Tory Friends of Israel chief and Mitzvah Day founder celebrate New Year honours

Tory Friends of Israel chief and Mitzvah Day founder celebrate New Year honours

The founder of Mitzvah Day, a leading figure in Holocaust education and the long-time director of Conservative Friend of Israel are among those recognised in the New Year Honours List.

Laura Marks, Rabbi Barry Marcus and Stuart Polak can all look forward to trips to Buckingham Palace to receive their gongs after being honoured alongside leading lights from the worlds of the arts, philanthropy and showbusiness.

Since its establishment by Marks nine years ago, Mitzvah Day has seen tens of thousands with Jews and non-Jews giving their time to help good causes inside and outside the community. This year’s event saw a record-breaking 54 multi-faith projects – and it’s for services to interfaith that Marks picks up the OBE.

Laura Marks has returned from a month in Israel
Laura Marks has returned from a month in Israel

“In my view the future of our community here in Britain must be viewed within a wider context,” she told the Jewish News. “To be safe and strong as Jews we must dare to face outwards. I’m therefore really thrilled to receive this huge honour for interfaith work. I see our challenge as finding ways to maintain our love and support for Israel and at the same time building a community here at home where we live in harmony with our neighbours who we need, and with whom we share so many values.”

The Board of Deputies senior voice-president, who is widely tipped to run for the presidency, said she shared the award with family and colleagues who “deserve my endless gratitude”.

Also honoured is Rabbi Marcus MBE, who pioneered the concept of a one-day visit to Auschwitz to teach British schoolchildren about the Shoah – an initiative which now sees two youngsters from every school undertake the trip under the auspices of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

The Great Portland Street Synagogue minister, who has himself shown pupils and teachers around the camp on more than 150 visits, said he was “humbled” and “surprised” by the accolade. “I see this as an acknowledgement of all people of goodwill who understand that together, by educating the next generation of all faiths and cultures, we can make a difference.”

camstuartPolak, who has led CFI for 25 years, is awarded the CBE for political services. The announcement comes only two weeks after David Cameron, at a lunch attended by 150 parliamentarians, hailed Polak and CFI in taking politicians to see Israel for themselves.

Polak – who paid tribute to the support of his family – said he was “thrilled” and added: “On receiving the news, I thought about the many people in the political and communal world that helped me over the years. But specifically, three giants in UK-Israel relations who taught me so much and are no longer with us. To my friends and mentors, Cyril Stein, Leonard Steinberg and David Lewis.”

He added: “This honour recognises the work of CFI and it has been a privilege working with terrific Board Members and in particular a small but dedicated professional team led by my Deputy Nathalie Tamam.”

Esther RantzenMeanwhile, Esther Rantzen becomes Dame Esther for her work is establishing Child line and later The Silver Line, a helpline for older people which has received 300,000 calls since its creation a year ago. Saying the accolade recognises the work of both charities in “transforming lives” to which she remains committed, she said: “It is a wonderful honour to receive in my 75th year. My greatest wish is that Desmond could be here to share this news – he would have been so excited.”

Also honoured is Lord Young of Graffham, whose CV includes serving as Trade and Industry Secretary under Margaret Thatcher and CPS director. The business leader also served as chairman of British ORT, whose vice-president Henry Davis is also honoured for a range of charitable and voluntary services in London.

Arsenal in the community head Alan Sefton and Nicola Gewirtz, the founder of Lola Rose, picked up OBEs, while New North London shul member Jason Holts, the Government’s apprenticeships ambassador who has spent the past 15 years promoting vocational training, said it was an “extraordinary honour” to receive a CBE.

Holts added: “This is something I never thought would come my way. I have always felt as a business owner I needed to act – to do something about the skills gap in our sector. I’m always willing to help if I know that I can make a valuable contribution, and to be recognised for that in this way is very humbling.”

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