William Frankel


The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITUARIES -

AS­TRONG AND ef­fec­tive ed­i­tor, William Frankel was re­spon­si­ble for a revo­lu­tion in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Jewish Chron­i­cle and the An­gloJewish es­tab­lish­ment a half-cen­tury ago, writes Ge­of­frey Al­der­man.

As gen­eral man­ager from 1955-58 and ed­i­tor from 1958-77, Frankel dis­pensed with the niceties of a past in which An­glo-Jewry’s old­est and pre­mier news­pa­per had tamely re­ported — or not re­ported — what the es­tab­lish­ment wanted the rank-and-file to know, or not to know.

His finest hour came in 1961, when, break­ing the news of the prac­ti­cally en­forced res­ig­na­tion of Rabbi Dr Louis Ja­cobs from the staff of Jews’ Col­lege, Frankel fear­lessly chal­lenged and tore up the con­ven­tion that, save for the most mi­nor of quib­bles, the JC al­ways sup­ported two bas­tions of the es­tab­lish­ment, the United Syn­a­gogue and Chief Rab­binate. But in other ways, too, he steered the JC into mod­ern times.

Frankel came from an im­pec­ca­ble Ortho­dox Jewish back­ground. The sec­ond of three sons, he was born in Whitechapel in 1917 to par­ents who had re­cently em­i­grated from Gali­cia.

His fa­ther ran a mar­ket stall in Pet­ti­coat Lane be­fore be­com­ing shammes to var­i­ous shtiebls and shuls. He grew to man­hood in a Chas­sidic en­vi­ron­ment but his at­ten­dance, first at the nearby Jews’ Free School and later at St-Ge­orge’s-in-the-East Cen­tral School, ex­posed him to a much wider mi­lieu.

At­tracted by medicine, he stud­ied for a year at the Re­gent Street Polytech­nic but could not han­dle the physics or find long-term fund­ing.

He moved to Davenant Foun­da­tion School to ma­tric­u­late in clas­sics in or­der to qual­ify for Jews’ Col­lege, then took a se­ries of lowly jobs be­fore be­com­ing sec­re­tary of Mizrachi, the re­li­gious Zion­ist move­ment.

Mar­ried to Gertrude Reed in 1939, but ex­cluded from mil­i­tary ser­vice on med­i­cal grounds, he and his wife es­caped the Blitz by mov­ing to Cam­bridge, where the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics had also been evac­u­ated.

At the LSE-in-ex­ile, Frankel com­pleted a law de­gree and met a ris­ing gen­er­a­tion of Jewish in­tel­lec­tu­als. Called to the Bar in 1944, for the next decade he was a suc­cess­ful bar­ris­ter.

He might have re­mained in the le­gal pro­fes­sion. But as the English correspondent of the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee, an­other paid com­mu­nal post, he met David Kessler, head of the con­trol­ling share­hold­ing fam­ily of the JC. In 1954 Kessler asked Frankel to be­come the pa­per’s gen­eral man­ager. Frankel ac­cepted the chal­lenge. He took over as ed­i­tor four years later.

In 1954 the JC was edited by an iras­ci­ble Man­cu­nian, John Shaftes­ley, a printer by trade. Shaftes­ley’s approach was unashamedly for­mu­laic. Though not afraid, on oc­ca­sion, to crit­i­cise the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment (over Pales­tine) or the state of Is­rael (over reprisals for Is­lamic ter­ror­ist at­tacks), Shaftes­ley took care not to rock too many boats.

No­to­ri­ously, in the 1956 Suez cri­sis, Shaftes­ley went out of his way to d e f e n d J e wi s h Labour MPs who meekly fol­lowed the Labour Party line in con­demn­ing Is­rael’s at­tack on Egypt.

In 1958 Shaftes­ley was “kicked up­stairs” — made an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and sent back to Manch­ester to take charge of the JC- owned Jewish Gazette.

Se­cure now in the ed­i­tor’s chair, Frankel set about re­cruit­ing a team of younger, anti-es­tab­lish­ment jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing Chaim Ber­mant and Al­fred Sher­man. He ex­panded the JC’s cov­er­age of for­eign af­fairs, arts and en­ter­tain­ment.

Ty­po­graph­i­cally, the JC was com­pletely re­designed but, more im­por­tantly, its con­tent was re­fo­cused onto the ten­sions and tribu­la­tions ex­pe­ri­enced by an An­glo-Jewish com­mu­nity that was fast be­com­ing po­larised, plu­ralised and dys­func­tional.

