Head of Charedi charity and Jewish community workers recognised in New Year's honours

Awards go to Chaya Spitz, chief executive of Interlink, Jonathan Benjamin, who turned to campaigning after mental health problems drove him to attempt to take his own life, and to the 2015 JC Mensch of the Year


The founder of a strictly Orthodox charity, a mental-health campaigner, and Jewish communal workers up and down the country have been recognised in the New Year's honours list.

Chaya Spitz, the chief executive of the Interlink Foundation, was made an OBE for services to the community and Jewish people in London.

She said she was immensely humbled to receive the award. 

The foundation plays a key role in the Charedi community by offering its members' advice and training and it builds communal links with local and central government.  It works in the fields of employment, child poverty, social housing and education.

Mrs Spitz, who is married with five children, said: “For believing Jews, our faith compels us to make the most of our time in this world, and the gifts God has given us, to do good.  In this sense, I have only done what so many others do every day.  I am especially conscious of this in my role at Interlink, which sits at the epicentre of Orthodox Jewish charitable and social action. 

 “Inasmuch as this award recognises the amazing work and sheer dedication within the charities we support, I am deeply honoured to receive it."

Rabbi Avroham Pinter, a leader of the Charedi community in Stamford Hill, north-east London, hailed Mrs Spitz as "a pioneer and role model for Charedi women, passionately maintaining our community's values, while taking on leadership and responsibility. Her position is without precedent and has brought positive change to the community she works within.”

Jonny Benjamin, who became a campaigner after mental health issues drove him to attempt to take his own life, has been made an MBE for services to national campaigning on awareness of suicide and mental illness.

He said: “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I found out a few weeks ago when I was having a salt beef sandwich and I was opening the post. I was opening my letters and read it. I was dumbfounded and took a while to recover from the shock.”

 At the age of 20 Mr Benjamin was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He has made films on YouTube about the condition that have been watched by hundreds of thousands of people. He is now an ambassador for JAMI, the Jewish Associaton for Mental Illness.

In 2008 he tried to take his own life by jumping from Waterloo Bridge but was dissuaded by a passer-by. Mr Benjamin subsequently launched the '"Find Mike" campaign to track down the man, and the pair were eventually reunited.

Mr Benjamin said  he had started raising awareness of mental health issues not with awards in mind. 

“I did it to help people. But this honour has been overwhelming for me and my family,” he said.

Professor Ottoline Leyser, the director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at Cambridge University, has been made a Dame for services to plant science, science in society, and equality and diversity in science.

Her seminal research into plant biology has had a direct bearing on the development of agricultural crops.

She is the daughter of Karl Leyser, the Jewish German-born historian, who was a refugee from the Nazis.

Prof Leyser said: "This is a huge honour. It is so uplifting that things I really care about can be celebrated in this extraordinary way. Science has such a lot to offer the world which makes it really important that science is open to all, so that everyone can contribute to the process and benefit from the results"

Danny Stone,  the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, has been made an MBE for services to combating hate crime.

The group, a cross-party body with membership from both Houses of Parliament, has produced a series of reports on the extent of antisemitism in the UK.

Mr Stone said it was “a privilege to serve” the APPG.

He added: “I'm delighted that the group's  work, to which I have been proud to contribute, has been recognised in this way.

 "This award is a tribute to all those dedicated parliamentarians and others who have worked tirelessly to address anti-Jewish hatred. I am particularly grateful to John Mann MP [chair of the group], to Trevor Pears and all at the Pears Foundation for their personal and professional support."

Gerald Granston was awarded a British Empire Medal for his work in Holocaust education.

Mr Granston was one of the last survivors of the SS St Louis, a passenger ship which took fleeing Jews from Nazi Germany to the apparent refuge of Cuba but was denied entry to that country. He eventually settled in Britain and since 1980 has been a regular speaker on his experiences on the St Louis and as a refugee in Britain and America. 

Marcia Feldman, a patron of Jewish Care and a member of the charity's assurance and mental health committee, has been awarded a British Empire Medal. 

She said: "I am thrilled and honoured to be given this award and know how very important it is to help lift the stigma about mental illness.

“Jami and Jewish Care are really making a difference to the lives of those with mental illness, and I have enjoyed working with both organisations for many years.”

