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.

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 with her husband Malcolm and a member of the charity's assurance and mental health committee, has been awarded a British Empire Medal. 

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.

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.

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.

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.



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