Woolf Abra­hams

The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITUARIES - MANNY ROBIN­SON


IT IS highly likely that the Il­ford Jewish Pri­mary School would never have got off the ground had it not been for the tenac­ity, en­thu­si­asm and sheer dogged­ness of Woolf Abra­hams and his fel­low cam­paign­ers.

The idea for the school was con­ceived at a meet­ing of the Il­ford Zion­ist So­ci­ety in the spring of 1956. Woolf ex­plained that there was no Jewish day school in the area for his one-year-old son Philip to at­tend in the fu­ture.

An ad-hoc com­mit­tee was set up to in­ves­ti­gate the pro­ject’s fea­si­bil­ity and a kinder­garten opened in 1960 in Il­ford United Syn­a­gogue, with Woolf’s wife, Eve­lyn, as chair­man and sec­re­tary.

The com­plex ne­go­ti­a­tions to ac­quire the land, money and plan­ning per­mis­sion took sev­eral years, and Woolf was ap­pointed chair­man of the lo­cal com­mit­tee and even­tu­ally chair­man of the school’s com­mit­tee.

The school build­ing was com­pleted in 1971, and was joined by Step­ney Jewish School, which trans­ferred its cap­i­tal and some of its pupils and staff there. When it opened there were some 700 ap­pli­ca­tions for the 180 places not al­ready filled.

When the Il­ford com­mit­tee first ap­proached the United Syn­a­gogue

Woolf Abra­hams: te­na­cious cam­paigner for Jewish pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion to help build the school they re­fused since pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion was al­ready avail­able through their part-time He­brew classes. They be­lieved they should con­cen­trate on the sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided at JFS in Cam­den.

When the build­ing of the school was well un­der­way Woolf ap­proached the US again, ask­ing them to be­come in­volved in the re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion in the school. Even­tu­ally they agreed. Woolf be­lieved that all the Jewish pri­mary schools with which the US later be­came in­volved was largely due to the Il­ford com­mit­tee’s in­flu­ence.

Woolf Abra­hams was the youngest of four chil­dren born to Sa­muel and He­len Abramovitch, an Ortho­dox cou­ple who came to the UK from Poland around 1912. His mother was ad­vised that He­len was not con­sid­ered a nice name in Eng­land and was called Yetta but the sur­name was changed to Abra­hams in 1934 when Woolf’s el­der sis­ter sought en­try into a Lon­don univer­sity.

Woolf, who de­vel­oped asthma, at­tended the Jewish Free School un­til the age of 13, when his for­mal ed­u­ca­tion ended with the out­break of the Sec­ond World War. He tried sev­eral jobs — in­clud­ing that of trainee ac­coun­tant where he was asked to wit­ness doc­u­ments as Wil­liam Avery, a nom de plume he kept for the rest of his life. Af­ter his fa­ther be­came ill he in­her­ited his tai­lor’s work­shop and en­rolled into the Academy of the Tai­lor and Cut­ter in the West End. Fi­nally he went into in­sur­ance.

Woolf met Eve­lyn Brand­man at FZY and they mar­ried in Oc­to­ber, 1948. Af­ter mov­ing to lford in 1955 he helped form three lo­cal youth move­ments – B’nei Akiva, Ha’Noar Ha’Zioni and FZY.

He chaired lford Dis­trict Syn­a­gogue He­brew classes for 10 years, serv­ing 1,000 pupils, and rep­re­sented the syn­a­gogue on the Lon­don Board of Re­li­gious Ed­u­ca­tion. He was also a gover­nor of the JFS sec­ondary school. In 2000 he helped form the Es­sex branch of the Jewish His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

The Abra­hams had adopted Philip as a baby, but in 1976 he trag­i­cally died from a heart at­tack while horse-rid­ing. Two years af­ter adopt­ing Philip they adopted a girl who they named He­len, Woolf’s mother’s orig­i­nal name.

Woolf be­came in­creas­ingly con­cerned at the po­lar­i­sa­tion within Ju­daism, and cam­paigned strongly against what he be­lieved to be too great an in­flu­ence by the Lubav­itch move­ment in the United Syn­a­gogue, de­spite his ad­mi­ra­tion for Lubav­itch’s over­seas out­reach work. The Abra­hams made aliyah in 2004, set­tling in Ne­tanya. But they spent their sum­mers near Maiden­head. He leaves his wife Eve­lyn, daugh­ter, He­len, and nine grand­chil­dren.

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