Rabbi Stanley Michaels

Antisemitic attack brought philanthropic and passionate rabbi to deeper Torah study


Hailed as a mensch and a pillar of London’s Mill Hill United Synagogue, Rabbi Stanley Michaels, who has died from Covid-19, aged 73, was noted for setting up the Neighbourhood Trust for Cancer Research in 1978, raising over £1million for early diagnosis equipment for local hospitals.

For this campaign, he organised everything from a countrywide motorbike ride, with police outriders, to several large events hosted by well-known celebrities such as Roy Castle. To this day, there are still units at Lewisham, Newcastle, Mount Vernon, Romford and many others.

Yet it was a brutal, near fatal antisemitic attack in Birmingham in late 1999 that moved him to question his Judaism and to engage in deeper Torah study.

The only child of Ann and Woolf Michaels, Rabbi Stanley, as he was affectionately known, spent his early years in the East End of London, with his parents and maternal grandmother. When he was 11 they all moved to Wembley to create a better life for themselves.

Stanley enjoyed studying but left school at 16 to go into accountancy. While articled, he passed all his accountancy qualifications, setting up his own practice, Harford Michaels (now Harford Michaels Kaye) in 1972.

He married Sonia Ospalla in February, 1972 at Brixton Synagogue. The celebrations were by candlelight because of the government’s three-day week, imposed to save power.

It was the death of his father from cancer in 1978, at the age of 56, that motivated Stanley to set up the Neighbourhood Trust for Cancer Research and to launch his fundraising campaign for early diagnostic equipment.

Stanley had a beautiful singing voice. He studied nusach (the musical style of a prayer service) with Rabbi Jeffrey Shisler at Jews’ College, now known as the London School of Jewish Studies, and Reverend Stephen Robins, with whom he also had singing lessons.

Over the years, Stanley regularly led services on Shabbat and festivals in Mill Hill, Birmingham and Kingston Synagogues. He often led weekday prayers in Hendon United Synagogue in North-West London, speaking there every Thursday after the morning service. He made himself available for weddings, funerals and shivas, wanting nothing more than to bring joy and comfort to people.

In 1987, a close friend asked him if he would teach their son his barmitzvah. He was honoured. This was to be the first of several hundred boys he taught over the years, arriving home for 5pm after a hard day’s work, often to teach three lessons a night. Each boy was equally important to him. He wanted them to succeed and for their families to gain nachat (pride) in their achievement. Alongside teaching leyning, maftir and haftarah, he would also inspire them in relation to Judaism and their heritage.

He had a thirst for Yiddishkeit and Jewish education. He taught a Jewish Studies GCSE class in his dining room for many years. In the late 1990s, he took an MA in Hebrew and Jewish Studies under the auspices of Jews’ College, and obtained his Masters in 1998, with his specialist subject, Jewish education.

From the day of his barmitzvah, until his admission into the hospital’s intensive care unit, Stanley didn’t miss a day of putting on his tefilin, such was his passion for their importance. At the regular Sunday-morning barmitzvah breakfast programme he organised and ran for over 25 years in Mill Hill Shul, he taught fathers, grandfathers and sons how to put them on, pray and say grace after meals. Many of the boys and men who attended that breakfast were moved by their warm Jewish experiences there and still recount them to this day.

In late 1999, Stanley was brutally attacked while walking through the park one Shabbat afternoon in Birmingham. His attacker asked him: “Are you a Jew?” And then beat him viciously, breaking his nose and ribs and leaving him for dead on the ground.

This traumatic event haunted Stanley for the rest of his life, but it also motivated him.

He turned his attacker’s question over and over in his mind. “Am I a Jew? What sort of a Jew am I? What’s my purpose in this life as a Jew? Have I studied enough Torah? Do I keep enough mitzvot?”

This was the beginning of Stanley’s journey into deeper Torah study and eventually to studying for semicha, rabbinic ordination, in his late 60s.

Stanley completed the full course, having only one additional paper left to take when he was struck down by the coronavirus at the beginning of March, this year. And he remained very concerned at not being able to study enough for his last exam.

He sadly lost his hard-fought battle with Covid-19 just six weeks later. His yeshiva in Israel, with whom he was studying remotely, have posthumously awarded him his final certificate and full rabbinic status. It is something he would have been absolutely honoured and thrilled to receive.

Rabbi Stanley is survived by his wife, two daughters, Debra and Alison and six grandchildren, of whom he was very proud.


Rabbi Stanley Michaels, MA, FCCA, born August 6, 1946. Died April 23, 2020

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