The former refugee who inspired all: The life of Lady Jakobovits

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The former refugee who inspired all: The life of Lady Jakobovits

Lady Amelie Jakobovits, known to all as Lady J, at a dinner
Lady Amelie Jakobovits, known to all as Lady J, at a dinner

A innovative new book on the extraordinary life of Lady Jakobovits tells the moving story of the former refugee who inspired all who knew her

Lady Amelie Jakobovits, known to all as Lady J, at a dinner

Outgoing, outspoken and devoted to others, Lady Amelie Jakobovits was once described as “walking sunshine” and won the affection of all UK Jews during her lifetime.

Now the late wife of Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, is the focus of a new book, Lady J: How One Woman Gave The Most Out of Life, and an accompanying film about her legacy.

Born in 1928 in Ansbach, Germany, the eldest daughter of Rabbi Eli Munk, she moved to Paris with her family before the war forced them to become international refugees.

Many years later when she met the Queen, Lady J expressed her awe and gratitude to God that someone who had been a hunted child refugee was now welcomed by royalty.

At the age of 20, she married Rabbi Jakobovits, then Chief Rabbi of Ireland. She arrived in Dublin speaking little English, but soon found herself fully involved with the 5,300-strong Jewish community in the Irish Republic.

The couple enjoyed a long and happy marriage and they had two sons and four daughters.

In 1967, Rabbi Jakobovits was appointed Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and in 1988 was elevated to the peerage by Margaret Thatcher. She and Lady J became firm friends.

Memories: The new tribute book to Lady J
Memories: The new tribute book to Lady J

Following the death of Lord Jakobovits in 1999, Lady J emerged as the “Queen Mother” of the Jewish community and selflessly devoted herself to a number of charities, including Yad Sarah, Emunah and Kisharon, as well as helping individuals.

When she passed away in 2010, a crowd of 5,000 mourners gathered on the streets outside her Hendon home. Linda Rosenblatt, vice-chairman for World Jewish Relief, recalls: “She really was like sunshine. You know the way the sun makes you happy on a grey day? That’s just what she was like. She was walking sunshine.”

Another letter of condolence written after her death says: “She was full of life, mischief, love and compassion. The breadth of her faith spread over disparate communities. She was the busiest person I ever met, but she had time for all of us.”

Lady J: How One Woman Gave The Most Out of Life, a collection of memories, tributes and life lessons from Lady Jakobovits, has been put together by Rabbi Naftali Schiff, founder of the Holocaust education charity JRoots, and the documentary produced by Legacy Live, the charity’s multimedia division.

Lady J with her husband, the former Chief Rabbi
Lady J with her husband, the former Chief Rabbi

Speaking of the documentary, Lady J: Spreading A little Sunshine, which premieres next month in the UK, Jerusalem and New York, Schiff said he wanted to produce something that was “more than a nostalgic film and biography”.

He added: “It needed to deliver the personality and values of one of our era’s great role models and communal leaders to future generations.

“Remarkable experiences inspire, remarkable people do so too. In a way Lady J was both of these at the same time.

“She was the role model of a devoutly-religious rebbetzin, combined with a chic sophistication and seamless integration with the modern world. Meeting Lady J was always an all-embracing, profound and memorable experience in itself. Her heart connected to every single Jew and beyond. Her weltanschaung was one of balance – strict adherence to tradition while navigating, with incredible finesse, the complexities and challenges of the modern world.”

Both the book and the documentary include a number of Lady J’s thoughts on life, including her philosophy on faith, peace in the community, having gratitude and loving others.

Lady J and friends from an inter-faith group doing what she was known for – ‘spreading a little sunshine’
Lady J and friends from an inter-faith group doing what she was known for – ‘spreading a little sunshine’

Of the latter, Lady J once said: “There’s no doubt that our lives were saved by French non-Jews. My attitude to the human race is that among all the peoples – even the worst – there are wonderful individuals.”

She also kept a list of “10 Commandments” for a happy marriage, which she displayed proudly on her fridge, including having respect, prioritising your spouse and knowing when to say “sorry”.

But equally Lady J was known for being pro-active and helping out wherever she was needed.

As Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis says in the book: “When Lady J thought of something important, she acted upon it immediately.

“There was barely a flicker of time from the moment the thought entered her mind to the moment she picked up the phone.

“She was a person of action and we can all learn from her. When you think of something that’s truly worthwhile, don’t wait. Just go out and do it.”

Schiff adds: “Flicking through the book’s pages, I am reminded with more than a tinge of sadness of just how much our world misses Lady J and all she stood for. Hers was a world of balanced Torah im Derech Eretz, a world of Menchlichkeit and love of every Jew and of mankind, a world in which many did manage to navigate appropriately and with added aplomb the challenges of being a devout Jew in a modern world. We can all learn so much from this great lady who achieved so much with little fuss and little pretence, with no patience for nonsense and much call to action.”

• ‘Lady J – How one woman gave the most out of life and how you can too’ is published by Legacy Live Productions. See


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