Jewish News Community Hero Awards shortlist: Meet our magnificent seven!

Jewish News Community Hero Awards shortlist: Meet our magnificent seven!

Simon Rothstein profiles the remarkable shortlisted candidates for this year's Jewish News-Mitzvah Day prize

Simon Cooper & Rebecca Woolfe

Simon Cooper was the epitome of a brave, selfless individual who gave so much despite the enormous personal challenges he faced throughout his short life.

Simon suffered from cystic fibrosis and was born with a blocked bowel, requiring life-saving surgery from day one. A liver transplant at 16 and double lung transplant at 29 didn’t stop him achieving so much.

Simon 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’ service that filled Liberal and Reform synagogues whenever his band played.

Even when Simon was diagnosed with lung cancer in January this year, this did not stop him. Instead, it inspired him to step up his charitable efforts.

Together with his sister Rebecca Woolfe, Simon planned to raise more money for good causes with the ‘Simon says Let’s Party’ event – a fundraising dinner and dance.

Simon died on 10 July, aged 33. Rebecca took over the organisation and running of the charity event on her own, despite her loss.

Dad and nominator Paul said: “The event took place in October and was a huge success, raising more than £20,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, MacMillan Cancer Support and the North London Hospice. These two were team of the year – no question!”

Simon Cooper and Rebecca Woolfe
Simon Cooper and Rebecca Woolfe

Susie Gordon

To get an idea of how much time and effort Susie Gordon puts into her community, you only have to look at what she’s organised for Mitzvah Day this year.

On Sunday, 27 November, Susie will bring synagogues, churches, mosques and schools – both faith and non-faith – together for a huge day of social action at Leeds Jewish Free School’s Henry Cohen Campus.

Susie Gordon
Susie Gordon

The day will include a Leeds City Council stand advising on how to help unaccompanied refugee children, collections for PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Leeds North FoodBank, and a guide to what mitzvot people can do throughout the year.

And Susie, who is executive director of Leeds Jewish Representative Council, certainly practices what she preaches in terms of helping others 365 days a year.

In her job, she has revitalised her local community and established projects such as the Leeds Jewish Future Programme.

In her spare time, she volunteers to actively engage and support young people of all faiths in their personal development through Beavers and raises awareness of the BRCA gene, which affects one in 40 people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and can increase the risk of certain cancers.

If all that’s not enough, she also undertakes fundraising walks.

Nominator, colleague Eva Peros, said: “Susie is infectiously enthusiastic about bringing communities together under one roof – instilling a sense of excitement about volunteering into everyone she meets.”

Diane Lazarus

Ask any Jewish Blind & Disabled tenant who makes the best cakes, and they will tell you it’s Diane Lazarus – affectionately known as the ‘star baker’.

Diane gives something more valuable than money to the charity’s tenants – her time, and lots and lots of it.

Diane Lazarus
Diane Lazarus

For the past three years, she has spent every Monday and Tuesday baking cakes and biscuits for Jewish Blind & Disabled tenants – serving them with tea and smile, and taking time to befriend all she meets. Much of the rest of her week is spent sourcing low cost, but healthy, ingredients.

Nominator Debbie Rees – Jewish Blind & Disabled’s Volunteers & Activities Co-ordinator for North West London – said: “Diane started off baking at Cecil Rosen Court, in Bushey, but word soon got around. She now bakes for all our buildings. Di really has really spoilt the tenants… They wouldn’t dream of eating something from
a shop!”

However, that is not all Diane does, as Debbie adds: “The real reason she deserves this award is in how she has become a friend to many tenants, brightening up everyone’s day with her happy-go-lucky manner, making sure all are happy. That is the greatest gift you can give.

“Di is a real hero to our tenants and staff alike, and thoroughly deserves to be recognised as a community hero too.”

Arnold Levin

At first glance, a project that sells second-hand books on Amazon doesn’t seem life-changing.

But New Chapters – a social enterprise set up by Arnold Levin – has changed the lives of Langdon volunteers with learning disabilities, helping them to learn skills and build confidence.

