Celebrating June Jacobs CBE

June Jacobs

We were saddened to hear the passing of June Jacobs CBE last week. June was one of the founders of New Israel Fund in the UK and served on our board for over a decade. June also sat on the International Council of the New Israel Fund. We all have our memories and stories of June and it is incredible how many people were introduced to NIF or inspired into action by June. Her steadfastness to her values and her compassion and caring were incredible. We asked three people close to June to reflect on June’s life and her achievements.

 Professor Naomi Chazan, Past-President of NIF and former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset:

“June Jacobs is gone, but her indomitable spirit and her unflinching dedication to the values of freedom, equality and justice will continue to guide the many people she touched during her incredible life.  She was at the forefront of every progressive cause in the Jewish world and beyond.  She was relentless in her determination to right wrongs and to battle discrimination wherever it existed.  She believed deeply that the Israel she loved must be not only a decent society for all its citizens, but also live in peace with its neighbors. Her presence, her personal warmth and her unswerving commitment compelled even the most skeptical to listen and, often, to join in her efforts.  Above all, June was a real friend: she was always available, quick to rally when needed, extraordinarily considerate, truly thoughtful and a lot of fun. Her passing is a great loss not only for the New Israel Fund—whose UK branch she helped establish—but for all those who believe in a democratic and just Israel.  I deeply mourn the loss of a dear friend of many years.”

 Lance Blackstone, current board member and co-founder of NIF alongside June:

“June Jacobs was such a powerful inspiration to us in the many humanitarian causes she supported that it is hard to believe she is no longer with us. Over twenty years ago, when the first attempt at establishing the New Israel Fund in the UK faltered, she took up the baton and established it firmly on its present course. I was privileged to be one of the many colleagues and friends who accompanied her along the way. June’s presence will remain with us as long as the journey continues.”

 Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, taken from his eulogy at her funeral:

“[June] Travelled to Israel by boat in 1948 as an 18 year old, undaunted by the challenges faced either by the journey, or the nascent State… [In] 1989 when, as the Board of Deputies’ foreign affairs spokesperson, she met with PLO representative Bassam Abu Sharif, the JC (Jewish Chronicle) ran with the headline, ‘The grandma who wants to talk to the Palestinians.’ There were those on the Board who disapproved. She was undaunted, ‘I was just doing what 50% of the population of Israel thought we should be doing,’ she argued in her own cause.

She had a wonderful way with words, she gave a great speech – invariably without notes,  invariably inspiring – nothing seemed to fear her. She said at one time, ‘I’ve never been worried about speaking out. My job is not at stake, so I have the freedom to say what I want.’… She was overwhelmingly her own person, beholden to no communal macher, content to plough her own furrow. “

But I always experienced her at her most powerful in small gatherings and one-to-one. She had a deep curiosity – you knew she was terribly interested in you, and you felt drawn to the things that she was interested in. Added to which she had a way with words. She was perfectly happy taking a potshot at male hegemony in religious or communal leadership, frankly male hegemony in any arena. She could be direct and blunt, but it was difficult to disagree with her – even when she was at her most forceful….

The last time I saw June was at New London, she and the family had sponsored a kiddush in honour of what would have been Basil’s 100th birthday. She looked every inch the grande dame of the community – graceful, a little frail, but still twinkling, still deeply outraged at the most recent misbehaviour reported from Israel, a country she loved well enough to feel real pain at its failings. And still asking after everyone. I will miss her hugely.”

The Board and Staff of NIF will miss June dearly. May her memory be a blessing and her life continue to inspire.

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