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Obituary: Hannah Grant

JC “volunteer of the week’ who brought Yiddish culture back to synagogue life

    Her deep-rooted feminism was expressed in her involvement with her synagogue Ladies’ Guild, the League of Jewish Women, and the local Townswomen’s Guild, which she chaired. But life for Hannah Grant, who has died aged 96, did not at first look promising.

    Forced to give up her grammar school place at the age of 14, while her brothers Mark and Myer each embarked on professional careers, Hannah learned shorthand and typing in order to contribute to the family’s finances. 

    The daughter of Yiddish-speaking immigrants Annie and Nathan Guter, she grew up in London’s East End, then a hotbed of political and social activity where Hannah and her brothers were Communist Party members. She protested against the rise of fascism, and was present in Cable Street when Oswald Mosley attempted to bring his Blackshirts onto her home patch. 

    In 1942, Szmuel Zygielbojm, representing the National Council of the Polish government in exile, arrived in London to warn Parliament of Hitler’s plans to annihilate Poland’s Jews. His warnings fell on deaf ears.

    Hannah was drawn into the Oxford and St Georges Jewish Settlement which offered social education to the East End’s Jewish youth. Founded by the future Sir Basil Henriques and Lady Rose in 1919, the Settlement helped Hannah supplement the heimishe traditions she learned at home with English cultural skills. Through the Settlement’s annual camp at Highdown Hill, she developed an appreciation of classical music, a love for the Sussex South Downs and the values of friendship, loyalty, and community. There she met Jack Grant, whom she married at the Settlement Synagogue.Hannah and Jack began the journey out of the East End, through Woodberry Down in north London, to Welwyn Garden City, where they became active in the local Hebrew Congregation.

    Aware again, of her financial responsibility to her household, Hannah took a shorthand and typing refresher course at the local FE college. Her teachers were so impressed with her abilities that she was engaged for the following term to teach. Long past her formal retirement, Hannah  continued to coach overseas business people in spoken English.

    In 1963 the family moved to Edgware where Hannah’s energies were appreciated by the former Edgware and District Reform Synagogue, now merged with Hendon RS. When she and Jack first joined they were briefly members of Orthodox, Liberal and Reform synagogues, thus offering their children a rare example of Jewish ecumenism.

    At EDRS, Hannah was instrumental in  persuading the shul to permit women to carry the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah.  An active member of the shul’s Chevra Kadisha (burial society) she helped the Movement for Reform Judaism to establish them in constituent synagogues.

    Hannah loved the Yiddish of her parents’ home, its wit and wisdom, its language and literature and its songs. When EDRS invited her to teach a Yiddish class, it yielded opportunities for pensioner clubs and young adults. Hannah collected recordings of Yiddish songs and her archive is a tribute to the intellectual rigour she might have applied to a professional career.

    When visiting refuseniks in the former USSR Hannah was bowled over by her Moscow experiences and the way her Yiddish and knitting skills were appreciated. Hannah became committed to the Soviet Jewry Campaign, visiting the USSR several times and fund-raising in the 35s London charity shop. 

    Widowed at 85, Hannah continued to live an independent and full life. Her Yiddish and current affairs discussion groups at the Jewish Care day centre led to her being head hunted to offer sessions at the Leonard Sainer Centre in Edgware. In October, 2009, at the age of 88, she was named JC volunteer of the week. Her friends looked forward to her Friday night dinners and she was a lively participant in EDRS services and social activities. She spent her latter years at Sydmar Lodge, where she had often volunteered and visited relatives and friends in care. She is survived by her four children Ruth, Penny, Harry and Jonathan, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

    Ruth Soetendorp

     

    Hannah Grant: born January 9, 1921. Died November 11, 2017