The Queen and us

The Queen and us

To mark the Queen's birthday, we talk to three members of the Jewish community who share her age, to reflect on their journeys

Caron Kemp is a freelance journalist

The Queen’s 90th birthday festivities began in April and will culminate this weekend with her official celebrations.

We talk to three members of the Jewish community who share her age who reflect on the journeys their lives have taken

Meet Dr Sydney Kanter, Leonard Finkle and Sonia Burns who tell their stories.

Dr Sydney Kanter



“I spent my formative years with my parents and brother in Clapham before being called up to the army, where I worked as a pathology lab technician stationed in Gibraltar.

“When I was released, I initially wanted to become a doctor but I struggled to find a medical school able to take me on in London, so I began my dentistry training in the capital instead. This led me to setting up my own practice in Ilford, where I worked for most of my adult life.

“I met my wife, Rosalind, at a Maccabi summer school in Taunton, Somerset, and we married in Dublin in 1955; following which we had two children.

Dr Sydney Canter, pottery at Jewish Care's Michael Sobell Community Centre“Now I live alone, with a carer for support, in Edgware and am a member of the Michael Sobell Community Centre in Golders Green. I particularly enjoy sculpting lessons there, as I have always been artistic and enjoyed drawing and painting, but this is something different and challenging.

“I don’t know if there is any special way to guarantee a long and happy life, but I definitely do think it is so important to count your blessings and be satisfied with what you have. There are always people worse off than you and acknowledging that and taking this attitude alleviates a lot of stress in life.”

Leonard Finkle


leonard finkle1

“Having been born and raised in Hackney, I left school at the age of 14 and went to work before being called up to the army when I was 18.

“After training in nursing at Clifton College in Bristol, I was part of the medical corps sent out to India, where I spent four years specialising in blood transfusions.

“I made it my business to relish my experience; I was aware that I was unlikely ever to return and I have many fond memories of my time there.

“Possibly most significantly, I once had the pleasure of the company of Gandhi when we travelled in the same train carriage on a journey from Bombay to Calcutta, but unfortunately I didn’t talk to him.

“On my return to the UK, I again set up home with my parents in east London, but left my nursing career behind in favour of the more lucrative shoe industry.

“Nevertheless, I dedicated 15 years during that time to volunteering as a first aider for the British Red Cross, which led to me being invited to the annual garden party at Buckingham Palace.

“My greatest regret in life is most certainly never marrying. I was very fussy about it and wanted to find a nice Jewish girl, but I never did.

“That said, I put my long and happy life down to remaining single.
Definitely for me, the secret to good health at 90 has been dodging marriage. I moved in to the Lady Sarah Cohen House in Friern Barnet two years ago and I really enjoy listening to music and sitting in the gardens here.

“Many people say progress should be embraced, but I believe children nowadays are missing out on traditional fun and the simple life.

“I am proud to say I have never owned a mobile phone. I’ve lasted this long without one and my friends know where I am if they need me.”

Sonia Burns



sonia burns1

“My father was a cabinet maker, but when I was about six my mother had a yearning to start her own business. She found a drapery shop in Bethnal Green and moved us from Hackney to start a new life.

“I was 14 when we were bombed out of our shop and our home. We lost everything in the blink of an eye and moved to Marlow.

“At 17 I met my husband, Jack, and before too long we were married and had three children. In 1959, we took an empty shop in Eastwood and for 10 years we ran it as an off-licence before transforming it into a small family pub.

“Jack passed away in 1992. It was a terrible time, but I realised it was up to me to pull myself up again.

“I just feel so grateful for my children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. I live independently in Southend, but I attend the Jewish Day Centre socially.

“I am just as proud to be English as Jewish and love and appreciate all the Queen gives to our country.

“Just yesterday, though, the foxes knocked over my vegetable box and at 8.30am I was clearing the lawn.

“It made me think: ‘I know the Queen can ride a horse, but can she clean up a mess like this?!’”

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