As far as Frankel was con­cerned, there were no sa­cred cows. He be­came in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of Is­raeli pol­icy in JudeaandSa­maria,buthis­most­barbed edi­to­ri­als were aimed at the Board of Deputies (which he con­demned as a piece of “ob­so­lete ma­chin­ery”) and the United Syn­a­gogue (whose plan for a mas­sive “cathe­dral syn­a­gogue” at Mar­ble Arch he dis­missed as ir­rel­e­vant to the needs of the An­glo-Jewish masses in post-war Bri­tain).

In Jan­uary 1961 he brazenly ac­cepted — as an “act of cour­tesy” — a sum­mons from the United Syn­a­gogue’s Beth Din to an­swer the charge that, in run­ning an ar­ti­cle crit­i­cal of the views of Ortho­dox rab­bis on mixed danc­ing, he had brought Ju­daism into dis­re­pute. Frankel was com­pletely un­apolo­getic.

On De­cem­ber 22, 1961, Frankel broke the “Ja­cobs’ af­fair” — the res­ig­na­tion of Rabbi Dr Louis Ja­cobs as lec­turer from Jews’ Col­lege, fol­low­ing Chief Rabbi Is­rael Brodie’s re­fusal to hon­our an un­writ­ten agree­ment to ap­point him prin­ci­pal. Ja­cobs’s re­cent book had ques­tioned the lit­eral un­der­stand­ing of God’s reve­la­tion to Moses on Mount Si­nai as de­scribed in the book of Ex­o­dus.

To the in­tense anger of both Brodie and his suc­ces­sor, Dr Im­manuel Jakobovits, Frankel, pre­oc­cu­pied with the rise of an in­tol­er­ant ul­tra-Or­tho­doxy, never flinched from his sup­port of the per­se­cuted Ja­cobs, whom he rightly de­clared to be ev­ery bit as Ortho­dox as the late Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz.

He was among the core group of New West End Syn­a­gogue mem­bers (Ja­cobs’s pul­pit prior to his Jews’ Col­lege post) who es­tab­lished the break­away New Lon­don Syn­a­gogue in 1964 as a spir­i­tual home for Ja­cobs.

Ap­pointed CBE in 1970, Frankel re­tired from the ed­i­tor­ship in 1977 but re­mained di­rec­tor of its par­ent com­pany till 1995, serv­ing as chair­man from 1991-94. He dis­liked col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and, as chair­man, dere­cog­nised the JC’s Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists “chapel”. Union recog­ni­tion re­turned af­ter his chair­man­ship.

Al­though he said at the be­gin­ning of his ed­i­tor­ship that he had no train­ing for the job, his con­cise and legally trained mind was ap­par­ent from his co­gently ar­gued lead­ers. He con­tin­ued writ­ing af­ter re­tir­ing as ed­i­tor, con­tribut­ing to The Times (of Lon­don) and The States­man (of In­dia). He es­tab­lished a prize for young writ­ers in me­mory of his film-critic daugh­ter, Anne, from his first mar­riage, who died in 1989.

He edited Fri­day Nights (1973), a JC an­thol­ogy, and the an­nual Sur­vey of Jewish Af­fairs from 1982-92, but wrote his own book, Is­rael Ob­served (1980), while a spe­cial ad­viser to The Times over a pe­riod cov­er­ing that pa­per’s 1979 strike.

His mem­oir, Tea with Ein­stein and Other Mem­o­ries (2006), re­called his sur­prise visit in 1947 to Al­bert Ein­stein.

He con­tin­ued his le­gal in­ter­ests as pres­i­dent of the Men­tal Health Re­view Ap­peal Tri­bunal and chair­man of the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ap­peal Tri­bunal from 1978-89, hav­ing al­ready served as JP from 1963-69.

In the aca­demic field he was visit­ing pro­fes­sor at the Jewish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Amer­ica in 1968-69, vi­cepres­i­dent of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search from 1993, and a gov­er­nor at both Ox­ford and Cam­bridge He­brew study cen­tres. He was a clear and pop­u­lar speaker and lec­turer, whether on BBC ra­dio or to Amer­i­can stu­dents.

Di­vorced in 1971, he mar­ried Amer­i­can di­vorcee Claire Neuman in 1973. Af­ter leav­ing the JC board, he di­vided his time be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Lon­don.

He is sur­vived by his sec­ond wife; a son, John, from his first mar­riage; three step­daugh­ters and five grand­chil­dren.

Two edi­tors and a chair­man: William Frankel ( cen­tre) with then JC chair­man David Kessler ( right) and fu­ture ed­i­tor Ge­of­frey Paul in 1976

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