Obituary: Rabbi Harry Jacobi MBE

Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi
25 July 2019

My father, Rabbi Harry Jacobi, who has died aged 93, escaped from the Nazis twice before coming to Britain as a refugee. A vice-president of Liberal Judaism, he touched many lives through his compassion.

Harry was born in Berlin as Heinz Martin Hirschberg, to Eugene, a businessman, and his wife, Margarete (nee Jacobi). He spent his early childhood in the town of Auerbach until, denied access to a grammar school by the Nazis, he returned to Berlin to attend the Theodor Herzl school.

His bar mitzvah was the last held at the Friedenstempel, just before Kristallnacht in 1938. The following January, he was sent to Amsterdam and was among 74 children rescued from there by Truus Wijsmuller-Meijer.

On arrival in Britain, he stayed in a refugee hostel in Manchester, where his lifelong passion for classical music was kindled by Hallé Orchestra concerts. He then served with the Royal Kent Fusiliers and the Jewish Brigade.

After demobilisation, having adopted his mother’s name, he returned to Amsterdam. In 1949, he attended a conference of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and was inspired by Rabbi Leo Baeck to become a rabbi himself. This meant studying part time to complete his education, which had been interrupted at the age of 13, and acquire a degree in Hebrew.

In 1957, Harry married Rose Solomon, from Bombay (Mumbai), who had been his penpal. He began his rabbinic career at Southgate Progressive Synagogue, north London, in 1956. A pioneer of interfaith relations, he was a founder of the Southgate branch of the Council of Christians and Jews.

He moved to Wembley Liberal Synagogue in 1975 and then in 1982 to Zurich, Switzerland. On retirement he became chair of the Liberal Beit Din, responsible for accepting people into Judaism. Many converts have testified to the warm welcome to Judaism he gave them in this capacity.

In 2016, Harry visited the Calais refugee camp in France with Lord (Alf) Dubs and was inspired to campaign with Safe Passage for child refugees, saying: “There shouldn’t be any restrictions at all to saving lives when you can save lives.”

He made a short video for Unicef, Harry and Ahmed, and spoke frequently at schools and Holocaust memorial events.

Harry was appointed MBE in 2006 for services to the Jewish community. His resilience and optimism, especially in caring for Rose and their son, David, before their deaths from dementia in 2014 and 2016, were inspirational.

He is survived by his children Richard and me, and by his grandchildren, Joshua, Abigail, Hannah, Yoni and Tali, and great-grandchildren, Zachary and Harry.

Click here to read the obituary in The Guardian  

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