Community became ever more important to us in the pandemic. No one I know has epitomised the community spirit in the past two Covid-stained years than my younger brother, Daniel, a stalwart of the times fractured Brighton and Hove kehilllot.
His recent sudden death has not just been a devastating shock to my family, but stunned all the communities, social and commercial, in which he was involved. The outpouring of grief at his lavoyah at Brighton’s beautiful Meadow View Jewish cemetery, high up on the chalk South Downs overlooking the sea, was a measure of what was lost.
More than 150 souls and four local rabbis turned out to pay tribute to Danny, as he was known. The mourners came from far and wide. This included my son, Justin, and his wife, who flew in on the red eye from Austin, Texas; Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues from the Covent Garden antiques markets in central London, and my elderly aunt, Sussie, who, with my cousin Shindy, are both Shoah survivors.
I took calls from grieving former female friends from Israel and Australia. In the age of social media, details of family loss travel wide.
Daniel touched many lives. Amid the dozens of handwritten condolence letters I received (and as many online tributes), many make reference to his meticulous care and love for our late father, Michael. Daniel was his carer for the past decade or so of a wonderful life stretching for 103 years. This made Daniel’s death at three-score years and 10 even more poignant.
Danny did not just look after our father. He was the helper for all our elderly relatives in the Brighton area. For many years, he would be seen at Jewish Care’s Hyman Fine Home in Kemptown before Shabbat visiting a cousin of my late mother. He would come equipped with the JC (Jewish News doesn’t make it to Brighton), her favourite sweets and flowers.
Another cousin, Josephine, would allow Danny alone to transport her to medical appointments. And my late Aunt Rose, another Holocaust survivor and rabbanit, depended on Daniel for her medical appointments and kosher supplies from London.
When Covid-19 was at its worst, Daniel was hard at work in the Hove Hebrew Congregation meat kitchen on Holland Road, alongside the synagogue’s vice-president, Michele Cohen, preparing food for older and lonely members.
His considerable talents as a skilled maker of chopped liver, latkes and salt beef (honed in his earlier career as a kosher butcher and delicatessen proprietor) were put to use and it was Danny who personally made the deliveries. None of this was a chore. In our many conversations, he would recount the delightful exchanges on the doorstep harking back to the glory days of Brighton Jewry.
He didn’t excel just in the kitchen. For as long as I can remember, he would be up on the bimah at Holland Road marshalling the calling up. He was also in charge of the Haftorah rota – a tough job in recent times, as the number of capable readers dwindled. When there was a hole in the rota or someone failed to show, he would fill it himself, helped by his mastery of Ivrit learned during a sojourn in Israel.
When Chabad called for someone to make up the minyan, Daniel would not only be there, but would collect other enrolled members from outside their nearby apartment blocks on Hove’s Grand Avenue.
In the difficult pandemic era, Danny was a member of that most sacred group of community servants, the chevra kadisha. One of his last tasks in this cause had been to divert himself from his work in central London to Stamford Hill to pick up a new consignment of kosher burial shrouds. It was an assignment completed without complaint or any foreknowledge of the tragedy that would shortly take him from us all.