Bernard Gingold, a stalwart of the Jewish community in Birmingham for over 30 years, has been awarded a British Empire Medal for his communal work.

He is a former chairman of Birmingham and the Midlands Chevra Kadisha, a barmitzvah teacher, and a volunteer in local old age homes across his city.

Mr Gingold said he was “humbled” and on “cloud nine” after receiving news of the award.

Rabbi Yossi Jacobs, of Singers Hill Synagogue in Birmingham, extended “a hearty mazeltov” to his congregant.

“It’s well-deserved recognition of his selfless services to our community over the years,” the rabbi said.

Alison Baum, founder and chief executive of the Best Beginnings charity, has been made an OBE for services to tackling child health inequalities.

Ms Baum set up her charity in 2006 aiming to give every baby in the UK the healthiest start in life.

Professor Gene Feder, a GP and professor of primary care at the University of Bristol, was honoured as an OBE for services to healthcare and victims of domestic abuse.

His research interests include the management of cardiovascular risk and conditions in general practice and the healthcare response to domestic violence.

Joyce Rothschild, who raised more than £100,000 for cancer charities while being treated for the disease, has been awarded a British Empire Medal.

Mrs Rothschild, from Birmingham, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 40, underwent pioneering treatment and chemotherapy before raising funds for equipment for other cancer patients, and has been raising funds for cancer organisations for the past 18 years. 

She was awarded the JC’s Mensch of the Year title in 2015.

Sylvia Morris, founder and chair of the Karen Morris Memorial Trust, was made an OBE for services to leukaemia patients and their families.

Mrs Morris is the mother of Karen Morris, who raised funds to help combat leukaemia before dying of the disease in September 1998.

Since then the trust  has raised more than £1.8 million.

Mrs Morris said: “I’m absolutely overwhelmed to have received this award.

“We continue my late daughter’s fundraising initiative. She thought she’d win her battle against leukaemia and wanted to devote her life to help fight the disease. It wasn’t to be, but we continue her legacy.

“Because I’ve received amazing media coverage, this is all helping to raise awareness of the battle against leukaemia.

“We currently fund four of Karen’s ‘Homes from Home’ for leukaemia patients and their families, and we’re now in discussion with a leading haematology department in the north of England [about a further home], and we’re confident that will become a reality - it’s just a question of when.”

Polina Bayvel, professor of optical communications and networks at University College London, was made a CBE for services to engineering.

Professor Bayvel is a member of Golders Green Synagogue.

Ingrid Posen, chairman of the Friends of Childs Hill Park which has trained disadvantaged people in horticultural skills, has been awarded a British Empire Medal for services to the community in north-west London. 

Mrs Posen, a member of Golders Green Synagogue, and her group have helped transform the park from a run-down, little-used space into a popular amenity.

Mordechai Kessler, founder of 2M Holdings, a global chemical distribution company, has been awarded an MBE for services to industry and exporting in the north-west of England.

Professor Vidal Ashkenazi, the founding director and chief executive of Nottingham Scientific Ltd, was made an OBE for services to science.

Dalia Cramer, the former co-chair of United Synagogue Women, was awarded a BEM for services to the community, particularly Jewish women.

Another recipient of the BEM was Sharon Bannister, the president of the Manchester Jewish Rep Council, who was honoured for services to the Jewish community in the city.

Thelma Cowan, a member of Bournemouth Hebrew Congregation and chairwoman of the Bournemouth Hebrew Ladies Guild for almost 20 years, was also awarded the BEM for services to the local community.

Sandra Kibel (who works under the name of Sandra Landau) has been made an MBE for services to au pair cultural exchange programmes.

David Rigal was made an MBE for services to diversity in the civil service and to the Jewish community in London.

Also made an MBE was Ethne Woldman for services to the Jewish community in Scotland and Romania. She set up a charity to bring welfare and medical support to ageing Holocaust survivors in the Romanian town of Targu Mures, many of whom were living in poverty.  

Avril Hitman received a BEM for for services to people with learning disabilities in Bromley through dance and arts.

Mrs Hitman, a longstanding member of Catford and Bromley Synagogue, is the founder of the Magpie Dance group and has been helping the learning disabled for over 30 years.

She said she was thrilled to received the award.

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