When my brother Daniel was asked to help make the minyan at Brighton’s Meadow View Jewish Cemetery recently, he knew nothing of the person being buried, other than that he was the brother of a local synagogue member. She had requested he be buried close by.
At the ground, among the small throng of mourners, Daniel spotted a tallish, gaunt figure, with a thin grey beard and flat hat who vaguely looked familiar. It was same person who, in 2014, had been photographed in Tunisia laying a wreath at the graveside of a terrorist involved in the brutal murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This time around, the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was paying his respects to the left-wing campaigning journalist Eric Gordon.
For people unfamiliar with north London’s local newspapers, Eric Gordon was a remarkable journalist and editor who bought the ailing Camden Journal for £1 in 1982 and relaunched it as Camden New Journal. As he searched for funding to make a go of the paper, Gordon was offered assistance by Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council (GLC).
But his fiercely independent streak told him this was wrong and instead he managed to negotiate a £50,000 small business loan. After he ran through this tranche of funding, he decided to accept a GLC loan after all. That £100,000 enabled the Gateshead Yeshiva-educated Marxist to make a go of things. The circulation he inherited was just 7,000 but, with some brilliant campaigning local journalism,
he steered it to 50,000 and survival.
Gordon’s passing might have gone unnoticed but for Corbyn’s lingering presence at his lavoyah and a full-page obituary in The Times. His was one of three very different Jewish lives commemorated by the quixotic Times obit pages this month.
At the other end of the economic spectrum was that of the rogue financier Bernard (Bernie) Madoff. He was described as running the world’s largest Ponzi scheme, losing $60bn of investor funds. For almost two decades, Madoff would take hundreds of millions of new deposits from investors and use the fresh cash to pay out to earlier investors. When the clock stopped with the 2007-09 financial crisis, Madoff’s scam was reported to the FBI and other authorities by his two sons.
He was an exemplar of the kind of winner takes all, corrupt capitalism deplored by left- wing journalists such as Gordon. Among those who lost their life savings with Madoff was a friend, Middle East academic Henry Seigman, who, as a result of the old rogue’s fraud, spent his salad days touring the world giving lectures to try to keep body and soul together.
What most disturbed me as a journalist was how Holocaust charities were ransacked, including that of Elie Wiesel, Nobel peace prize winner, chronicler of the Shoah horrors and author of Night. Wiesel suggested Madoff’s most appropriate punishment would be to spend his prison days watching a video relay of his victims. The sheer willpower and determination to survive, at the core of Wiesel’s writing, was exemplified in a third Jewish life covered by The Times; that of Moishe Nurtman, one of 732 child Holocaust survivors known as ‘The Boys’, who was brought to Windermere in 1945.
I knew Moishe through my late Richmond Synagogue friend, Sam Freiman. It was at Sam’s lowest point, suffering with typhus while in a labour camp (before being shipped off to Buchenwald), that Moishe, with his indomitable spirit and encouragement, kept Sam alive.
The band of survivors becomes smaller each day and their testimony ever more important.
These are the truly great representatives of humanity who Madoff so dishonoured.