Mensch of the Year: The unsung heroes of our community

We can now reveal the men and women who have been selected as the winners of the JC Mensch of the Year awards. The judges decided to select 50 winners, with a top 10. Here are the first 20, presented in alphabetical order. A further 20 will be announced next week, followed by our top 10 and overall winners


Patricia Abram

Care-home visitor

Patricia Abram serves on countless committees including at Jewish Care and Magen David Adom, but her greatest contribution is her monthly visits to old-age homes. She organises half a dozen friends and their children to put on concerts with singing and dancing, providing the elderly residents with much-appreciated entertainment. West Hampstead-based Mrs Abram, 50, said: "I started volunteering at the Kay Court care home in 1991 with a group of friends as it needed volunteers to chat to the residents. We wanted to bring chat and company and music to the home. We realised that the residents loved seeing our children and to talk about their own grandchilden. They light up when they see the children. The residents like to reminisce about how they celebrated their simchas - sometimes they cry, but th ey are talking in a happy way. We leave them content."

David Brandes

Synagogue saviour

For more than 15 years David Brandes has led the renaissance of the Congregation of Jacob Synagogue in Stepney, in London's East End. He has given his time, and his own money, to provide an Orthodox place of worship for the community in the area. As a trustee and the shul's warden, he ensures that there is a minyan each Shabbat, leads services, and is the project manager of the shul's restoration. He has led a funding drive, raising five-figure grants from institutional donors including the World Monuments Fund. All this work has earned the honorary title of reverend bestowed on him by the congregation. He said: "I just want to keep something going of the Jewish community in the East End. I want to train others to take services and I want to educate the youngsters. It's a team effort - it's not just me."

David Coleman

Community worker

Liverpudlian David Coleman has given the Merseyside Jewish community nearly four decades of communal service. He serves on the local representative council, supports the local CST and volunteers at Childwall Synagogue as its choir master. He is also an administrator at Allerton Hebrew Congregation. His many other voluntary roles include advising the equality and diversity departments of both Merseyside Police and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service on matters affecting the Jewish community. He also gives talks to non-Jewish schools and adult groups on Judaism. The 67-year-old said: "I have volunteered all my life - I went in the pram with my mother to her committee meetings. I get a lot of satisfaction in helping people. I just like to do things in the community - and it keeps me out of mischief."

Vanessa Crocker and Josephine Segal

Founders of Spread a Smile

Friends Vanessa Crocker and Josephine Segal started the Spread a Smile charity two years ago and it now helps 3,000 children and teenagers with life-limiting or serious illnesses each year. The charity takes magicians, face-painters, poets, and children's authors to Great Ormond Street University College Hospital and The Royal London Hospital to entertain sick children. It also takes children out of hospital for visits to concerts and the theatre. Ms Crocker, 51, said: "Josephine's nephew was diagnosed with cancer and we decided we wanted to help families. We're great friends and we love what we do. It's amazing to be recognised for what we do."

Linda Diamond

Band leader

The Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade (JLGB) in Redbridge has good reason to be grateful to Linda Diamond. Since 1985 she has been running the JLGB band there, teaching hundreds of Jewish children how to be musicians. She organises musical-development weekends for them, and directs their playing at remembrance parades and national camps. Her three children all play for JLGB. Her love of the organisation "started when I was a child. I benefited so much from being in JLGB that there was no doubt that I would myself become a volunteer. I am driven by the pleasure of seeing young people grow and develop into such rounded individuals and giving so much back to the community around them".

Gerald Fogel


Now 91, Gerald Fogel has played a major role in helping to develop the Chai Cancer Care charity over the past 16 years. His involvement began when he learned that Chai does not receive any statutory funding. So he launched and sponsored the Patronage Campaign, which has raised over £2.5million since 2003. He also suggested the charity change its name from Chai Lifeline in order to raise its profile and give an idea of what it did. "I just wanted to help them and I did," he said.

Harriet Galgut


A woman who could easily be described as "the volunteers' volunteer", Harriet Galgut has spent 10 years recruiting helpers for Jewish Care. She uses her extensive knowledge of the organisation to find the best place for people within it. "I started as a volunteer myself at Lady Sarah Cohen House about 20 years ago," she explained. "The volunteers we place get a huge amount out of it and the organisation benefits. It's a very worthwhile role. Everyone wins when it goes well." It goes well a lot - she has placed more than 1,200 people in volunteering roles - valued at around £150,000 worth of work. Jewish Care said it would be "truly lost" without her efforts.

David Gallick


Described in his nomination as a "genuinely good person", David Gallick has given countless hours to helping others. He offers counselling and therapy to sexual abuse victims, serves as a magistrate, and is a former school governor at the Matilda Marks-Kennedy Jewish Primary School in Mill Hill, north-west London. Mr Gallick established his own foundation to provide financial support for Jewish charities and to help set up businesses. His efforts extend to more than 30 years of volunteering, including work on an eruv committee at his local synagogue. "I retired early and I have time on my hands," he said. "I wanted to give back to people. It's a pleasure, a very big pleasure, to do it. I don't find it a burden at all and I enjoy what I do. I always have a smile on my face."

Kevin Gold


Kevin Gold has adapted his love of bicycles in order to help others. He trains Norwood users on a tandem and for 11 years has undertaken international challenges on the charity's behalf. For more than five years he has given five hours a week to train the budding cyclists on two-seaters, as well as leading spinning classes every week. He has raised more than £40,000 for the charity. His mensch-like activities stretch to his business life too - Mr Gold has found a position in his firm for a Norwood resident. He said: "Why do I do it? When you take these guys out on the tandem and see the smile on their faces it makes your heart melt."

