Jewish News’ Forty Under 40 and Eighteen Under 18 lists celebrate those set to shape the future, but what about those who’ve influenced our community’s present and past? In partnership with Jewish Care, we profile 120 individuals aged 80 and over whose achievements have inspired us for decades.
Well, to paraphrase the famous Jewish blessing: “May those in our countdown live until 120.”
Della Donn, 88
Della Donn has been a legendary volunteer in Manchester’s Jewish community for most of her life. As a longstanding League of Jewish Women (LJW) volunteer for The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), she regularly visited clients.
More recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the 88-year-old has excelled in tackling isolation among the vulnerable as a telephone befriender for AJR.
Through the LJW, for many years, Della was also responsible for serving meals at the Levi House Day Centre for the elderly.
Passionate about the role of women in communal life, she has been a stalwart supporter and keen member of WIZO, the international women’s movement.
Denis Felsenstein, 93
Denis Felsenstein’s extraordinary contribution to Jewish and lay education spans more than 70 years. After success working as the first deputy headteacher of JFS from 1958-1970 and subsequently headteacher at Brooke House School in Hackney, Denis became the first headmaster of Immanuel College in 1990.
With a relentless desire to help each child achieve their potential, Denis also rose to become a senior staff inspector with the Inner London Education Authority, chaired the education committee of Kerem School and helped initiate inspection service Pikuach. Remarkably, the 93-year-old only recently retired from running the second Shacharit Minyan at Kinloss Synagogue.
Dr Dennis Coppel, 85
Dennis Coppel excelled as an NHS doctor for more than 40 years before dedicating his retirement to Belfast’s Jewish community. After qualifying in the 1950s, he rose to become director of intensive care at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
During the ‘Troubles’, Dennis remained dedicated to the city, becoming a world-leading expert in treating gunshot wounds.
He was the first medic flown to Sligo to treat the survivors of the Mountbatten assassination in 1979.
The 85-year-old has served as president of the Belfast Jewish Community for more than a decade and was appointed by the First Minister to the Holocaust Memorial Day committee.
• Andrew Gilbert and Daniel Carmel-Brown: This list is our socially- distanced hug to over 80s
• Part one: 120 over 80: Our oldest and wisest
• Part three: 120 Over 80 – meet our golden generation!
Edna Marks, 92
Edna Marks is Jewish Care’s oldest and longest-serving volunteer. For more than 35 years, the 92-year-old has selflessly dedicated her time to the Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre.
Her many celebrated contributions include presenting a programme of classical music, often featuring her favourites: Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Edna learned how to use iTunes and connect her iPod to a Bluetooth speaker.
For more than 20 years, she also led interactive discussion groups and, until she broke her hip, served at tables in the dining room. With her boundless positivity and inspirational devotion, the community is truly blessed with such a legendary volunteer.
Eleanor Platt QC, 82
Eleanor Platt is one of the UK’s most influential family lawyers. Throughout her 60-year distinguished career at the Bar and as a QC, Eleanor has played a significant role in influencing how family courts approach cases involving children.
Most notably, she participated in the landmark Cleveland inquiry, which led to the Children Act with its radical legal reforms relating to children and the role of the state in families’ lives.
The 82-year-old has also selflessly served the Jewish community as vice president of the Board of Deputies and chair of the Family Law Group, which supported the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002.
Ella Marks, 86
A “positive role model” to countless individuals, Ella Marks has undertaken numerous voluntary roles across the Jewish and lay community.
Following a selfless career devoted to others as a social worker and pastoral manager, Ella formerly served as president of the League of Jewish Women (LJW), chaired Ealing U3A, a co-operative of older people sharing educational, creative and leisure activities and was a board member of Age UK Ealing.
Very much still active, the 86-year-old currently chairs the LJW’s Health Matters Committee, is an elected deputy on the Board of Deputies and sits on the board of Ealing United Synagogue.
Sir Erich Reich, 85
Sir Erich Reich has spent decades raising awareness of the Holocaust and campaigning on behalf of child refugees. He was aged just four when he arrived in Britain in 1939 on the Kindertransport from Vienna.
The 85-year-old chairs the Kindertransport Committee, a special interest group of The Association of Jewish Refugees, where he has overseen major commemorations, including receptions hosted by Prince Charles.
