'Great leader' Arieh Handler dies in Israel


Arieh Handler, the last survivor of those present at the declaration of the state of Israel, has died at the age of 95.

His funeral will be held today in Tel Aviv. There will be shivas in Jerusalem and London.

Mr Handler, who was born in Bohemia and grew up in Germany, was a key figure in efforts before the Holocaust to help Jews escape the Nazis. As a member of Youth Aliyah, he used a Gestapo permit to help arrange transport and visas for Jewish children.

In the late 1930s he was one of the founders of the youth movement Bnei Akiva, forming the first group in Tottenham in 1938. He also served as life president of Mizrachi UK.

As a 32-year-old, he was one of 200 dignitaries and Zionist leaders to witness the historic scene on May 14 1948.

In his later life, he campaigned to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 2006 at the age of 90 he made aliyah.

Michael Rainsbury, mazkir of Bnei Akiva, said: "Arieh was one of the great Jewish heroes of the modern world and his achievements are almost too great to number.

"He was truly the greatest leader in our movement's history and his legacy is in the success of the organisations he built. Our thoughts at this time are with his family."

Simon Levy, former BA mazkir and Mizrachi UK committee member, added: "The entire British community owes him an enormous debt of gratitude for his work in a myriad of organisations.

"He was an inspiration and one of the rare individuals for whom it is appropriate to use the word 'great'. He was a fascinating individual, always happy to share advice and relate stories, yet modest to an extreme."

Estelle Gilston, former chair of the Zionist Federation, remembered Mr Handler as someone who was easy to get on with, even when they disagreed on political or religious matters.

"He was just such a gentleman," she said. "He respected my views and was always very calm. He was always willing to discuss different views.

"He believed we could and should all work together no matter what our views were. I don’t think we will ever see his like again."

The Board of Deputies praised Mr Handler as "a truly great man" for his "significant role in the great pioneering days of Zionism and the creation of the State".

In a statement, the Board said: "Following his truly remarkable work saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust, Mr Handler also became the source of inspiration for numerous young people and nurtured many future leaders of UK Jewry.

Board president, Vivian Wineman, added: "Mr Handler's contribution to UK Jewry, to the state of Israel and to the Jewish people in general is immeasurable and his legacy will continue for generations to come.

"He will be mourned not only by the Handler family but by world Jewry."

The Chief Rabbi said Mr Handler had been "an inspiration to me and many others".

"Throughout his visionary and action filled life he remained gentle, warm, calm, tolerant, a friend to all," said Lord sacks. "He was a classic religious Zionist who believed in social justice and the high ideals of Israel's founders.

"To all who knew him he was a role model of idealism and quiet courage, of Judaism and Zionism at their best. We will miss him deeply but we will never forget him."

To share your memories of Arieh Handler, email

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