the New Year Honours.
Jonny Benjamin, Chaya Spitz and Danny Stone can all look forward to a trip to the palace after being awarded an OBE and MBE in a list of 1,197 national and local heroes including stars of Britain’s record-breaking Olympic and Paralympic squads.
Benjamin, who has spoken publicly and presented documentaries on the BBC and Channel 4 about his battle with with schizoaffective disorder, famously found the man who talked him down from a London bridge following a national search.
The 29-year-old has has since spoken in schools, prisons and workplaces with his saviour Neil Laybourne, with whom he will run next year’s London Marathon to raise tens of thousands for Heads Together, a coalition of charities launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. His initiative, ThinkWell, will raise awareness of mental health in secondary schools across the country.
Benjamin, who is being honoured for services to mental health and suicide prevention, said he owed the accolade to all the organisations he works with, as well as family and “partner in crime” Laybourne.
He said: “I hope this accolade may give some hope to others who might be struggling that there is life after a diagnosis of mental illness and that such a diagnosis should never put limitations upon anyone.
I will use this honour to push further for parity between physical and mental health in all areas of society, from healthcare to workplaces, and particularly within schools. It doesn’t make sense why mental health education isn’t compulsory on the school curriculum and yet physical education is.”
MP Luciana Berger, former shadow minister for mental health and president of Labour’s mental health campaign, told Jewish News: “I am delighted that Jonny has been honoured in this year’s list. When still too few people’s voices are heard, Jonny has done such formidable work campaigning to challenge the stigma that exists around mental health. Drawing on his own, very personal experience, Jonny has has also bravely created a fantastic suicide prevention programme for schools to empower the next generation. This MBE is truly deserved.”
Chaya Spitz, the chief executive of the Interlink Foundation, said it was “immensely humbling” to to be honoured for services to the community and Jewish People in London.
Interlink offers member organisations training and help in winning public sector contracts and has become a key voice of the Orthodox community to central and local government.
She said: “For believing Jews, our faith compels us to make the most of our time in this world, and the gifts God has given us, to do good. In this sense, I have only done what so many others do every day. Inasmuch as this award recognises the amazing work and sheer dedication within the charities we support, I am deeply honoured to receive it.”
Rabbi Avroham Pinter, a leader of the Stamford Hill Charedi community, described as as a “pioneer and rolemodel for Haredi women, passionately maintaining our community’s values, whilst taking on leadership and responsibility. Her position is without precedent and has brought positive change to the community she works within.”
Danny Stone, secretary of the All-Party Group Against Anti-Semitism, also receives an MBE.
Others honoured include Nicola Wetherall (MBE), who as schools network coordinator at UCL Centre for Holocaust Education is charged with maximising the reach and quality of teaching about the Shoah.
Teaching at the Royal Wooton Bassett Academy for more than a decade, Wetherall developed a Holocaust, genocide and human rights programme. She also serves on the education advisory group of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation.
Saying the honour means “the world to me” and she is “indebted” to RWBA colleagues, said added: “I am especially mindful today of the words of one of the worlds most incredible teachers and my late friend, Elie Wiesel, who described teaching to me as ‘…a gift…a precious privilege, a duty’. I hope, like my Grandad and Dad, he would be proud today. I aspire everyday day in my classroom to live up to their and Elie’s faith in me and I pledge to continue this important work.”
“If this MBE enables me to develop our RWBA programme further, help champion this work in other schools and raise public awareness so as to effect change then that will be amazing. If it could allow me to inform and shape policy regards teacher training and ensure as many young people had the Lessons from Auschwitz opportunity for the Holocaust Educational Trust then that would be incredible. We must do more to ensure quality access and provision for all students across the country.”
Receiving a British Empire Medal is Gerald Granston, a former refugee from the Nazis who speaks in schools here and in America about his experiences on ship S.S St Louis, whose passengers were refused entry to Cuba and then also to the US and Canada before a minority found refuge here. His honour recognises his work in Holocaust education.
Sharon Bannister, the current president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council, said she was “delighted, humbled and proud” to be honoured by the Queen. “The award reflects the outstanding and positive work that is being carried out by the Jewish Representative Council for the Manchester Jewish community,” she said.
She said it had been “almost impossible” not to blurt out the news of the honour during time with communal colleagues and friends when she was “bubbling with excitement but on the outside. I hope everyone will understand and share in the joy now”.
Ethan Woldman, 72, receives an honour for services to the Jewish community in Scotland and Romania. She is trustee of The Targu Mures Trust, which was established in 2000 to support Holocaust survivors in Romania.
Saying she reflected on how proud her late parents and grandparents would have been, she told Jewish News: “I have always felt humbled and rewarded to have been perhaps in the right place at the right time to make a difference to people’s lives. Most often making the difference was only possible because of the remarkable skills and generosity of friends and the Jewish community in Scotland. Without the contribution of the other trustees of the Targu Mures Trust and the former chairmen and volunteers of Jewish Care Scotland I would not be in this truly lovely position today.”
There are also gongs for Dalia Cramer for services to Jewish women, Bernard Gingold for services to the community in Birmingham and Marcia Feldman, who said she was “thrilled” after being recognised for for years of voluntary work for Jewish Care and JAMI. David Rigal, an honorary officer at Liberal Jewish Synagogue, picks up his award for services to Anglo-Jewry and diversity in the civil service.