BORN WHITECHAPEL, JULY 21, 1926. DIED NETANYA, ISRAEL, 29 AUGUST 29, 2015, AGED 89
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.