Simon Cooper’s family hailed him as a person “who achieved more in his 33 years than most people will in 100”, as he and sister Rebecca Woolfe were named The Jewish News and Mitzvah Day’s Community Heroes for 2016.
Mitzvah Day founder and chair Laura Marks OBE – one of the judging panel for the award, along with Jewish News Editor Richard Ferrer – said: “It’s impossible to read Simon’s story without being moved. This amazing young man achieved so much in his life and it’s even more special to see that his sister, Rebecca, is carrying on his work.
“The amount they have raised for charity, the causes they have fought for, and what they have done for the Jewish community as a whole makes them true heroes.”
Simon – who suffered from cystic fibrosis – was an ambassador for NHS Blood & Transplant, raised money for many different charities and, as a brilliant drummer and musician, devised the ‘Friday Night Rock’ service in Liberal and Reform synagogues.
When Simon was diagnosed with lung cancer in January this year he planned to raise more money for good causes, together with Rebecca, by putting the ‘Simon says Let’s Party’ event – a fundraising dinner and dance.
After Simon sadly died in July, Rebecca took over the organisation and running of the charity event on her own – doing a wonderful job and raising more than £20,000 and counting.
Rebecca – who picked up the award with mum Angela and Simon’s wife Claire – told us: “People told us the ticket price was too expensive and that we would struggle to sell tickets. But we were determined. We wanted to raise £10,000, but we have doubled that and money is still coming in!
“Simon was very much a ‘show will go on’ kind of guy, so there was no way this event was not going to happen after he passed. We did everything the way we knew he would want – with plenty of lights, smoke, colour and music – and it was kept as a celebration.
“We all see Simon as a hero and inspiration in more ways than one. When you think about what he went through health wise, and what he achieved in his life, most people don’t achieve that in a lifeitme of 100 years.”
The family now plan to release a Chanukah single and set up a trust his name.
Rebecca added: “The single will raise money for North London Hospice, who cared so well for Simon and where Simon and Claire got married, and the Debbie Friedman Trust. It is Simon and the Friday Night Rock Service singing Light A Candle For Chanukah, written by Debbie Friedman but arranged, recorded and produced by Simon. We are also just completing the legal work so that, by January, there will also a charity set up in Simon’s name.”
The joint runners-up for the award were Arnold Levin, whose New Chapters social enterprise – selling second hand books on Amazon – has changed the lives of Langdon volunteers with learning disabilities, helping them to gain skills and build confidence, and Harold Newman, who has spent more than six decades working tirelessly for the Jewish community, campaigning and fundraising.
Judge Helen Simmons, chief executive of Nightingale, said of Arnold: “He is such a wonderful inspiration – combining innovation with a way of empowering socially excluded people, and doing it in a way that motivates and gives confidence at the same time.”
Talking about Harold, fellow judge Matthew Offord MP added: “Harold’s story is truly inspiring to us all and his years of tireless work has clearly had an effect on so many people. Harold’s drive and enthusiasm for the causes he believes in is admirable.”
There were also a number of Mitzvah Day Awards handed out at the post-Mitzvah Day Party – which took place at JW3.
Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation (DJPC) won the 365 Award for its work with Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH). After first volunteering last year, the community now spend all year collecting and sorting clothes for the charity, as well as now moving on to creating hygeine packs and training volunteers in outreach.
Best Office Project went to Dropbox, whose staff took the day off work to go to St Mungo’s, serve lunch to the residents and give out toiletry gift bags.
The Best Intefaith Partnership Award was judged by Communities Minister Lord Bourne, who selected a tea for asylum seekers and refugees hosted by Bradford’s Jewish and Muslim communities, and attended by the local Bishop and Naz Shah MP. Lord Bourne said: “I have chosen the Bradford Reform Synagogue as the winner of the Interfaith Partnership Award 2016. I am impressed to see the Jewish and Muslim communities coming together to reach out to asylum seekers and refugees in their community, representing the spirit of Interfaith and the power of social action to encourage cohesion. A cup of tea is a simple thing, but in such circumstances can mean a lot.”
Watford Grammar Girls won Top School Project for splitting into teams of 10-15 for three different Mitzvah Day events. The first team of girls visted a care home to spend time/entertain/bring in cupcakes for older residents. The next went going to Primark to purchase multi-packs of underwear and baby grows for Rwandan Sisterhood Charity and R2Recovery to help genocide victims and refugees. The third made welcome cards for refugee children.
The Jewish Lads’ & Girls’ Brigade (JLGB) narrowly beat runners-up Radlett United Synagogue for the Biggest Impact Award – with five hundred young Jews in the 30 JLGB groups in Glasgow, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool and all across Greater London and Essex, spending the week of Mitzvah Day supporting the Seperated Child Foundation, by making welcome cards for unacommpanied refugees. JLGB chose the project as the organisation’s roots and heritage are intrinsically linked to supporting and welcoming Jewish refugees.