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Legacy of a Noble Lady

Shira Yehudit Djlilmand

Lady Amélie Jakobovits was born into a family of rabbinic royalty. Her marriage to Immanuel Jakobovits, who went on to become Chief Rabbi of England, solidified her role as a community activist. In honor of her first yahrtzeit, Family First spoke with close family and friends to gain a personal portrait of the figure affectionately known by many simply as “Lady J.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lady Jakobovits was born Amélie Munk in 1928, in Ansbach, Bavaria. She was the daughter of the illustrious Rav Elie Munk, one of the spiritual leaders of European Jewry and author of the influential books The Call of the Torah and The World of Prayer. Her mother was the daughter of Nathan Goldberger, head of the kehillah of Nuremberg.  

The spiritual legacy her parents bequeathed her was something that Lady Amélie never forgot.

“Her parents influenced her life hugely,” recounted Mrs. Esther Pearlman, Lady Jakobovits’s eldest daughter, who is the principal of the Menorah High School for Girls in northwest London. “They taught her a great simchas hachayim, a deep-rooted yiras Shamayim, and a bounty of emunah and bitachon. That was what guided her all her life — even her great-grandchildren have inherited this from her.”

But Lady Amélie’s bequest was not only the spiritual continuation of her parents’ values. She also carried with her the lessons of a Holocaust survivor.

Fearing the increasingly powerful Nazis, Amélie and her family moved to France when she was just nine, where her father became rabbi of the Rue Cadet “Austritt” synagogue in Paris. Rabbi Munk was then enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. A year later, when the family fled the Nazis once again, escaping Paris on the last train before the city was bombed, it was Amélie who was her mother’s support.

After spending time in refugee camps in southern France, on Erev Rosh HaShanah 1942, Amélie and her family fled a third time, leaving Nazi-occupied France in a miraculous escape across the border to Switzerland.

Amid this terror, Amélie had already begun to show her strong personality.

“Our mother was her father’s confidante, his right hand,” explained Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits, Lady Amélie’s second son, who heads the Harav Lord Jakobovits Torah Institute in Jerusalem. “Her mother was involved in the day-to-day raising of the children — including twin babies born during the war — and so our mother did anything outside of the home. At twelve, she was the eldest child, and children had to grow up fast in those days.”

Although Lady Amélie was a survivor, her war experiences had not left her bitter or broken. Rather, her family’s miraculous survival imbued within her a deep sense of gratitude, which remained with her all her life.

“She spoke about her war experiences a lot, and would always say how important it was to remember how close they had been to being captured and treated as animals, and how we must never forget to give thanks,” related Mrs. Pearlman. In fact, Lady Amélie would fast every Erev Rosh HaShanah for the rest of her life as a thanksgiving for the miracle that occurred on that day in 1942.

 

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