Miriam Sopel

BORN LON­DON, APRIL 11, 1927. DIED LON­DON, APRIL 14, 2008, AGED 81.

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITUARIES -

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

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