Naomi Rutstein

Religious education teacher who brought warmth and fun to academic girls’ school


My mother Naomi Rutstein, who has died aged 89, taught religious education to Jewish girls at Edgware’s North London Collegiate School, for 25 years. She also taught history to all the students.

Naomi began what was to prove her long and successful teaching career in the late 1960s. Her first job was in a convent, where she fondly remembered the nuns for their kindness and interest in all things Jewish. She later moved to NLCS , where she became part of the furniture, as she would say.

My mother’s former colleagues and students paint a picture of a warm, lively, entertaining and sociable individual, devoted to the welfare of the school and all who worked and studied there. She was always ready to help new colleagues find their feet and support them as they started out. One former teacher from Germany told me that she and my mother were born in the same year in the same country, but in very different circumstances. She was the daughter of a priest in southern Germany; my mother came from a Jewish German-Turkish family in Berlin. My mother brought her frequently to our home for afternoon tea and she became a family friend.

It was said that at parents’ evenings the atmosphere was generally prim and proper and parents would interact with the teachers in a cordial but business-like manner. However, in one corner of the school hall somethingbetween a party and a coffee morning would take place, resonating with laughter and high spirits. This would be my mother’s table where she and the parents would be having a good time.

Naomi had less success when it came to controlling girls at Jewish assembly, where occasionally they would take a riotous turn, resembling a scene from St. Trinian’s. My mother would have to shout herself hoarse before anything like calm and order would descend.

Many of mother’s former colleagues and students became friends and stayed in contact with her long after they had all left school, a testament to her ability to forge close friendships based on warmth and a keen sense of fun.

Naomi was born in Pankow, Berlin in 1931 to Leopold Eliezer Finger and Sarah Katz, who came from Istanbul. After the Nazis rose to power in March, 1933, the family lost no time in leaving for London, and arrived in September of that year. In 1938, they moved to Golders Green where my mother lived for the rest of her life. Their house would become the home where she would bring up her own family.

Naomi went to Henrietta Barnet School in Hampstead Garden Suburb and then studied history at Queen Mary College, University of London. In the mid-1950s her mother introduced her to her relatives in Istanbul where she met my father Henri Rutstein. He soon followed her back to London and they married in Dunstan Road Synagogue in August, 1957. They had three children: Theo, Sarah and myself. On my mother’s retirement in 1994, she was honoured with an article in the school magazine which featured an adaptation from the Book of Proverbs: “Many Jewish religious education teachers have done worthily but thou excellest them all.”

To continue the theme of literary variations, the best tribute I can make about my mother is to misquote the final lines of that lovely novella, Goodbye Mr Chips: “Some will say my mother had only three children but they would be wrong. My mother had hundreds of children, perhaps thousands and all of them, apart from two, were girls”.

On the surface, my mother lived in relative quietness and out of the limelight.The reality was different. Her life touched not only her family and friends but also the many girls, from in and outside the Jewish community, who passed through her classrooms and will remember her with love and gratitude.

Naomi is survived by her children, son in law and daughter in law, Lionel and Anna, grandchildren Sophia, Benjamin and Jake and great grandchildren Li’am and Netta.


Naomi Rutstein: born November 25, 1931. Died April 2, 2021

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