Death of Stoke Jewish leader

The president of the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire Synagogue has died.

Sydney Morris, who was in his mid 80s, spent nearly 30 years at the helm of the small community but saw it diminish from a congregation of 175 families to just two dozen members.

Mr Morris, who ran his family's bespoke tailoring business for 50 years, was a well-known figure in Staffordshire. He served as a faith adviser for Staffordshire University.

He was made an MBE in 2004 for his work promoting racial equality and interfaith relations.

In 2006 Mr Morris and his son Martin were the target of hundreds of antisemitic phone calls. Two Asian men phoned Mr Morris more than 200 times in the space of five weeks, threatening both personal abuse and to burn down the Stoke Synagogue. The men were caught and given a year's jail, a sentence decried by Mr Morris as unduly lenient.

In April this year he was given a certificate by the Manchester Jewish Representative council marking a lifetime of community work.

Lucille Cohen, the council's president, said Mr Morris's death was "a loss not only to the congregation but of a significant bearer of Jewish tradition in Anglo-Jewry".

The Right Revd Gordon Mursell, who worked with Mr Morris while he was Bishop of Stafford said today: “There was an open-hearted generosity of spirit about him that disarmed any possible hostility or opposition.

"As a faith leader, Sydney was universally known and respected. He formed close friendships with leading Muslims as well as with those of other faiths and he went out of his way to stress that organisations like the BNP were a threat, not just to all world faiths, but to all people of goodwill."

He added: "His own deep Jewish faith and tradition shone through everything he was and did. He was a living embodiment of all that is best in the life of faith, and it was an extraordinary privilege to have known him."

Gavin Drake, the director of communications for Lichfield Diocese, said: "Sydney never compromised his own faith as a Jew; but worked tirelessly to break down artificial barriers between people of other faiths. He was always the first to express concern about how the faith communities could stand together whenever a particular religious group was being targeted or demonised.

"His passing will be sad for his family, his friends and the Jewish community; but his loss will be felt throughout north Staffordshire by people of all faith and none."

    Last updated: 1:14pm, June 3 2011