Helen Isaacs


Described by friends as a "super-volunteer", Helen Isaacs is the epitome of a mensch. She has given more than 20 years of voluntary work to organisations including the Board of Deputies, the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, and most recently Norwood. Ms Isaacs has not let her own learning disability hold her back as she contributed hundreds of hours of tea-making, administrative work, travel advice and general friendship.

Holly Kal Weiss


Holly Kal Weiss started a winter shelter for the homeless at Finchley Reform Synagogue, and now oversees more than 20 shelters throughout the borough of Barnet, organising 1,000 volunteers. She has a "tireless ability to rally her team", according to her nominator.

Ms Kal Weiss said: "These shelters run because of the tireless work of so many volunteers and the incredible generosity of ordinary people. Not only do we provide emergency shelter for Barnet's homeless from October to March every year, but in doing so we have brought together the community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from right across the spectrum."

Steve Miller


Steve Miller founded Tzedek, the Jewish charity dedicated to alleviating poverty in the developing world. Thanks to his fundraising efforts since 1990, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been donated to small projects in Africa and Asia, benefiting thousands of women and children. Initially, Tzedek's work with the developing world was not considered a high priority for funders in the Jewish community, and Mr Miller, who is 59 and lives in north London, had to work hard to persuade funders to back the charity. He said: "It was the right thing to do at the right time. I realised that people had a potential interest in helping those living in poverty around the world and needed someone to tap into it and set something up."

Rochelle Newington


Described by her nominator as "the most selfless person", Rochelle Newington organises Mitzvah Day activities for the Jewish community in Shenley, Hertfordshire. She also raises funds for hospices and local charities. Ms Newington, who is 49, explained that it was her neighbours who inspired her to work for the community. "I live in an area called The Park in Shenley, which is a beautiful Jewish and non-Jewish community. I've been living here since 1995 and people made a real effort for the area to be like a community. For Mitzvah Day, I organised a tree-planting session in the morning for children and their families and in the evening I held a concert, which was a lovely way to bring out elderly people who live by themselves."

Rowena Rosenfeld


Rowena Rosenfeld runs the Friendship Club at Catford and Bromley Synagogue for local pensioners. When she took over, it had just a handful of members. Now an average of almost 30 elderly people visit it every week. And all of them get a three-course meal, cooked and served by Ms Rosenfeld. She commented: "I wanted to do something after I retired and I decided to help the lady who originally ran the club. When she could no longer do it, I took it over and it has gone from strength to strength. I really love doing it."

Faigy Schischa

Disability group founder

Faigy Schischa founded Step by Step in 1998 after noticing the limited number of out-of-school activities available for disabled children. Today the charity helps over 600 children through its clubs, residential weekends and holiday schemes. The 46-year-old north Londoner explained that she was motivated after "seeing how a friend of mine was struggling with her autistic children". She added: "It doesn't mean anything to be recognised for what I do. But if it means that more people know about the charity, that's great."

Adam Shelley

Youth leader

Adam Shelley joined the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade as a boy - and never left. He was a youth leader - winning the Young Leader of the Year - has trained other youth leaders and is a trustee of the organisaton. He also lends his professional skills as accountant whenever they are needed. The 37-year-old from Hertfordshire said: "I've been JLGB leader for 19 years and was a member since I was 11. I enjoy volunteering and giving back to the youth of the community and giving them the same opportunities that helped me grow. I do it for the love and wanting to give back to the community. This recognition just gives me even more motivation for me to continue to do what I love."

Richard Silver

Youth worker

Richard Silver is continually being asked: "Why do you do it?" - particularly by the parents whose children attend the two youth clubs he runs at Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue. He also organises the 19th Southgate scout troop, totting up an impressive total of 12 hours a week devoted to youth work.

So, why does he do it? "If you give your time to doing this you find it is like a drug and you get much more out of it than you put in," he explained, adding, "To be honest, I always feel I could do more."

Adrienne Sussman

Youth worker

As chairman of Youth Aliyah Child Rescue for over 10 years, Adrienne Sussman plays a leading role in supporting at-risk children in Israel. She has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds and raised more by encouraging others to support the charity's projects, such as its six youth villages across the country. Mrs Sussman, who is 83 and from Barnet, said: "I've been doing it all my life. It was supposed to be a temporary thing and 40 years later here I am. I just enjoy doing it, it makes me feel good."

David Wolff

Football supremo

A familiar figure on the touchline of countless Maccabi league football matches, David Wolff has been involved with the MSFL league for more than 50 years, including 30-plus as chairman. Now 70, he has been part of a growth that has seen a league that started with one division increase to a high of five divisions, with 65 teams. He has also helped fight "the Jewish corner" in the game, working closely with the Football Association to ensure the survival of the league in its current format. "I have an interest in soccer and the community - supporting young athletes is a passion," he said.

Anita Woolf


Anita Woolf's son was born profoundly deaf and physically disabled. He attends a centre in north London for which Mrs Woolf and her husband Emile have raised £4,000 to fund classes on art, pottery, photography and computer sessions by organising concerts at their home. Now the centre is under threat of closure and she is battling to save it. Mrs Woolf said: "We have seen disabled people without fair access to a life they deserve. I'm concerned with all of them and I care for them. I want to see them happy. I'm interested in raising public awareness around disability and they need a centre where they meet and can socialise and develop their full potential. That's why we are raising money."

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