Tributes paid to Kinder and Liberal Rabbi Harry Jacobi, who dies aged 93
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Tributes paid to Kinder and Liberal Rabbi Harry Jacobi, who dies aged 93

German-born progressive leader praised for his 'thoughtful sermons at memorial services' and being a passionate Shoah educator

Rabbi Harry Jacobi
Rabbi Harry Jacobi

Tributes have been paid to the revered Liberal Judaism vice-president and Kindertransport refugee rabbi Harry Jacobi z”l, who passed away this morning.

“It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of Rabbi Harry Jacobi z”l earlier this morning,” Liberal Judaism wrote on social media.

“Our condolences and prayers go to the Jacobi family. We will be posting tributes and memories of Harry over the coming days.”

Born Heinz Hirschberg, he celebrated his Barmitzvah at Berlin’s Friedenstempel Synagogue – 18 days before it was destroyed on Kristallnacht.

Fleeing Nazi persecution, he left his parents behind and escaped to Amsterdam at the age of 13, where he caught diphtheria in an internment camp in Rotterdam and lived in an orphanage.

Rabbi Harry Jacobi with Lord Dubs in Calais

When the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940, a non-Jewish woman called Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer persuaded the ship captain of The Bodegraven to take Jacobi, 40 children and several adults on board.

The Bodegraven, which was the last ship out of Holland, was hit by machine-gun fire from German planes – forcing Jacob to seek shelter under a life boat.

After surviving the journey, Jacobi spent the war-years in Manchester, where he worked as a mechanic and lived in a hostel.

His grandparents, parents, aunt, uncle and a cousin were murdered at the hand of the Nazi regime.

But he went on to serve Southgate Progressive Synagogue, Wembley and District Liberal Synagogue and finally the Zurich Progressive community.

Retiring in England, he became active in the Liberal Judaism movement and was chair of its Rabbinic Conference and for many years the Beit Din.

Rabbi Harry Jacobi speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day

Jacobi received an MBE in 2006, in recognition of his contribution to the Jewish community and interfaith relations.

Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi Danny Rich said: “I will always remember Harry as my teacher, friend and colleague. Harry was, for me, what being a Liberal Rabbi was all about.

“His spiritual presence has been, and remains a towering one for his family, his communities and the Liberal Jewish movement.”

Michael Newman, of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR), said: “We are deeply saddened at the passing of Rabbi Harry Jacobi, who was a stalwart AJR member.

“Harry will be remembered with great fondness for his thoughtful sermons at memorial services and as a passionate educator about the Kindertransport and the Holocaust.”

Rabbi Harry Jacobi

Steward Spivack, chair of the East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue, said: “Our condolences and prayers go out to Rabbi Richard Jacobi and the rest of the family, as well the many members or friends of the wider Liberal Jewish movement who, like ELELS, will be mourning the loss of so valued a member of our community.”

Dr Edie Friedman, executive director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, said: “Rabbi Jacobi was the archetypal mensch – he conveyed a real generosity of spirit both on a personal level and in his commitment to justice and fairness to today’s refugees, never forgetting his own refugee past.”.

Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl  said: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Rabbi Harry Jacobi.

“Having arrived on the Kindertransport, Rabbi Jacobi served his community with loyalty and dedication and was a tireless Holocaust educator and campaigner for the rights of refugees. He will be sorely missed.”

Chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust Karen Pollock MBE, said: “We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Kindertransport refugee Rabbi Harry Jacobi.

Rabbi Jacobi has spent much of his career working hard to educate about the Holocaust, sharing his experience as a refugee with others, including speaking to schools. He will be sadly missed.”

Writing for the Jewish News in 2015, Jacobi wrote: “We must become more inclusive than exclusive, encourage and enable those who wish to join us.

“We must say ‘Yes’ instead of the prevalent ‘No’. Permit rather than forbid.”

The Liberal Jewish Synagogue is holding prayers in his memory at 8pm on April 29, with another service at Southgate Progressive Shul at 8pm the next day.

The funeral will take place at Golders Green Crematorium on Hoop Lane on April 29 at 3pm.

Jacobi is survived by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and his children Richard and Margaret.

His children will be holding services in his memory at their respective homes in Enfield and Birmingham at 8pm on May 1.

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