Actively involved with Safe Passage, in 2016 he publicly called on then Prime Minister David Cameron to accept 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Syria. Erich also founded Classic Tours, which has raised £90 million for hundreds of charities, and is honorary president of Manna. He was knighted in 2010 for services to charity.
Dame Esther Rantzen, 80
Esther Rantzen is a multi-award-winning presenter and campaigner who has persistently championed and achieved change for vulnerable people.
After training as a BBC producer, Esther began presenting the popular consumer show That’s Life! in 1973, where she campaigned on behalf of abused children, organ transplants, safe playgrounds, hospital patients and to provide justice for consumers.
Most notably, the show featured Sir Nicholas Winton being introduced for the first time to the survivors he saved from the Holocaust. The 80-year-old is the founder and president of children’s charity ChildLine, and in 2012 launched a confidential helpline for older people, The Silver Line.
Eve Kugler, 89
Eve Kugler has selflessly dedicated much of her adult life to educating school groups across the UK about the Holocaust.
Born in Germany and aged just seven during Kristallnacht, Eve was hidden in Paris and central France by Jewish welfare organisation, the OSE, before securing a visa to America in 1941.
Miraculously, her close family was reunited in New York in 1946.
A regular attendee on the annual March of the Living programme, the 89-year-old also takes pride in addressing different government departments, reminding politicians of the need to remember the Holocaust and combat antisemitism.
Fradel Sudak, 82
For more than 70 years, Fradel Sudak has been a leading light in the British Chabad movement. Raised in Soviet Russia, aged 11, Fradel emigrated with her family to the UK, where she helped her parents establish the first Chabad Hebrew School.
Together with her husband, she later launched and led the Chabad Lubavitch Network, growing it exponentially into one of Anglo-Jewry’s largest networks. Under Fradel’s helm, the network established three Lubavitch schools and she was instrumental in developing the CACHE early years qualification.
The 82-year-old also opened the first Jewish Women’s Centre in 1986 and is currently the UK’s Senior Head Shlucha.
Rabbi Dr Frank Hellner, 85
For decades, Rabbi Frank Hellner has been an influential leader of Liberal Judaism. As Rabbi of Finchley Progressive Synagogue (FPS) for more than 30 years until 1999, he was renowned for his powerful and intellectually rigorous sermons.
A principled Zionist acutely aware of the importance of interfaith, during his rabbinate, Frank served on the executive of the Barnet Community Relations Council and as Chaplain to the Mayor of Barnet.
Still active as Emeritus Rabbi of FPS, the 85-year-old until recently served on the Jewish Community Day School Advisory Board and remains a vice president of the Finchley Council of Christians and Jews.
Freda Wineman, 96
Freda Wineman’s Holocaust testimony is one of the most widely disseminated nationwide. A survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Raguhn and Theresienstadt, Freda was ultimately reunited with her surviving brothers in August 1945.
Her story has been recorded for the British Library, the Shoah Foundation and numerous museums. In 2009, Freda returned to Auschwitz and her memorable visit was featured on the BBC’s Blue Peter show as part of their Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations.
The 96-year-old was awarded a BEM for services to Holocaust education and awareness in 2018, and last year recounted her testimony to former Chancellor Sajid Javid.
Freddie Knoller, 99
Over the past quarter of a century, Holocaust survivor Freddie Knoller has shared his testimony with tens of thousands of students. Born in Vienna, Freddie escaped to Belgium when the Nazis invaded and subsequently joined the French Resistance before being betrayed and deported to Auschwitz.
An active member of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre, the 99-year-old received his BEM in 2016 in recognition of his work speaking at 385 schools since 2002.
In 2017, Freddie accompanied the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall on a televised visit back to Austria. Earlier this year, a bust of Freddie was sculpted by the renowned sculptor Lady Petchey.
Gerald Ronson, 81
A highly successful businessman and property developer, Gerald Ronson is also one of the community’s most generous philanthropists.
The 81-year-old is CEO of properly development firm Heron International and chairman of Rontec, the third largest independent roadside retail business in the UK. He was instrumental in introducing self-service petrol stations into the UK and, since 1966, has built nearly 1000 across the UK.
Gerald is the founder and chairman of the Community Security Trust, president of JCoSS and vice president of children’s charity the NSPCC. He won City AM’s Personality of the Year Award in 2011 and was appointed a CBE in 2012.
