Former Board of Deputies President, Lionel Kopelowitz, dies aged 92
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Former Board of Deputies President, Lionel Kopelowitz, dies aged 92

Marie van der Zyl pays tribute to one of her predecessors as a 'forceful figure with strong views', sending her 'love, admiration and gratitude' to his widow

Lionel Kopelowitz
Lionel Kopelowitz

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and current Board president have paid tribute to community leader Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, who has died aged 92.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said she was “deeply saddened” by the passing of the senior past president and father of the Board.

Kopelowitz was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1926, and served as Board of Deputies President from 1985-1991, and President of the National Council for Soviet Jewry.

Remaining active until very recently, he was also a Vice President of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Marie van der Zyl paid respects, saying: “He was a forceful figure with strong views and he was extremely generous in his advice and time with me.”

His passionate commitment to the Jewish people was evident until his sad passing.”

I will miss him. We will miss him. We pass our love, admiration and gratitude to his widow Sylvia and to all the family.”

Van der Zyl’s predecessor, Jonathan Arkush, added: “I knew Lionel for many years. I gave a tribute to the Board meeting. I referred to him being a completely dedicated servant of the community and a strong proponent of the Board of Deputies. I admired his knowledge of Jewish learning on which he was a mine of information. To the end he never lost his close focus on the issues which matter to our community.”

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote that he “was one of the finest and longest-serving Anglo-Jewish lay leaders of our time.

“His love of the community was endless and he considered serving it to be a privilege. He was a larger than life character, with his broad northern accent, his frequently worn MCC tie, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the prayer book and the Hebrew Bible. To Elaine and myself he was a cherished friend.

“Seeing him always brought a smile to our faces. We send our deepest condolences to his widow Sylvia. We will miss him and we will always remember him with fondness and gratitude. May his memory be for a blessing.”

Dayan Ivan Binstock  of St John’s Wood synagogue was a close friend of Lionel, and called him an “outstanding communal figure, blessed with an incisive intellect, a prodigious memory and a deep human compassion”.

“He was, by nature, a peace maker and he used his considerable energies to resolve many a communal problem quietly behind the scenes. His longevity coupled with his communal involvement and exceptional recall meant that he was a remarkable resource for the details of lives of communal figures and Synagogue practice spanning more than eight decades”

The Council of Christians and Jews’ Director Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko said: “I personally got to know Lionel in my previous role at the Board of Deputies of British Jews and then later as CCJ Director. Lionel was always there for me, to listen, encourage and support”

“Lionel committed himself to Jewish communal service. However he was also deeply committed to Christian/Jewish relations through his role as Vice -President at CCJ.

“Our hearts go out to his wife Sylvia and all his family and friends. Lionel was the ultimate ‘mensch’ – a man who could be relied upon to act with honesty and integrity for the common good. He will be very missed.”

Gillian Moonman, whose late Husband Eric was Senior Vice President of the Board of Deputies when Lionel was President between 1985-91, paid respects to their “good working relationship”.

Saying Lionel and Eric “visited Parliament and embassies together”, she added “their areas of expertise in their professional lives were applied to great effect in the efficient running of the Board and its committees.”

“When Eric and I married and Lionel learned that I was an Optometrist he delighted in telling me that he had been chairman of a disciplinary panel on the General Optical Council and quoted a particular saucy case. He and Sylvia were warm friends.”

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