Finding hope in tragedy: the Alan Senitt Foundation

Finding hope in tragedy: the Alan Senitt Foundation

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Fundraising in memory of a loved one is no easy feat. Brigit Grant meets the families who faced the challenge head on and succeeded.

In this instalment, Annie meets the family of Alan Senitt, the former UJS President who was brutally stabbed to death by armed robbers in Washington in 2006, where he was working on the presidential campaign for Democrat Mark Warner.   His family discuss the struggles of running their charity, the Alan Senitt Foundation, yet also how the foundation’s inspiration for the next generation ensures he is never forgotten.

The heinous crime that ended Alan’s life at the age of 27 was well-publicised at the time, when journalists camped outside the family home in Pinner.

But rather than bury themselves in the crime and subsequent trial, the Senitts decided that Alan, tipped to be a high-ranking future politican, whose CV included president of BBYO, director of the Political Council for Co-existence and the Israel-Britain Business Council should leave a legacy that would inspire a new generation of community leaders.

Alan Senitt was destined for big things
Alan Senitt was destined for big things

Eight years on and running the Alan Senitt Memorial Trust still gives the family strength, although they are now coping with the additional pain of losing husband and father Jack who, at 62, “died of a broken heart” two years ago.

Emma is in no doubt that the tragedy played its part, yet her zeal and energy for the charity is unbroken and Karen is by her side.

“Sometimes it’s hard to come up with ideas and ways we can generate money and it’s been even harder in these tough financial times,” explains Emma, a veteran youth worker at Edgware Reform Synagogue.

“Big charities always have big, important people donating and it’s easier for them to see the immediate benefits, which is not true for a small charity like ours.”

Having discussed the notion of a charity just days after the tragedy, Emma and James were spurred on by support from friends and letters of condolence from Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and a host of other politicians.

“We really had no idea how Alan knew the people he did, but it resulted in us launching the Trust at the House of Lords,“ says Emma, who remains convinced her brother would be appalled she gave a speech there.

graduation 2014
Graduates of this years community leadership programme run by the Alan Senitt Foundation and Maccabi GB Streetwise

Inevitably, the interest of those not immediately connected wanes over time, so they have been forced to cut back on the number of events they do each year, but keeping Alan’s name out there is more important to the Senitts than raising lots of money.

One of their most compelling projects is the community leadership programme run with Maccabi GB Streetwise, an interfaith course for Year 10 pupils, who are taught leadership skills and then put a community project together.

“We have just had our sixth graduation ceremony,” says Karen, who is quick to point out that Alan got a first at Birmingham.

“It is amazing to see how those students change over the course and, although I have worked in the community for 40 years and learnt to cover up my feelings with a professional face, I get very emotional when they graduate under a banner that carries my son’s name.”

The Trust’s success is perhaps best illustrated by a letter that was sent by a parent in which she wrote: “Since participating in the leadership course, my daughter (who has the personality we can only really describe as an “interesting …. mix of Margaret Thatcher crossed with Jennifer Lopez“!), has found a path she would now like to pursue as a career.

You and your family have created an inspirational legacy that will be passed on by people who share and implement this perfectly in the same way as Alan Senitt.”

This is all proof that charity borne out of tragedy can be a wonderful thing.

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