Tributes have been paid to Maureen Kendler, one of British Jewry’s most popular and prolific educators, who died on Friday morning.
Known for her appearances at Limmud events across the world, she taught Jews about their culture, history, tradition and gave insight into individual and collective experiences that together comprise the Jewish story.
In London, where she lived with her family in Muswell Hill, she taught at the London School of Jewish Studies, educated Jewish university students at Jewish societies (J-Socs) and guided residents and tourists alike on ‘Jewish London’ tours.
Born in 1956, she fought for women’s rights and always described herself as “self-taught,” saying: “I think that makes me a very empowering role model.”
A former education director at Tzedek, she wrote and lectured extensively, broadcasting through Pause for Thought on BBC Radio, and most recently being involved in judging the winner of this year’s JQ Wingate Literary Prize.
However, she became unwell in December, and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Sarcoma, that develops in in the muscle, bone, nerves, cartilage, tendons, blood vessels and the fatty and fibrous tissues.
Family friends say she deteriorated quickly and passed away in the early hours of Friday morning, well-wishers having collected a book of messages.
“She was a pioneering spirit in Jewish education in this country and far beyond,” wrote Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg on Facebook. “Knowledgeable, inspiring, warm-hearted, engaging, entertaining, open-minded and extraordinarily well-read, she was an inspiration to thousands. Baruch dayan ha’emet.”
Jewish Labour Movement director Ella Rose described Kendler’s death as “a huge loss for the Jewish community” while leading human rights barrister Adam Wagner said she was “a very talented teacher of children and adults – she will be missed”.
Abigail Morris, chief executive of the Jewish Museum in Camden, said: “As well as being the most exceptional educator, Maureen was one of my closest friends. She was a brave feminist, not easy in the orthodox world. She was both brilliant and funny. She united people and healed the divisions that sometimes exist in our community. Her classes were always stimulating, original and fun. I was lucky enough to both learn and teach with her and I will miss her more than words can say.”
The Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president Richard Verber said: “Maureen was one of the best human beings to have walked the planet. She had a unique ability to make Jewish education relevant and engaging for everyone – of any age, any background, any country. Her lectures at LSJS and JW3 made you think and made you laugh. She was an outstanding March of the Living educator. She was in demand as a teacher around the world as far away as Australia and South Africa. She was always able to share Jewish wisdom with an audience of different faiths and none. In short, she loved her Judaism. And she made anyone she came into contact with love it more.”
Viv Anstey, a friend from Cape Town, South Africa, said: “Maureen gave me the courage to open doors to inclusive Jewish learning, whether Melton or Limmud. Her voice and contributions as a powerful and masterful text teacher will stay with me always. She touched thousands of lives with her warmth, making Jewish and literary text accessible and relevant to spike our Jewish souls. We will all miss her.”
Sarah Adler from Mill Hill echoed many in describing her as “one of a kind – an expression often misused but in her case totally accurate – whether it was lecturing on literature, using some obscure book to make a point, or discussing her recent trip to Australia and the children in Melbourne giving a recital for Yom Ha’Shoah”. She added: “Maureen was a proud Jewess, a wonderfully warm human being, a caring compassionate lady and a great wife and mother. Our hearts go out to her family.”
Scott Saunders, the founder and chair of March of the Living UK, said Kendler had been “a constant” for six years. “She was more than an outstanding educator, with her wisdom, help and advice being appreciated by so many. She was our friend.”
Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s chief executive, said: “Maureen was an integral part of World Jewish Relief’s Advisory Team, offering us sage advice on the work of the charity through her treasure trove of Jewish wisdom. She will be sorely missed by staff and trustees and we send our heartfelt condolences to Maureen’s family.”
He paid tribute to “the way she set about her task and her passion for educating”, but even more so, he said she would always ask about him personally. She would come over to me quietly and say, ‘Scott how are you doing, I mean how are you really doing?’ Sometimes, with life’s different pressures, we all need a Maureen Kendler.”
Jewish News’ foreign editor Stephen Oryszczuk said: “As a non-Jew embarking on life in the Jewish world, Maureen was one of the first to take me by the hand and lead me through sheitels and shtetls, mikvehs and mitzvahs. She made it funny and interesting and never made me feel like I was ‘asking a stupid question.’ I’ll miss her hugely.”
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