Grapevine: A multifaceted lady

Lady J, a natural-born social worker, helped countless people with their problems.

Ruth Gruber (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Ruth Gruber
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THERE HAVE been many great and courageous women in the history of the Jewish people, but few of them came to public attention prior to the 20th century – when a relatively large number of Jewish women embedded their own individual cracks in the glass ceiling in far-flung fields.
And there is one woman who didn’t really specialize in anything but excelled in many areas and was a source of inspiration to everyone who met her. Fondly referred to as Lady J, she was Amelie Jakobovits, the wife of Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, chief rabbi of the UK from 1967 to 1991 and the first rabbi to sit in the House of Lords.
JRoots, an organization established to engage in meaningful forays into Jewish history through knowledge of people and places, will host a Lady J Film Premiere and Book Launch at the Begin Heritage Center on Wednesday, January 20, at 7:45 p.m. The NIS 125 entrance fee includes a copy of the book and one DVD per family. Reservations:
Lady J was a true citizen of the world. Born to a rabbinical family in Bavaria in May 1928, she fled with her family to France following the rise of Nazism in Germany. But when the Nazis conquered France, the family was again forced to flee and headed for the Swiss border.
Just as they were approaching it, the baby began to cry, endangering all of them. Miraculously, the sound alerted Swiss border guards, who helped the family to safety.
They returned to Paris after the war, and in 1949 a family friend suggested that Amelie Munk should meet and marry Immanuel Jakobovits; they became engaged after their third meeting. He was scholarly, reserved and somewhat introverted. She was outgoing and outspoken but kind and considerate of others. She took over much of her husband’s community work wherever he was serving.
Almost immediately after their wedding, he was appointed chief rabbi of Ireland and subsequently chief rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York. He then became chief rabbi of the UK and the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
Lady J, a natural-born social worker, helped countless people with their problems. For instance, she was among the leaders of the first marches in the struggle for Soviet Jewry.
She worked for the Association of United Synagogue Women, which she founded, and supported numerous organizations such as Yad Sarah, Emunah and WIZO. She formed firm friendships inside and outside the Jewish community; one of her closest friends was Margaret Thatcher.
Lady J was also a marvelous raconteur. She loved to tell the story of how it was possible to tell which food was kosher and which was not when she and her husband were invited to dine at Buckingham Palace or with the British prime minister. A new set of crockery was always opened up for them and was identical to that used by the royal family and other guests or at 10 Downing Street. The kosher menu was also identical to that being served to everyone else, the difference being that because the kosher caterer was obviously Jewish, those portions were much larger.
Following the death of her husband in 1999, Lady J continued with her community activities until her own death in May 2010.
ON TUESDAY, the Tamar Chapter of Hadassah will screen a documentary film on the remarkable life of journalist Ruth Gruber, who at age 104 still has all her faculties.
One of five children born in New York to Russian immigrant parents, she was a brilliant student. After obtaining degrees at universities in America, she went to Germany in 1931 on an International Education Institute fellowship and earned her PhD at the University of Cologne, where she studied German philosophy, modern English literature and art history. As far as is known, she was the youngest person in the world to receive a doctorate, at the age of 20.
She had witnessed the rise of Nazism during her time in Germany, and after completing her studies and returning to the US, she began writing for The New York Herald Tribune for which she subsequently became a foreign correspondent. During World War II, she was appointed special assistant to secretary of the interior Harold L. Ickes. In 1944 she was sent on a secret mission to Italy to bring out 1,000 Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers. Ickles gave her a temporary army rank in case the military plane in which she was flying was shot down by the Nazis who, according to the Geneva Convention, would have to keep her alive. Gruber interviewed the refugees on the way and wrote a book based on their experiences. A film based on the book was made in 2001.
In 1946, Gruber returned to journalism and covered the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine for The New York Post. In 1947, she reported on the Exodus 1947 entering Haifa Port after it was intercepted by the Royal Navy, whose officers would not allow the Jewish refugees on board to disembark. She then flew to Cyprus, where the British had set up detention camps for the refugees. She kept following refugees to wherever the British sent them.
After the establishment of the State of Israel and her marriage in 1951, she continued with her career. At age 74, she flew to Ethiopia to write about the Jewish exodus, and in 1991 she published her autobiography.
In 2010, the documentary film covering her life from 1911 to 1947 premiered in New York. This is the film that will be shown on January 19 at 9:45 a.m. within the context of the general meeting of the Tamar Chapter of Hadassah. The venue is AACI, 37 Pierre Koenig Street, Talpiot. The NIS 20 entry fee includes refreshments.