The project is fully led by 16 Langdon volunteers, supported by abled counterparts. It sells 16,000 books each year with a turnover of £45,000. It’s become so popular that in the four years since Arnold set it up, it has outgrown its premises twice.

But these facts don’t provide a full narrative of outcomes, says Arnold’s nominator Elie Levy, volunteer manager for Langdon.

Elie says: “Arnold has been exceptionally motivational to the volunteers. He is popular, but the true inspiration is the confidence he gives to groups of marginalised people.”

Arnold Levin (centre)
Arnold Levin (centre)

Rachel Langford

Rachel Langford’s nominator Victoria Goldsmith doesn’t hold back when describing the amazing things her friend has done for young Jewish
adults in the UK.

“Rachel has literally changed people’s lives,” enthuses Victoria. “She’s helped them find their spouses, reconnect to their heritage and, at the same time, raised huge sums for charity.”

Rachel Langford
Rachel Langford

Rachel had done this all through her pioneering Jfriends – a charity promoting networking, socialising and embracing Jewish values across all affiliations (and none).

The 34-year-old has tirelessly, and totally voluntarily, nurtured Jfriends’ development – organising, managing and subsidising a range of Jewish events, including monthly Shabbat dinners, European holidays and Ted-style talks on topical Jewish issues.

These events have become so popular that Jews from across Europe and Israel travel to attend.

Rachel not only leads her own charity, but shows remarkable support for other charitable programmes, raising money and establishing a highly successful monthly event where Jfriends collaborates with
Club Sandwich to make and deliver nutritious meals to the homeless.

Victoria added: “Through meeting at Jfriends events, three couples have
become engaged, including Rachel herself!

“She is an incredible inspiration and, without her, the lives of many hundreds of people would be significantly poorer in all senses.”

Rabbi Janet Darley

The present chosen by the members of South London Liberal Synagogue on her retirement sums up everything good about Rabbi Janet Darley. Eschewing flowers and carriage clocks, the community instead promised to turn part of the shul into a flat for refugees in her honour.

Rabbi Janet Darley
Rabbi Janet Darley

To describe Janet’s voluntary work for refugees – especially unaccompanied children – as tireless would be an understatement. Since her retirement from the pulpit in the summer, it has consumed every waking hour.

Whether it was working with lawyers and Citizens UK to identify those children with a legal right to come from France to Britain, lobbying the countries’ governments to speed up the process or uniting with leaders of all faiths to increase that pressure – there are families now united in the UK directly thanks to the work of Janet.

And when the unaccompanied children arrived in Britain, she was there to welcome to them and help them settle in – even going as far as to throw birthday parties.

Nominator Alice Alphandary – chair of South London Liberal Synagogue – said: “Her advocacy work on behalf of refugees – fulfilling the obligations of the Torah – makes Janet very special.

“But it’s through getting to know them and their families, helping tell their stories and supporting them in times of trouble that makes her a hero.”

Harold Newman

There aren’t many people who can say they’ve spent more than six decades working tirelessly for the Jewish community. But 82-year-old Harold Newman is one of them.

Harold Newman
Harold Newman

Whether it was campaigning for Soviet Jewry and against Holocaust denial, running multiple marathons for Jewish and non-Jewish charities or serving as chair of the Association of Jewish Ex-Serviceman, Harold has done it all.

And he is going strong at 82, still undertaking sponsored events on his specially-adapted Harley Davidson (now with an extra wheel) and serving the community as the chair of both the Jewish Branch of the Royal Legion and the Jewish Association of Cultural Societies (JACS).

Sara Conway, who nominated her stepfather as a Community Hero, said: “‘He is an  inspiration. I still remember how surprised I was, as a student, to be on the same protest rally as him against Holocaust revisionism. Now, here we are 25 years later, and his energy and commitment to representing and supporting his community are just as impressive.

“Harold is a true legend and a real example to us all of what is possible, whatever our age.”

Our Judging panel:

Richard Ferrer, Editor, Jewish News

Laura Marks, Founder, Mitzvah Day

Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon

Helen Simmonds, Chief Executive, Nightingale


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