Harry Balkin

BORN LON­DON, DE­CEM­BER 7, 1920. DIED LON­DON, AU­GUST 3, 2009, AGED 88

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries -

HEAD­MAS­TER OF Il­ford Jewish Pri­mary School from 1975-85, Harry Balkin in­tro­duced gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren to “the de­lights of Ju­daism, lit­er­acy, nu­mer­acy, arts and good man­ners”.

Hu­mor­ous, en­thu­si­as­tic, unas­sum­ing but firm, he in­cul­cated a sense of Jewish iden­tity and in­volve­ment.

The youngest child of Lithua­nian im­mi­grants, Harry moved at two from the East End to the docks at Canning Town where his par­ents, Joseph and Re­becca, ran a small gen­eral store. At three, he and his late broth­ers, Alec and Sam, sur­vived a house fire in which his 16-year-old sis­ter died.

Along­side ele­men­tary school, he stud­ied He­brew at the cheder of the East End’s Great Gar­den Street (Fed­er­a­tion) Syn­a­gogue. He left school at 14 and taught chil­dren He­brew, at­tend­ing night school at Yeshivah Etz Chaim.

His fa­ther, a mem­ber of the small Canning Town Fed­er­a­tion shul, in­tended his sons for the rab­binate but they vol­un­teered for the army in the Sec­ond World War. Harry was a lance bom­bardier in the Royal Ar­tillery.

He took part in the 1944 D-Day land­ings and served in north­ern Europe. He never for­got the ex­pe­ri­ence of en­ter­ing Ber­gen-Belsen, where he made life­long friends with a War­saw-born in­mate, whose wife he helped trace.

Set on a teach­ing ca­reer af­ter the war, he worked for the In­land Rev­enue in 1946 while wait­ing to en­ter Wandsworth Train­ing Col­lege. On qual­i­fy­ing, he started his life­long ca­reer at Step­ney Jewish School, which be­came a pri­mary school in the post-war changes.

His pro­gres­sive ideas in­cluded us­ing art and drama for chil­dren from non-ob­ser­vant homes to learn and en­joy Ju­daism and Jewish cul­ture.

In the post-war de­cline of East End Jewry, the 100-year-old school re­lo­cated in 1970 with 40 pupils to Bark­ing­side, Es­sex, as Il­ford Jewish Pri­mary School. Harry Balkin was deputy head.

He be­came head­mas­ter in 1975, on his pre­de­ces­sor’s re­tire­ment. His own re­tire­ment 10 years later fol­lowed the open­ing of a new wing which ex­panded pupil num­bers from 370 to 480.

Par­al­lel with main­stream teach­ing, he was head of three syn­a­gogue-based He­brew classes, in­clud­ing Tot­ten­ham, an­other Fed­er­a­tion shul. He moved there with his mother in 1953, five years af­ter his fa­ther’s death, to be near his broth­ers.

He staged Purim and Chanu­cah plays there, taught barmitzvah boys, in­tro­duced eshet chayil cer­e­monies for girls, and was also the shul’s trea­surer and vice-pres­i­dent, and High Holy Days of­fi­ciant. His wife, Pauline Cram­mer of Le­ices­ter, whom he mar­ried in 1959, chaired the ladies’ guild.

His mother died in 1966 and the fam­ily moved to Palmers Green and South­gate (United) Syn­a­gogue, whose cheder he had headed even ear­lier. He was war­den for nine years, served on the board of man­age­ment, sang in choir, gave Yid­dish lessons and con­ducted ser­vices for pa­tients at Fri­ern Hospi­tal.

When the school moved to Il­ford, he be­came head of Il­ford (United) Syn­a­gogue’s 300-strong He­brew classes. He also took chil­dren from the school and B’nai B’rith Step­ney Set­tle­ment to Jewish hol­i­day cen­tres on the south coast.

As he dis­liked driv­ing, he used his travel time on three buses to write award-winning plays, po­ems, sto­ries and ar­ti­cles.

At his fi­nal home in Radlett, Hert­ford­shire, from 2000, he gave barmitzvah lessons, lec­tured and served a year on the shul board of man­age­ment. He also coached pupils in He­brew read­ing at Hertsmere Jewish Pri­mary School.

He is sur­vived by his wife, Pauline; chil­dren, Es­ther and Brian, both for­mer IJPS pupils; and four grand­chil­dren.

PHOTO: PETER FISHER

Com­mit­ted head Harry Balkin

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