One of Anglo-Jewry’s most influential leaders, Brian Kerner, died this week aged 84.
A president of UJIA and former vice-president of the Zionist Federation, Mr Kerner was also chair of the Fair Play Campaign Group until 2016.
A pharmacist by profession who became managing director of the chemists’ chain, Underwoods, Mr Kerner had many communal roles and is credited with helping to create Bicom, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. After the Second Intifada in 2000, Mr Kerner, who had formerly chaired the old Joint Israel Appeal, argued that there was the need “for a body able to orchestrate British Jewry’s political and public relations”.
He also helped to bring Jewish Continuity on board to form the new organisation, UJIA, and served as the first chair of the merged charity between 1994 and 1998. Michael Wegier, the chief executive of UJIA, said Mr Kerner had been “passionate” about Israel, and was particularly involved in the organisation’s work in the Galilee. A primary school in Me’ona in the northern Galilee was re-named the Kerner School in honour of his work.
Lord Kestenbaum who was UJIA chief executive when Brian was chairman, said: “Brian Kerner was a towering figure of great distinction and immense charm. A leader who was uniquely respected, admired and loved right across British Jewry. He was a gracious, generous and compassionate man who enhanced our lives and illuminated the world. I feel blessed to have been his comrade and his friend for twenty five unbroken years. In all that time, his priorities were unwavering – his family, his community, Israel and the Jewish world”.
Mr Wegier told Jewish News: “Brian was a really lovely man. He is our first former chairman to die and he will be much missed”. He had attended UJIA’s most recent fund-raising dinner in September 2018, Mr Wegier said.
Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, paid tribute saying: Brian Kerner was one of the finest of our community leaders, passionately committed to Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish future. He was a delightful human being, always positive, encouraging, sensitive and good humoured. It was a privilege and pleasure to work with him and he will be deeply missed. Elaine and I send our condolences to his wife Sylvia and his children.
Paying tribute to him on Friday, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, said the Board was “greatly saddened” at his death, describing him as “part of the extended family” of the deputies. She said he and past Board presidents Henry Grunwald, Vivian Wineman and Jonathan Arkush had worked closely together, and that he was a “great advocate for Israel and Jewish causes”.
Mr Kerner, survived by his wife Sylvie and three adult children, also served on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency.
Brian’s funeral took place on Sunday.