BORN LONDON, APRIL 11, 1927. DIED LONDON, APRIL 14, 2008, AGED 81.
AS RESIDENT warden of the Oxford and St George’s Settlement Jewish Youth Club in Stepney from 1952-70, Miriam Sopel wore many guises.
She was social worker, agony aunt, club leader, concert organiser and carer to the students who came and lived at the settlement — bed and board being given in return for help with the youth clubs.
Officially, Miriam was deputy warden to her late husband, Myer, always known as Sos, whom she married in 1954. He had grown up and graduated through the club.
The O St G, as all the club members called it, was part-home and part-refuge for the Jewish community in austere, post-war Britain. It gave them an opportunity to learn leadership skills, gain self-confidence and believe that dreams and ambitions could indeed come true. Miriam and Sos worked tirelessly to support, encourage and nurture the many hundreds of young people who passed through the front door of the massive red-brick building, Bernhard Baron House (named after a donor), in Henriques Street — renamed in honour of the settlement’s founder, Sir Basil Henriques.
But nothing in her upbringing suggested this was the route she would follow. Born Miriam Lazarus, she was brought up on a farm in Essex and at nine contracted polio. After nearly a year in hospital, her doctors told her she would never walk again and would be confined to a wheelchair.
They were proved right — but only seven decades later. She was a doughty fighter and though she walked with a pronounced limp and could never run, it was not until the final year of her life that she succumbed, reluctantly, to a wheelchair.
A big woman with a big personality, she was feisty, fun-loving and cultured. She played the piano at the club’s many ambitious theatrical productions, marshalling the youngsters into place to sing their hearts out.
When she retired with her husband — he died in 1987 — she became a case worker for an educational charity, the Buttle Trust, and eventually its director.
But she had already started her 33 years’ service as a magistrate on the Inner London bench in 1964, and was chairman from 1989 until she retired eight years later, aged 70. She was appointed MBE in 1998.
Despite being told by her physicians in her youth that she would never be able to have children, she is survived by a daughter, Rosalind; son, Jonathan; and four grandchildren.
Miriam Sopel: universal aunt