Jackie Lawson was among the 10 percent Jewish quota allowed to attend the City
of London School for Girls. Born in 1939, her formative years coincided with
World War II. But she didn’t truly feel anti-Semitism until after high school, a
few weeks into her actuarial training with a prominent insurance
“I told them I wouldn’t be in for Rosh Hashana and was told that
was ‘not acceptable,’ even though I did not expect to be paid. I asked what
happened to other Jewish people employed there, and the answer was, ‘We don’t
make a habit of employing Jews.’ I still recall those words vividly,” says
Lawson, who gave notice the next day.
It is ironic that this most
memorable incident took place in England, considering that Lawson and her
husband, Stanley, went on to live for a total of 28 peaceful years in Munich. It
was in Germany that they developed their strong Israel affiliation.
Lawson eventually became a buyer in the women’s hosiery department at
Marks & Spencer. She married Stanley, whom she’d known since their
youth-club days, in 1961 at the Walm Lane Synagogue in Cricklewood. “Then
we bought a little ‘doll’s’ house,” she says.
After seven years, their
first daughter, Debbie, was born, followed two years later by Leah, and finally
Jessica, 20 months later. When the youngest was about six months old, Lawson
started a two-year training process to become a marriage guidance counselor. She
fondly recalls one of her clients, a couple who couldn’t conceive despite having
no medical problems. After counseling, the woman became pregnant and then
referrals started rolling in.
But this career was short-lived because
Stanley, a financial adviser, announced that a major client in Munich wanted him
to relocate there. “I was resistant, but the employer was insistent,”
says Lawson. “So we went for a weekend and I agreed to try it for three to five
years. We ended up living there from 1975 to 1987.”
Lawson’s life soon
came to revolve around leadership roles in the international school her children
attended. A few Israeli families were also living in Munich, including employees
of the Citrus Marketing Board, El Al Israel Airlines, the Israeli consulate and
the Zim shipping line.
“The Jewish community was very strange because
they were the leftovers from the DP [displaced persons] camps,” she explains.
During two exploratory visits to the main synagogue, where nobody greeted them,
the Lawsons found their Jewish “home” at the chapel of the US army
They rented a house Lawson described as “Bavarian baroque,” which
had been built by a Nazi Party official. After the war it was requisitioned by
the US Army and put on the market in 1949. One day, the wife of the original
owner showed up wishing to see the house. Not realizing that Lawson knew German,
she commented to her companion as she looked up at the ceiling, “I see the
swastika isn’t here anymore.”
“The hair on my arms stood up,” Lawson
ON TO ISRAEL
Because her parents “were not amused” by the
family’s move to Munich, Lawson promised to meet them in Israel whenever they
came on tours in support of their favorite charity, Boys Town Jerusalem. The
Lawsons made their first visit to Israel in December 1975.
“We were quite
taken with Israel and started coming fairly often,” she says. “We had a good
life in Munich, but I got to a stage where I realized London was no more my home
than Germany, and Germany sure as hell wasn’t my home. In 1984, we came to
Israel for the first time without our children, and our friends here urged us to
find a holiday home.”
The day before their departure, they saw an
apartment in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood – the same one they live in
today – and phoned a lawyer on their way to the airport.
later, they became the proud owners of the lovely three-bedroom flat, near the
Hebrew University. They thought of it as a summer home at first, but just three
years later made the move permanent. “Our kids hated us for it,” Lawson
confides. “There were many tearful days.”
Debbie, then 19, shortly
thereafter departed for London, and now lives in Germany. The two younger girls
unhappily attended an ulpan – when they weren’t playing hooky – and then the
Denmark School. “They couldn’t wait to leave, but 24 years later they are still
here, one in Modi’in and one in Reut,” Lawson says. She now enjoys a close
relationship with her seven grandchildren.
Looking for an outlet for
Leah’s singing talent, the Lawsons came across JEST (Jerusalem English Speaking
Theater). “Stan and I became scenery-schleppers, costume-sewers – anything they
needed,” she says. Every time she visited Germany, she brought something back
for JEST productions, items from stage makeup to popgun rifles for Annie Get
“Stan was in a show, and I got talked into doing Steel
,” Lawson recalls. She had to take on a tutor originally from Louisiana
to learn a proper Southern US accent for the part of the mayor’s wife. “It was a
lot of fun, but I could never remember my lines,” she confesses. In the
meantime, she wasn’t having much better luck at ulpan. “I went three times a
week from 1988 to 1991, and I had to be the ulpan’s biggest failure,” she says.
“I was disappointed with myself, but I had mostly English-speaking friends so I
got on fine.”
INTERLUDE IN GERMANY
When the Berlin Wall came down,
Stanley Lawson’s company started pressuring him to return to Munich. So in 1991,
the couple went back and stayed for 16 years. Lawson became active in the Munich
branch of the International Women’s Club, and in 1997 she organized a trip to
Israel for about 30 members. She led another in 1999 that included a side trip
“Then at some point we just decided it was time to come back to
Israel,” she says. “We felt strongly we wanted to be here.” The women in her
club persuaded her to arrange a third Israel tour once she moved back. “People
wanted to start bringing their husbands, and we did a wonderful trip with guys
as well in 2010, and again in March 2011,” she says. “For me the biggest
kick was to send back 28 international visitors, who would say, ‘You know what?
Israel is a fantastic place.”
Lawson’s home is decorated with her
own oil paintings and a few pieces of the pottery she is learning to make. She
plays bridge on Sundays, works out three times a week and goes with Stanley to a
JEST play-reading group twice a month.
On Mondays, Lawson volunteers at
the nearby Hadassah University Medical Center Mount Scopus campus. She sews
therapeutic gloves, slings and fabric gadgets for patients in the occupational
therapy department. Friday mornings usually find the couple at Mahaneh Yehuda
market, and Shabbat dinner is often shared with their daughters’
The Lawsons are well-traveled, having visited Vietnam, the US,
the British Isles, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, Jordan and
Poland. “One place I still think about going is Australia,” Lawson
But Israel, she says, is where she feels at home.