Awards galore for UK Jewry's volunteering stars

Jewish Volunteering Network ceremony also includes emotional tribute to its founding director, Leonie Lewis, who died last year


The stars of communal volunteering were honoured on Sunday during an emotional evening in Hertfordshire.

Around 400 people were at The Grove Hotel to see the Jewish Volunteering Network present 90 awards to supporters of 46 charities.

This year’s ceremony was held in memory of JVN founding director Leonie Lewis, who died last year, and featured powerful speeches from members of her family.

The Leonie’s Life and Legacy campaign launched in her name to promote volunteering through JVN has already raised close to £50,000.

Key award winners included Dr David Spitzer as outstanding volunteer for his work with Kef Kids, which supports children and young adults with physical and learning disabilities.

After receiving the award, Dr Spitzer said on stage: “We, myself and my family, get more out of Kef than we give. The real people who deserve this award are the people who founded and continue to run the organisation… and the young men and women who volunteer their evenings, their weekends, and their holidays to look after those less fortunate than them. They are really an inspiration.”

Ben Brownson (Maccabi GB) was outstanding young volunteer.

Mr Brownson told the JC: “Extremely humbled to have been nominated for the award, and to be recognised for my years of volunteering with Maccabi GB and within the community. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have been provided with and the support I continue to receive from an organisation that has the wellbeing of our Community at its core. I am very thankful also to my fellow volunteers and the Maccabi GB professional team – who make volunteering with Maccabi GB an absolute pleasure.

“I cannot wait to continue working on more exciting projects with the Team, including the further development of The Jewish Golf initiative on a global scale under the World Jewish Congress’ and World Union of Jewish Students’ NextGen Inc. programme.”

JVN's Lifetime achievement accolade went to Rita Newmark for her longstanding contribution to Jewish Care.

It was over 50 years ago that she and a small group of friends launched a kosher meals on wheels service in Redbridge.

Jewish Care CEO Daniel Carmel-Brown said that since then, “Rita has continued to give her skills, time and expertise delivering meals, and doing so much more, to nurture and inspire many others to volunteer for what is now Jewish Care’s meals on wheels service.

Today providing 700 meals each week to 300 older people, it has been a lifeline to thousands of people over the years. What Rita and the small group of dedicated volunteers began all those years ago, continues to bring the community together across the generations.” 

On receiving the award, Rita Newmark said, “I thank you for this most prestigious award, but really feel it belongs to the Jewish Care members of staff who coordinate the many volunteers and to the many dedicated volunteers themselves, within the Jewish communities, who over the years have provided meals to those in the Redbridge and surrounding areas all the way across London and to Southend.

“It seems strange to win an award for something that has given me and my husband Leon, so much enjoyment. During this time, we have made so many lifelong friends whilst serving our local community. 

"The Hebrew word to 'give' is NATAN which is a palindrome as it is spelt Noon / Taf / Noon so by giving in one direction you also receive in the other. This I feel is very much the essence of volunteering."

Later, Rita said: "I’m overcome, I didn’t expect it at all. What I did was fun, and it was special. It wasn’t just me, we were all doing something special together.

Following Sunday’s awards ceremony, Rita was back out volunteering her time through Meals on Wheels on Monday morning.

Volunteers at the Royal Free Charity took the team prize.

JVN chief executive Nicky Goldman said the awards – the first held in person since 2019 – were “a wonderful endorsement of the integral role that volunteers play in each of our organisations.

“I am so proud that JVN, together with Howard, Adam and Ben Lewis, celebrated the life and legacy of Leonie Lewis.

“On a personal note, Leonie Lewis was my mentor, my colleague, my friend. Her memory will always be a blessing to all those who she inspired throughout her life.”

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