Obituary: Joy Conway

Inspirational leader who promoted the woman’s voice in communal affairs


Catapulted into Jewish communal life at a young age, Joy Conway, who has died aged 87, was an inspirational and devoted Jewish community worker. Her resumé at the time of her Aliyah to Israel in 2014, read like a directory of Anglo-Jewish organisations. US (United Synagogue) Women, the Visitation Committee, AJWO (Association of Jewish Women’s Organisations), Kingsbury Mikve, Jewish Marriage Council, the Women’s Voluntary Chevra Kadisha, the Board of Deputies, the Chief Rabbi’s Women’s Review, US Cares, Joy was involved in all of these and more, rose to become chair of many, and was an active and inspiring presence in Anglo-Jewry for decades.

The inspiration for her devotion to communal endeavour undoubtedly came from her parents, Isaac and Jessie Presman, who were communal leaders on a grand scale, championing a wide variety of diverse causes. A warden in the New Synagogue Egerton Road, Isaac was close to Rabbi Shmelke Pinter (a prominent Chasidic personality in Stamford Hill) and was one of the founders of the Yesodey Hatorah School. He was Chairman of the Netzivei Ponevezh — Supporters of Ponevezh Yeshiva — and at the same time was an ardent champion of the Irgun and described by Menachem Begin as “my best friend in Europe”. (Isaac’s dubious activities on behalf of the Etsel, as well as his arrest one Shabbat upon the discovery of bombs in his garage, earned him two pages in Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5.

Joy was similarly pioneering, if less sensational, in her communal activities. She became secretary to the redoubtable Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld soon after leaving Dame Alice Owen’s School where she was Head Girl. In later years, her husband Joe Conway, a Consultant Ophthalmologist, would often quip that the initials JSSM (the Jewish Secondary School Movement) really stood for Joy and Solomon Schonfeld!

She became the first woman to sit at the US Trustee table long before any provision had been made in the bye-laws, convincing the then President Sidney Frosh that since at least half of the community were women, it was crucial their view was heard. In the 1980’s, at the urging of her close friend Lady Amélie Jakobovits, she became the first Chair of the United Synagogue Mikve Committee and spearheaded the establishment of the first US Mikve in Kingsbury.

Joy’s leadership style however was not in any way activist or confrontational. She influenced and inspired through example, hard work, wisdom, charm and humility. Her staunch adherence to halacha was respected and appreciated by all those she worked with both across the communal spectrum and beyond, whether in her dealings with the HM Prison Service at the Visitation Committee or a variety of religious chaplains at Interfaith events. In 2000, Joy received a Home Office Millennium Award for her voluntary work.

Her life-long involvement in communal work did not detract from what she regarded as her prime role as a mother of four and in later years a grandmother and great grandmother of many, or from her role as medical secretary for her husband’s private practice in Harley Street and at their residence. Their home in the suburb was a bastion of Jewish life, a centre of simchahs and communal activity.

Joy was a role model for many and her significant accomplishments benefit Anglo-Jewry to this day. Her passing prompted tributes from dayanim, rabbis and communal leaders, including Chief Rabbi Mirvis who wrote “– Joy Conway’s outstanding endeavours enriched the Jewish community in general and the United Synagogue in particular.”

Her papers, The Joy Conway Collection, reflecting over six decades of dramatic change in the community, particularly with regard to women’s roles, occupy three metres of shelf space in the Greater London Records Office.

She is survived by her husband Joe, brother Elkan Presman, children and children-in-law Aviva and Gerry Bender, Rabbi Jeremy and Sylvia, Benjamin and Naomi, Sara and Josy Orenstein, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Rabbi Jeremy Conway


Joy Conway: born May 4, 1931. Died July 24, 2017s


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