100-second interview! This week: Benjamin Isaac John Israel

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100-second interview! This week: Benjamin Isaac John Israel

In the latest in the series celebrating our community’s centenarians, we look into the life of a 107-year-old Nightingale House resident

Benjamin Isaac John Israel on his wedding day, and celebrating his birthday at Nightingale!
Benjamin Isaac John Israel on his wedding day, and celebrating his birthday at Nightingale!

Name: Benjamin Isaac John Israel

Date of birth: 1911

Place of birth: Bermondsey

Where do you live? Nightingale House, a Jewish care home in south London

Where did you live before? Since my marriage in 1937, I lived in Tottenham Court Road and then Mornington Crescent. Before moving into the home, I lived in Sutton and was an active member of Sutton and District Synagogue.

What was your occupation? I had many jobs, including as a warehouse superintendent. During the war, I was called up to the Army in the Medical Corps to serve as a nurse. I opened my own salon and cut Charlton Heston’s hair when he was promoting Ben Hur – it cost two shillings, but he gave a generous £10 tip!

Were you married, and if so, for how long and to whom? I was married to the wonderful Millie for 76 years (together for 80).

Benjamin Isaac John Israel celebrating his birthday

Do you have any children, grandchildren and great grandchildren? I had one son called Victor, who was born in 1942. He died in 2012, before we moved to Nightingale.

What is your happiest memory? When I first laid eyes on Millie at the dance academy in Piccadilly.

What do you consider to be your greatest/proudest achievements? My marriage. Together, we built a family, a home, and a successful business we were passionate about. We travelled the world, experienced different things, and contributed to our community of Sutton and District Synagogue.

If you could live your life again would you do anything differently? I would not have scrubbed the floors at Magdalen College in Oxford so much – nearly 80 years on and it’s still giving me pain! But, seriously, I look back on my life and see it as a life well lived.

Benjamin Isaac John Israel on his wedding day

Do today’s youth have it easy compared to when you grew up? I wouldn’t say that! Life is complicated. Sure, they don’t have to worry about wars and bombs, but job security isn’t certain and life is becoming increasingly expensive. I think that weighs down on many young people.

What advice would you offer to today’s youngsters? Don’t take life too seriously. Work hard and appreciate all the gifts you have. Don’t compare or compete with anyone, because everyone has their own story.

The secret for a long life is…

Enjoying the small things! Life can’t always be cupcakes and fairy tales, but it’s important to notice and appreciate the small details. I still look forward to my whisky and crisps before bed. At 107, every day is a blessing.

Listen to this week’s podcast here:

Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

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We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.

Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”

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