Tributes to Arieh Handler

Arieh Handler, the last survivor of those present at the declaration of the state of Israel, died last week at the age of 96.His friends and colleagues have been sharing their memories of him with the JC.

"Arieh Handler was a man whose being and whose heart resonated with the beat of Jewish life and history. He did not study it- He lived it and was part of it. If he had a fault it was that he loved every Jew irrespective of background or commitment.

"I had the privilege of working besides Arieh and seeing him in action during the tough and vital years of the struggle for Soviet Jewry through the 70s, 80s and early 90s. Given his background in literally plucking Jewish children from Nazi occupied territory during the war, he saw the campaign for Soviet Jews all the more urgently in terms of Pidyon Shivuim and Pikuach Nefesh (ransoming captives and saving souls). Whether lobbying British politicians (many of whom were personal friends), leading the community in public protest or engaging with Soviet contacts, Arieh's absolute sincerity won him the admiration and support (sometimes begrudging) that he sought. When people would occasionally disappoint him he would brush aside the affront: "He means well, he has such a good heart." In any discussion Arieh was always willing to see all sides: 'on the other hand' was one of his bywords.

"Arieh came to England on a 'short' shlichut in the 1930s and stayed over sixty years yet, in the words of the famous poem by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi he could claim with all sincerity, "I am in the West but my heart is in the East". Arieh's heart beat to the beat of the people and the land of Israel, his knowledge of and involvement in the growth and flourishing of the State of Israel gave him an insider's perspective. It was often said of Arieh that he was the best Prime Minister that Israel never had.

"His passing robs both Israel and Anglo-Jewry of one of the most colourful, vibrant and decisive personalities and leaders to grace both societies in the last century."

Rabbi Lawrence Littlestone, former executive director, National Council for Soviet Jewry

"Arieh was a real visionary and a source of inspiration to all of us during my time at Bnei Akiva. He was a softly spoken gentlemen with a passion for youth empowerment and a real source of energy for Bnei Akiva. I last visited him a few years ago and he told me the story of how he founded Bnei Akiva and it was his greatest source of nachas that we all continued his vision.

Daniel Seal, chief executive of UK Israel Business, former mazkir of Bnei Akiva

"He was, for me, the embodiment of all that was good in the Mizrachi movement. He recognised the need for religious Zionists to serve as a bridge between the secular and Orthodox in a way that was neither preachy nor self-righteous."

Joe Millis, former JC foreign editor

"British Friends of Boys Town Jerusalem was honoured to have Arieh Handler as one of its vice-presidents. It was a privilege for me to walk around the Boys Town Jerusalem campus with him in 2008, and to see his eyes light up as he spoke to the pupils. He spoke to them about his own childhood experiences, and showed them the invitation inviting him to be present when David Ben Gurion declared an Independent State of Israel in 1948. At that time, Arieh was the only survivor from that historical declaration, now sadly there is nobody! He truly was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him."

Laurence Stein, development director, British Friends of Boys Town Jerusalem

Arieh was my hero. I felt blessed to have known him, and I considered him amongst my closest friends. He knew what it meant to be a leader. He led by example, and he inspired thousands. Arieh was the reason so many people went to Israel to build the country and to lead the country.

63 years ago, the State of Israel was declared by David Ben Gurion in a hall in Tel Aviv. Arieh was there. The invitation he received to the gathering remained one of his most cherished possessions, which he was always so excited to show people.

Arieh dedicated his life to the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and continued to do so until his final days. From rescuing dozens of children from Nazi Germany, to establishing Bnei Akiva in the United Kingdom, Arieh always had one aim – to look after the future of the Jewish nation. Whenever I could, I brought young members of Bnei Akiva to meet with him. I felt it was an enormous privilege for them to meet the person responsible for our amazing movement. They listened in awe as he told them what it felt like to stand with Ben Gurion when Israel's independence was declared.

Even when he was in his nineties, his lively youthfulness enabled the younger members of Bnei Akiva to relate to him. From standing on his chair and singing at National Weekend, to sharing stories about Hachshara, the youth considered him to be one of them!

He always put Bnei Akiva first. He was even late for his own wedding, because he wanted to pop into the movement's conference which was taking place on the same day. In recent years, there hasn't been a major Bnei Akiva event at which tribute wasn't paid to him. Ironically, he missed the dinner arranged in honour of his 90th birthday – only because he moved permanently back to Israel just a few weeks earlier!

For the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been enhanced by "the movement" – as he affectionately referred to Bnei Akiva – they have one man to thank. Arieh Handler will be missed tremendously by those who knew him, and by those who didn't. Today's young members of Bnei Akiva will ensure that his legacy lives on.

Jonny Lipczer, former mazkir of Bnei Akiva

To share your memories of Arieh Handler, email jenniferlipman@thejc.com

Last updated: 9:02am, May 24 2011