Gerry Gruneberg, 88
For nearly half a century, Gerry Gruneberg has selflessly dedicated himself to the education and welfare of British Jewry.
As chairman of fundraising for the Jewish Education Development Trust, together with Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, Gerry founded Sinai Jewish Primary School in 1981 and headed its fundraising committee. The 88-year-old was also instrumental in establishing Binoh, Norwood’s special educational needs service.
Gerry has spent the last 20 years visiting numerous Jewish and non-Jewish primary schools, recounting his experiences of life in Nazi Germany and his escape to England in August 1939.
Hannah Lewis, 83
Hannah Lewis continues to share her Holocaust testimony with thousands of people every year. Born into a prosperous Polish family, as a young child she survived the Adampol labour camp before moving to Britain in 1949.
The 83-year-old is a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, serving on the latter’s Legacy Group. Passionate about reaching a diverse pool of young people, Hannah recently shared her story with academy football players from Manchester City FC and Middlesbrough FC.
In January 2020, she returned to Poland for only the third time since the war to mark the 75th anniversary of liberation at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Dr Harry (Chaim) Olmer, 93
Every year, Harry Olmer reaches tens of thousands of people with his Holocaust testimony. A survivor of two forced labour camps, plus Buchenwald and the Terezín ghetto, Harry was one of ‘The Boys’ who subsequently travelled to Windermere to recuperate upon liberation.
A “true inspiration”, the 93-year-old’s remarkable commitment to Holocaust education includes spending a week every year on an intense trip to Poland, retelling his story.
Harry has spoken at the Home Office and other government departments, receiving a BEM in 2018 for his efforts in furthering understanding of the Holocaust. Appearing as fit as ever, Harry is also the UK’s longest-serving dentist!
Harry Spiro, 90
Harry Spiro has dedicated his life to educating the next generation about the Holocaust. Born in Poland, he survived working in a glass factory in the Piotrków ghetto, as well as Buchenwald and Rehmsdorf concentration camps, before being liberated in Terezín.
One of ‘The Boys’ who travelled to Britain in 1945, Harry eventually opened a shop before marrying in 1957.
Last year, the 90-year-old was interviewed by Robert Rinder to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
The webcast reached 39,000 people across 700 schools and 42 other organisations, including government departments. Harry also addressed Chelsea FC’s players in 2018 as part of the club’s ‘Say No to Antisemitism’ initiative.
Isaac Kaye, 92
For nearly 60 years, Isaac Kaye’s generous philanthropy has supported numerous medical research projects and non-profit initiatives. A successful businessman, Isaac rose to become chairman of Ivax Pharmaceuticals UK, formerly the largest supplier of generic drugs to the NHS.
The 92-year-old has been a longstanding and devoted donor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sponsoring several awards for science innovators, researchers and aspiring students.
Isaac also funds a wide variety of Jewish and lay charities including Jewish Care, CST, the Portland Trust, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. A dedicated Zionist, Isaac helped establish BICOM in 2002 to promote awareness of Israel and the Middle East.
Ita Symons, 83
Ita Symons is the chief executive of the Agudas Israel Housing Association, which caters exclusively for Orthodox Jews. After recognising the lack of affordable housing in Stamford Hill, Ita founded the charity in 1981 to meet the growing needs of her local community.
Over the past 39 years, the 83-year-old has successfully grown the organisation to incorporate 470 properties, helping hundreds of Orthodox families in the process.
Last year, she defeated a legal challenge in the Appeal Court over catering solely to the strictly observant. With a waiting list of more than 1,000 families, Ita is also working to relocate families to Canvey Island and Manchester.
Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, 83
Sir Ivan Lawrence’s immense achievements span the legal profession, politics and the Jewish community. Called to the Bar in 1962, Ivan progressed into one of the country’s top criminal barristers and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1981.
His remarkable career includes defending serial killer Dennis Nilsen, negotiating the Soviet Union’s compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and sponsoring the 1991 War Crimes Act.
Elected the Conservative MP for Burton in 1974, he chaired both the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Conservative Friends of Israel. A founding member of North West Surrey Synagogue, the 83-year-old has campaigned to retain kashrut and represented Britain at the World Jewish Congress.
Ivor Perl, 84
A “true mensch”, Ivor Perl has dedicated himself to educating the next generation about his Holocaust testimony.
