A couple who both came to the UK on the Kindertransport have won a prestigious award for their contribution to the Jewish community.
Ann and Bob Kirk, who have been volunteering at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood for over 70 years, were recognised for their “service, dedication, love and loyalty” on receiving the Jewish Voluntary Network’s Outstanding Lifetime Achievement award on Sunday.
Ann, 95, who escaped Berlin in 1939, aged 10, began attending the Liberal Jewish Synagogue with her sponsor family, who were members. After finishing at cheder, she continued as a classroom assistant.
Bob, 98, came on the Kindertransport from Hanover, two weeks later, aged 14.
The couple met in 1949, getting married at LJS, with Bob then volunteering at the synagogue’s religious school.
Over the years, they have chaired the services committee, taught at the religion school, served on the LJS council, later becoming vice presidents of Liberal Judaism. Bob has served as a president of LJS and is also honorary life vice president of the Leo Baeck College.
The couple have spoken to thousands of young people about their experience of the Kindertransport and each received a BEM in 2019 for their contribution to Holocaust education.
Receiving their award from the Lord Lieutenant Robert Voss to a standing ovation, Bob told the guests at the event at The Grove in Hertfordshire: “All the nominations are brilliant. We all work to the best of our ability, so this award belongs to all of us.”
Giving an insight into what motivates people to give up their time for free, Bob said: “Why do any of us volunteer? Some of us come with a specific idea. Some of us just get drawn in. The rabbi invited Ann to be a teaching assistant, and I joined the synagogue 10 years later and also got drawn in.”
Describing LJS as both “a home” and “a family”, Bob added: “I like to think that we gave a little bit back. That’s what volunteering is all about.”
Speaking afterwards to the JC, Bob said: “It feels incredible to have won. There were so many worthy nominations, so to be singled out is the icing on the cake.”
Benita Hart, chair of the LJS, told guests she had nominated the Kirks because they have led “lives of service, dedication, love and loyalty….They have led by example and their humanity shines through.”
Benita later told the JC: “Ann and Bob are part of the fabric of LJS. They have been involved in every element of the synagogue from the spirituality to the teaching. There is such a warmth and intelligence to them.”
Taking home the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award was Cheryl Brodie, who developed a leadership programme for the JLC.
Claudia Mendoza, CEO of the JLC, who nominated her, said: “Cheryl has been amazing at facilitating development programmes for the JLC’s leadership division lead and the feedback that we've had from community members has been phenomenal.
“She has used her skill and her expertise, giving back pro bono to the community at large. The entire community should be indebted to her.”
Outstanding Volunteer of the Year winner Cheryl Brodie (left) with Pam Goldsmith from the Wohl Foundation, who presented the award
Giving an emotional speech, Cheryl, whose professional background is in leadership development, said: “I feel so very lucky to have the opportunity to use my skills, knowledge and abilities to help Jewish charities and beyond, and I’m so lucky to be working with a team which gives me so much.”
Speaking afterwards to the JC, Cheryl, 68, said that the secret to successful volunteering was good management. “The secret is to recognise the skillset that volunteers have and to find opportunities for them to use it. To be able to use one’s skills and to be stretched is a privilege.”
As for her own achievements as a volunteer, Cheryl, who is a member of Alyth in Golders Green, said: “I’m fortunate that money doesn’t motivate me anymore. What I want to know is whether I have done a good job and if I have contributed. I treat [my voluntary work] like a job. It energises me and I love it.”
The Outstanding Young Adult Volunteer of the Year award was won by Abigail Saltman, who volunteers with Jewish Care.
Abigail, 18, who is a senior leader of the charity’s MIKE Youth Leadership programme, but is currently volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel, said via video link: “I’m speechless. I never in a million years expected to win. Thank you to Jewish Care and JVN for recognising the volunteering work I do. I do this because I enjoy helping others and seeing the positive impact I can have.”
Last year, Abigail took part in a 10,000 ft skydive to raise money for Jewish Care. She said that her charity work had “helped me develop my confidence”.
Addressing Abigail, also remotely, Richard Shone from Jewish Care said her award was “a testament to everything you have done…The recognition you are receiving tonight is something you should be very, very proud of for a long time.”
The Outstanding Volunteer Team of the Year award was picked up by the Kisharon Langdon merger team, who helped unite the two charities in August last year.
Richard Franklin, chief executive of Kisharon Langdon said: “I nominated the Kisharon Langdon merger team because of their incredible dedication over and above their normal giving of time that they put towards the merger of Kisharon and Langdon.
"I really admire their absolute bravery and commitment to a broader vision for the benefit of people with learning disabilities and autistic people and for the Jewish community as a whole.”
An additional award this year was the Roy Henry Special Recognition Award, which went to CST.
Presenting the award was Roy’s son, Nigel, who said that CST was “always extremely hard working and dedicated, but since October 7, they have stepped up even more.”
Leesa Mather, HR director of CST, said the award was “ a lovely recognition to our volunteers who tirelessly and without thanks protect the Jewish community at events, synagogues and schools throughout the year.”
Chair of JVN and host of the event, Daniel Levy, said: “At a time of unparalleled difficulty in Israel and within our community, this was a rare moment to reflect on the positive impact of volunteering and spotlight the real heroes of our community, giving charities the opportunity to shine.”
Nicky Goldman, JVN’s chief executive, commented: “It was so inspiring and humbling to hear the stories of volunteering of all the charity award winners, as well as the outstanding winners in each category.
“In the words of Rabbi Sacks: ‘Our community could not exist for a day without its volunteers, and the volunteers’ stories showed how and why this is true.”
The event opened with a video message from Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who paid tribute to the community’s spirit of volunteerism, both in Israel and the diaspora. He said that after October 7, “we continue to rise with purpose and determination and show that we are there for each other in remarkable ways”.
Chair of the judging panel, Dame Mary Marsh, said: “People commit huge amounts of time and energy. We need to celebrate the commitment people make to voluntary work.”
The outstanding winners were chosen from 89 individual award winners from 37 charities. Over 350 guests from the Jewish and wider community attended the event.