by Rachael Getzels
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
When tragedy hit Henny Levin’s family, her community synagogue was one of the few things that kept her going.
Twenty five years later Mrs Levin is bidding goodbye to a long career at Belsize Square Synagogue, first as head of Sunday School, and more recently as the synagogue administrator, although she will continue to volunteer in the Jewish community.
“It became my bigger family,” admits the 65-year-old, who was left alone with two young children when her husband unexpectedly died of a heart attack three weeks after her mother-in-law in 1983.
“The community was what I needed to get me through the dark days.
“They would phone me up and invite me to events.
“It’s difficult to go to things on your own under such circumstances, but I could feel comfortable in that group.”
Last Saturday the congregation held a retirement lunch to honour the cherished member who has seen so many families through their joys and sorrows.
During her time at the synagogue Mrs Levin, who originally trained in fashion, was in charge of organising everything from Holocaust memorial talks to the design of Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat for the musical.
She shares her memories of her years there with every family in the congregation.
Mrs Levin has been part of hundreds of weddings, seen decades of birthdays pass by, and helped others to grapple with tragedy.
“Being able to help people in their hour of need, just being there when people need someone to turn to, is a huge part,” she explains.
“What affects me the most is seeing all these children through their young years and then seeing them become directly involved with the community and carrying on the traditions – knowing that they’re the future generation in a congregation that was started by Holocaust survivors or refugees.”
Mrs Levin also worked outside the community, giving talks on Jewish symbolism at schools.
“I was contacted by the Frank Barnes School For Deaf Children and I said to them over the phone, how will I communicate with these children?.”
“But they told me not to worry.
“When the children came they walked around holding ritual objects and because they had to use sign language and lip-read, they were so attentive and so wonderful.
“It was the most amazing experience. It made me appreciate what we all have and what we can be.”