Born in Hungary, Ivor was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau aged 12, before being forcibly moved to Allach and Dachau concentration camps, from where he was liberated by the Americans. Last year, Ivor returned to Auschwitz for the first time, with his daughter, to join March of the Living.
In 2015, he also returned to Germany to be a witness during the trial of Oskar Gröning, ‘the bookkeeper of Auschwitz’.
Renowned artist Frances Segelman sculpted a bust of the 84-year-old and in 2015 he was awarded a BEM for services to Holocaust education.
Jackie Gryn, 88
For 75 years, Jackie Gryn has exhibited exceptional dedication to the progressive Jewish community. The wife of renowned Rabbi Hugo Gryn, the couple initially travelled to Bombay in the 1950s to join India’s leading liberal Jewish congregation, the Jewish Religious Union.
During Jackie’s subsequent 32 years as “Rebbetzen extraordinaire” of West London Synagogue, she welcomed and entertained many thousands of congregants and visitors.
She travelled to the Soviet Union to support refuseniks, and was the leading light of the British Friends of the Kibbutz Dance Company. Still an active communal figure, the 88-year-old regularly books speakers for the Seymour Group luncheon club at West London Synagogue.
Jaclyn & Brian Chernett, 79 and 83
As influential communal couples go, few can match the tireless dedication of Jaclyn and Brian Chernett to the UK Masorti Community. Praised as a “major trailblazer and leader”, Jaclyn is a founding member of Masorti Judaism in the UK, Edgware Masorti and Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogues.
The UK’s first ordained female chazan, the 79-year-old also set up the European Academy for Jewish Liturgy, which pioneered online methods of mentoring leaders in Jewish prayer.
Brian, 83, is the founder of Ella Forums (Experiential Leadership Learning Academy), which works with hundreds of lay and Jewish charities to improve their leadership capabilities.
Lord Jacob Rothschild, 84
For decades, Lord (Jacob) Rothschild has used his vast wealth to fund numerous communal initiatives. A member of the prominent Rothschild banking family, the billionaire grew investment firm RIT Capital Partners Plc into one of the largest investment trusts quoted on the London Stock Exchange.
Acutely proud of his Jewish heritage, Jacob has chaired the Yad Hanadiv Foundation for more than 35 years, which supports projects across education, environmental maintenance and the advancement of opportunity for Israel’s Arab community. Most recently, the 84-year-old has been working on creating a National Library in Jerusalem, set to be completed this year.
Janine Webber, 88
Janine Webber has shown selfless dedication in sharing her Holocaust testimony with tens of thousands of students every year. Born in Poland, Janine survived the Lwów ghetto, before being smuggled into precarious hiding spots until Kraków was liberated in 1945.
Determined to reach diverse audiences, Janine has spoken at numerous football clubs, including Manchester United and Liverpool FC, and last year collaborated with the rapper MC Kapoo for a short film Edek, named after the 19-year-old Polish man who hid her from the Nazis. Awarded a BEM in 2017, she is now sharing her testimony remotely with school groups and Tik Tok employees.
Jean Gaffin, 84
A “glass-ceiling breaker”, Jean Gaffin has inspired generations of health sector professionals and volunteers. Her illustrious career includes founding the Child Accident Prevention Trust, which made rear seatbelts compulsory, and establishing the National Hospice Council.
Awarded an OBE for services to health, the 84-year-old chaired Brent Primary Care Trust from 2002-2005 and became the inaugural UK Pain Champion in 2013.
In 2019, she received a Distinguished Contribution award from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in recognition of her influence over the organisation’s appraisal methods.
Still highly active, Jean serves on several health-related committees and works on Care Quality Commission inspections.
Jeffrey Pinnick, 84
For well over 50 years, Jeffrey Pinnick has been a selfless stalwart of the Jewish community. Forever devoting his time unconditionally, he served for many years as chairman of Yad Vashem UK and the Yom Hashoah Forum.
The 84-year-old is also a former treasurer of the Board of Deputies and played an instrumental role in founding the All Aboard charity shops.
His passion for legacy projects is legendary, ranging from the rebuilding of Mill Hill Synagogue to Yad Vashem’s ‘Guardian of the Memory’ campaign, which seeks to keep alive the memory of every murdered Jew. Last year, Jeffrey was awarded an OBE for services to Holocaust education.
