News of Rabbi Neil Kraft’s death from coronavirus shocked and saddened a community already weighted by misery and fear.
As minister of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, which has the biggest congregation in Europe, Kraft was beloved in a way most religious leaders can only dream about. The reasons for this were illustrated by the hundreds of condolence messages from members, visitors and those who knew him only by sight, extolling the virtues of a man dedicated to his community.
Bringing a smile to the faces of the young, old and even those who had given up on faith entirely was his mission and he wore his tallit like the cape of a superhero, sweeping in to humour disenchanted barmitzvah boys or share homemade chocolate vodka with colleagues who needed their spirits lifting, literally.
EHRS colleague Rabbi Emily Reistma-Jurman reflected on him turning Sunday cheder classes into a winter wonderland for the pupils by throwing snowballs at them.
That he was the one to initiate the fun perfectly illustrates his have-a-go philosophy, whether sharing recipes in his cookery column (Kraft’s Kooking Corner) for the shul magazine; wearing a symbolic tie for every festival or donning balloons to dress up as a woman for Purim.
But it was in moments of real sorrow that Rabbi Kraft truly came to the fore, as for him there was no shame in showing emotion while officiating at funerals and by shedding real tears mourners immediately felt connected to him.
How cruel it is that this man who gave everything to so many and offered solace to total strangers died alone on Friday night and was then buried on Tuesday without his family and friends in attendance because of corona restrictions. Ahead of officiating in unprecedented circumstances at Rabbi Kraft’s virtual funeral, Rabbi Reistma-Jurman said: “I know there are many people out there who will agree that they are better, kinder, more compassionate people because they knew him.”