Wally Leaf

Dedicated Zionist and interfaith champion who fought defamation issues


As a champion of Jewish and Israeli causes, broadcaster and journalist Wally Leaf, who has died aged 97, founded the Rapid Response Ring, uniting Jews and Christians to fight defamation by MPs, MEPs and the media, with proven facts.

Deeply involved in the community, from Ajex to Zionism, Leaf spent 30 years covering news and local stories for the JC, including  sports, travel and obituaries. He represented Hendon Reform Synagogue at the Board of Deputies from 1967, serving on many committees and speaking and broadcasting regularly on the causes he championed.

As warden of Hendon Reform’s  congregation — and representing it nationally on the Reform Council — he fostered developments from youth work to finance, edited the synagogue’s award-winning magazine, chaired the funding committee  that financed its reconstruction and founded its Danescroft Players, whose shows raised thousands for communal charities.

The son of an East End grocer, Walter Murray Leaf won entry to the 400-year-old Coopers’ Company School, where he matriculated with first-class honours, but  the outbreak of the Second World War curtailed his studies. Volunteering and serving as an RAF navigator, he was seconded post-war to the education branch. On demobilisation, he gained several professional qualifications and  became company secretary of Watches of Switzerland. Later, at publisher Odhams Press, he headed a public relations department for many years, until Lord Thomson brought him to The Sunday Times. 

Later, his love of teaching led him to answer an appeal to help revitalise London’s higher education. Based mainly at London University and Southgate College, he also lectured widely abroad, where his English Means  Business became the  textbook of choice for ambitious continental executives.  
A life-long Zionist since joining Habonim at the age of ten, and a founder-member of Pro-Zion, the  British Zionist movement for Progressive Judaism, he was a regular visitor to Israel, where he knew many political personalities and co-operated with every Israeli ambassador to the UK, since the tragic death of Shlomo Argov from wounds he received nearly 21 years previously in the London terrorist attack that triggered Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Argov was killed shortly after their last meeting.

A long-term vice-president of the Zionist Federation (and UK delegate to the Zionist Congress, Jerusalem), Wally  spent 25 years as honorary secretary of the Deputies’ historic Zionist Group. In over half a century at the Board, he became its longest serving member — essentially  “Father of the House”. He served committees ranging from Aliens (formed at the advent of the 1905 Aliens Act, to look after the interests of Jewish immigrants) to Yad Vashem, including Defence, Israel and the Executive. 

Particularly notable were his innovations during 12 years as vice-chairman and chairman of the public relations committee. He also edited The Board and Zion by  the late Zionist historian and Board vice-president, Dr Schneier Levenberg. On delegations to the BBC and other media, he consistently called for fairer treatment of Israel; he expanded interfaith contacts and instituted teach-ins and awards at annual Board conferences to encourage communal magazine editors. A popular speaker for charities and a keen supporter of the Council of Christians and Jews, the Commonwealth Jewish Council, Christian Friends of Israel and the Interfaith Alliance, he also represented Anglo-Jewry on the Parliamentary Committee for Palestinian Aid. At national level, he was involved with B’nai B’rith and Ajex, joining in foreign engagements and as a Cenotaph parade marshal. 

Despite it all, he always had time for social work, travel, writing, and such interests as photography, music, theatre, football and, above all, his large family. His marriage to Norma Robbins, née Asquith, ended in divorce after 30 years. He is survived by their two sons Ian and Jeremy, and by his second wife, Joella, formerly Cohen, to whom he was married for over 35  years, as well as a stepdaughter, a stepson, 15  grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Wally Leaf: born November 1, 1922. Died July 17, 2020  

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