Jennifer Jankel, 80
For decades, Jenny has supported vulnerable members of her community. A carer herself, she regularly volunteers with Nightingale House in south London, organising seminars on topics including dementia awareness, mental health, loneliness and safeguarding.
The 80-year-old is also president of North West Surrey Synagogue, having headed up the synagogue’s highly valued Share and Care Team. Professionally, Jenny rose to become vice president of French shoe company Charles Jourdan, before founding her own successful shoe company, Luc Berjen.
She is currently the CEO and chair of the trustees of the Jewish Music Institute, where she has significantly grown awareness around the diversity of Jewish music.
Jeromé & Louise Freedman, 84 and 81
For decades, “dynamic duo” Jeromé and Louise Freedman have been stalwarts of the Liberal Jewish movement. The pair are currently vice presidents of Liberal Judaism, with Jeromé having formerly served as chairman of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.
The 84-year-old remains active as a not-for-profit management professional, building on his extensive communal experience as an executive on the Board of Deputies and with the London Jewish Forum.
Louise, 81, has been president of The South London Liberal Synagogue (SLLS) since 2015. She also retains a prominent role within the Alliance of Jewish Women, which unites Jewish women from diverse backgrounds to discuss and act upon matters affecting them.
- Read more: 120 Over 80 – meet our golden generation!
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- 120 over 80
- Jewish News
- Forty Under 40
- Eighteen Under 18
- jewish care
- Della Donn
- League of Jewish Women (LJW)
- The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR)
- Levi House Day Centre
- Denis Felsenstein
- Brooke House School
- Immanuel College
- Inner London Education Authority
- Kerem School
- Dr Dennis Coppel
- Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast
- Belfast Jewish Community
- Holocaust Memorial Day committee
- Edna Marks
- Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre
- Eleanor Platt QC
- Board of Deputies
- Family Law Group
- Ella Marks
- Age UK
- Ealing United Synagogue
- sir erich reich
- Classic Tours
- Dame Esther Rantzen
- Sir Nicholas Winton
- Silver Line
- Eve Kugler
- march of the living
- Fradel Sudak
- British Chabad
- Chabad Hebrew School
- Jewish Women’s Centre
- Rabbi Dr Frank Hellner
- Liberal Judaism
- Finchley Progressive Synagogue (FPS)
- Barnet Community Relations Council
- Jewish Community Day School Advisory Board a
- Finchley Council of Christians and Jews
- Freda Wineman
- British library
- Sajid Javid
- Freddie Knoller
- Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre
- Lady Petchey
- Gerald Ronson
- Heron International
- Community Security Trust
- Gerry Gruneberg
- Jewish Education Development Trust
- Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits
- Sinai Jewish Primary School
- Hannah Lewis
- Holocaust Educational Trust
- the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
- Manchester City FC
- Middlesbrough FC
- Dr Harry (Chaim) Olmer
- Terezín ghetto
- The Boys
- Harry Spiro
- Robert Rinder
- Chelsea FC
- Isaac Kaye
- Ivax Pharmaceuticals UK
- hebrew university of jerusalem
- The Portland Trust
- the Royal National Institute of Blind People
- Ita Symons
- Agudas Israel Housing Association
- Canvey Island
- Sir Ivan Lawrence QC
- Dennis Nilsen
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights Conservative Friends of Israel
- North West Surrey Synagogue
- World Jewish Congress
- Ivor Perl
- Oskar Gröning
- Frances Segelman
- Jackie Gryn
- Rabbi Hugo Gryn
- West London Synagogue
- British Friends of the Kibbutz Dance Company
- Jaclyn Chernett
- Brian Chernett
- UK Masorti Community
- Lord Jacob Rothschild
- RIT Capital Partners Plc
- London Stock Exchange
- Yad Hanadiv Foundation
- Janine Webber
- MC Kapoo
- Tik Tok
- Jean Gaffin
- Child Accident Prevention Trust
- National Hospice Council
- Brent Primary Care Trust
- Care Quality Commission
- Jeffrey Pinnick
- Yad Vashem UK
- Mill Hill Synagogue
- Jennifer Jankel
- Nightingale House
- Luc Berjen
- Jeromé Freedman
- Louise Freedman
- the London Jewish Forum
- The South London Liberal Synagogue (SLLS)
By Joe Millis