Lord Levy: 'Our community has been immense' in response to Covid-19 pandemic

The Labour peer also reveals Tony Blair persuaded him to stay and 'fight' antisemitism in the party under Jeremy Corbyn


Lord Michael Levy has spoken of his pride at the “immense strength” of the community over its push to raise £4 million to fight Covid-19 in care homes across the country.

The Jewish Care president also revealed how coronavirus had taken the lives of four of his close friends in the UK and in Israel since March.

The Labour peer also discussed his decision to remain in the party to “fight” antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn -  revealing he was persuaded to stay by former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Lord Levy also praised new leader Sir Keir Starmer and revealed he had visited him at home in north London – and that they had met several times privately.

Answering questions from the Jewish Lads' and Girls' Brigade (JLGB) in an online session on Tuesday night, Lord Levy praised the “fantastic community” – and those who had responded to his request for donations which “brought in within a few days £4 million”.

Lord Levy had led a joint appeal by Jewish Care, Nightingale Hammerson and The Fed in Manchester, in association with the National Association of Jewish Homes (NAJH), to raise funds to help the charities the fight against coronavirus.

He said the money could only be raised “because of the strength of our community”.

The 75-year-old former chartered accountant added: “We have had people who have had tremendous success and they could walk away and do other things for their lives.

“But they feel part of our community, they want to be part. There is no greater blessing in life than to have success and to give back.

“Our community have been immense.

“I picked up the phone to people and explained what was going on, how Covid-19 had affected the organisation (Jewish Care), how you dealt with PPE.  When you explain to them, their reaction has been unbelievable.

“So many people have affected.

“Publically I want to applaud and give respect to our Jewish community and the way they have stood by those in need during this terrible period. I am proud to be part of our community.’’

But Lord Levy revealed he himself had suffered the loss of close friends over the past four months.

“It has been a very tough period for me because I have lost four people who I was very close to,” he said.

“One of my closest friends died at the very beginning of the Covid crisis.

‘’They were with us for Shabbat dinner, in early March. A week later he became unwell. A week later in hospital and a week later he passed away.

“Having his widow  come to visit us regularly,  speaking to her,  has been very important for my wife Gilda and I during this period.”

Lord Levy also spoke of the loss of the “very dear” Rabbi Avrohom Pinter from Charedi community in Stamford Hill.

“He literally phoned me erev Seder, erev Pesach,” said Lord Levy.  “I could hardly hear him, he could hardly breathe let alone talk.

“He said, ‘Michael I’m at University College – I’m just going into intensive care’.

“I said’ Avrohom is that you?’ He said: ‘Michael it’s me.’

“He was there for ten days and then he died. I was able to get the body out of University College so they got it to Israel before Yomtov so he could have a burial there.”

In a further loss, Lord Levy revealed a lawyer he had been friends with for over 40 years also passed away in Israel while Rabbi Stanley Michaels of Mill Hill United Synagogue “who I saw ever Shabbat” also fell victim to the virus.

Lord Levy also spoke in detail about his decision to remain in the Labour Party under Mr Corbyn.

He claimed: “I believe we fight from within. From within you have got influence.

“I would have headlines for a couple of weeks, ‘Lord Levy, the most high profile Jew in labour leaves’.  So what.”

He said he had discussed leaving Labour with Mr Blair “on many occasions. Lord Levy said the former PM told him, ‘Michael you have got to stay’.

Lord Levy said it was “very tough”, particularly when he was approached by people asking why he chose to remain in the party.

But he said he did not believe antisemitism was exempt from other parties.

“You know, a number of years ago, I remember taking  some Labour peers into the Lords,” he recalled. “On one occasion some friends were  there and they said ‘Michael that was horrible, when you were standing there they were saying - from the Tory benches by the way – ‘who is the Jew-boy bringing in now?’

“There are horrible incidents continuously on antisemitism.”

But he revealed he was on good terms with Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader.

“I know Keir,” he said. “He has been to my home and we have met privately on a number of occasions. And I think things will change – and for the better.”

The former special envoy to the Middle East said “sadly” he did not hold out hope for peace between Israel and Palestine.

“There are just too many issues, too many problems,” he said. “We are going through a difficult period and I am not going to give a lecture on the rights and wrongs of annexation.

“We are now in a very different era. All I can say is I hope the leadership all round will have the vision to create peace.”


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