Shiva speech given by Tamara

I want to tell you about three things I found myself doing in recent weeks, all of which say something about my father that I want to share with you:

  • I made the Sign of peace at Catholic Mass at St Edmunds Church in Golders Green
  • I found myself in correspondence with Major Ian Kelly (retired), purveyor of Military Insignia; and
  • I listened to my daughter leyning her parsha in a hospice room

Let me explain:

Sign of peace

At the Royal Free Hospital a few weeks ago the Catholic Chaplain, Father Anthony of St Edmunds Church, came round the ward and my Dad was delighted to see him because he said there was something he had always meant to do for which he required a Catholic priest.

My Dad was deported as a socially dangerous element by the Russians to Siberia in 1940 from Lwow, then part of Poland and now Lviv in the Ukraine; he was 10. He lived in what he describes as a hovel with many Catholic Poles deported with them, many died of starvation and hard labour but he has often talked of the many acts of kindness and help they gave to one another and particularly to him, the youngest child.

He told the priest that he had always wanted a mass said for those he knew who had died. He gave the priest the names, ages and cause of death of each of the 12 who died. He remembered it all exactly. The priest returned a few days later and said he had said mass for these people and he had done so in the name of the God of Abraham because Dad is Jewish, but Dad said he knew it should be in the name of Mary, Queen of Poland (not sure why but knowing my Dad he will have researched it) so I believe the priest did it again!

So Dad asked me to give a donation to the church, which is how I came to be at the back of the church for Mass one Sunday, searching for Father Anthony.

For me it was a reminder of my Dad’s pride in his Polish origins, his extraordinary memory and a reminder that his childhood included hardship and turmoil that were a part of him but never defined him.

Military insignia

A few days after the making the sign of the peace at St Edmund’s, I was on a different mission. My Dad was a long term volunteer in Civil Defence, the volunteer force established in 1949 to take control in the event of a nuclear attack. He received an OBE for his service and other decorations. A few weeks ago he told me that he was very concerned that the uniform badge he had tucked away in his shirt cupboard was not the correct one for his final rank of Chief Officer.

After some searching I found the extraordinary Internet shop of Major Ian Kelly (retired) who sold me item C2K539 Civil Defence Rank Badge Chief Officer – 2 Broad Yellow Bars On Dark Blue Braid. Major Kelly’s rather antiquated payment system, and the warning in capital letters that he only mails items out once a week., had me worried that the badge would not arrive in time for Dad to verify it was the right one, but luckily it did come in time and he was happy.

My Dad believed deeply in public service, was committed to this country and took great pride in his place in the establishment. He had a respect for institutions and their place in civic society and has passed that on to us as part of his legacy to us – while allowing us to tease him about it from time to time.


Three weeks ago after Dad had moved to the hospice, Michael made the inspired suggestion that Jade might leyn her parsha for her Papa, who we knew by now would not be able to be with us in shul in December for her batmitzvah. Jade’s diligence is such that she could do it word and note perfect for him and with a poise and confidence that I would not have had.

My father’s reaction was so characteristic. He praised Jade, and Michael as her teacher, with generosity. And he said how wonderful it was to hear Jade accomplish something he himself could not do – that is to chant the leyning rather than read (something I’m sure he could have done with ease but had not done). It was only afterwards that I reflected on how extraordinary it was for a man of his age and generation to take pride in his grandaughter’s accomplishment in quite this way. But that is the mark of a true scholar and teacher who seeks to build a platform on which others can build higher; and he has done that for and with so many of us in his family, his professional colleagues, his fellow scholars of Jewish learning.

Jade did the leyning for Papa on a Shabbat and we had come from shul where the parsha, Vaetchanan, had included the Shema, the passage which tells us what we must do with the words of the Torah: “Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuternomy 6:7). This is something my father truly lived by and I was struck by a quote from Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk in Poland (1787-1854) who said, “If you truly wish your children to study Torah, study it yourself in their presence. They will follow your example. Otherwise, they will not themselves study Torah but will simply instruct their children to do so.” The three of us have always lived with our Dad studying, enjoying and living Torah, and we know the legacy he passes to us.


My Dad leaves us with the privilege of knowing there was nothing left unsaid. Not because of his illness and the notice we had of his end, but because of the way he lived. Very frequently, maybe once a week, he would call me apropos of nothing in particular and say I’m just calling to tell you that you are an amazing person – good, kind and clever – and Michael is a remarkable man, strong and intelligent, a person of honour and integrity. I love you very much. I frequently would come home to a message like that on the ansaphone. You can’t help but be boosted by that love and confidence, the most extraordinary gift he could give, and there is no question in my mind that he did not leave anything unsaid. We all here knew his love for us and he knew our love and respect for him.

I just want to remind my Mum of something Dad said in an address when they became joint presidents of their Bnei Brith lodge. He said “I may be the “roar” but Mirjam is the “lion””. You will miss your “roar” so much, but you are our strong, capable and extraordinary lion with a wonderful purr and Dad would want us to remind you and everyone of that.

But he will be missed in so many ways. I will finish with one of the ways, summed up by Calum for me earlier this week: “Mummy, now Papa’s gone we’re going to have to look things up on the Internet.”

Tamara Isaacs
September 2011