Arise, Sir Ephraim! Chief Rabbi leads record-breaking honours list for the community

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is Sir Ephraim after being knighted in the New Year Honours.

The former Kinloss minister is recognised for his services to the Jewish community, interfaith relations and education as part of one of the most extensive list of honours for Jewish community leaders, Holocaust survivors and philanthropists in memory.

Newly-knighted Sir Ephraim told Jewish News: “I am enormously honoured and deeply humbled by this award. It will be particularly moving for me to receive this award from His Majesty the King, in his first year as our monarch.”

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It is just one historic meeting with Charles III he can look forward to in 2023, having been invited to stay with the Monarch at Clarence House on the eve of the coronation so as not to transgress Shabbat.








The Chief Rabbi, who follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Lord Sacks in receiving a knighthood, was one of the first US rabbis to host an imam in his community while still at Kinloss and recently became the first holder of his role to pay an official visit to an Arab state at the invitation of the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace.

Reacting to news of the award, he noted that his award had been made against the background of a worrying rise in global antisemitism, and said it was important to continue to speak out and challenge high-profile figures who give voice to antisemitic ideas.

Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, has been made a Dame in recognition of her work in the face of the Russian invasion of the country in February.

While it was “most disappointing and saddening when high-profile characters are guilty of antisemitism”, the Chief Rabbi believed that “fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people within our society is not antisemitic and does not wish to accept that kind of conduct.”

Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, has been made a Dame in recognition of her work in the face of the Russian invasion of the country in February. She is known to be on good personal terms with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who admired very much her determination to stay at her post in Kyiv, not least when other diplomats left Ukraine.

Describing the award as a “huge honour”, Dame Melinda, a member of Finchley Reform shul, said: “I am proud of everyone I have worked with and everything we have done to support Ukrainians’ unwavering determination to live free, especially over the last year. We will continue to work together to support them just as we continue to be inspired by their incredible resilience.”

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Melinda Simmons

The past and present president of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush and Marie van der Zyl, have each been awarded an OBE.

Arkush said: “When I learned about the honour, it was something of a ‘wow’ moment. It is an honour for the Board of Deputies, and recognises that the Board is front and central in defending and protecting Jewish life in our country. Leading the Board at a crucial time in politics was one of the greatest privileges of my life”. Like his successor, Marie van der Zyl, his time at the helm spanned the the period in which Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour Party.

For Van der Zyl, only the second woman to lead the Board, the honour also reflected the work of the representative organisation.

She said: “I could not have achieved what I have without the support and help of everyone here, including our wonderful staff team and my fellow honorary officers and deputies, all of whom are volunteers who give so much time and effort for no reward. This is as much for them as it is for me.”

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Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush at the Enough is Enough demo
Credit: Marc Morris

There is also recognition for the rabbi of the tiny Belfast Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi David Kale. He told Jewish News: “I am absolutely thrilled and honoured to receive the MBE. It was totally unexpected, but I think it was to do with my work explaining the impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol on the Jewish community of Belfast. If we can’t import kosher food then there will be no Jewish community. I am greatly honoured to have recognition of my work in explaining this, both to Boris Johnson when he was prime minister and to Brandon Lewis as the Northern Ireland secretary”.

Rabbi Kale has been minister in Belfast since August 2018. London-born and raised in Bournemouth, he was previously minister at Staines and at Barking and Becontree.

Two chief executives of communal organisations can also look forward to trips to the palace to pick up gongs. Sue Cipin, CEO of the Jewish Deaf Association, said she was “thrilled” to be awarded an OBE, which she insisted also belongs to all our inspiring and committed staff and volunteers who do such incredible work.

Two chief executives of communal organisations can also look forward to trips to the palace to pick up gongs.

“Being a part of the JDA community is not only crucial to our clients, it feeds the souls of all of us who are lucky enough to work here. JDA is part of who I am and I feel truly blessed to be a part of the JDA family.”

And Mark Gardner also received an OBE in recognition of his work as CEO of the Community Security Trust. The charity’s former head of communications, he said: “I am delighted to receive this honour, which also reflects the amazing work of CST’s volunteers and staff.”

Three people associated with World Jewish Relief and the Association of Jewish Refugees have also been honoured, though in one case, former trustee Suzanne Kantor, the OBE is for her work as a personal tax adviser with the Inland Revenue.

The charity’s honorary vice-president, Linda Rosenblatt, has been made MBE, while an MBE also goes to Harry Heber, a survivor who volunteers with WJR and AJR.

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Theo Sakol with mum and dad, Gary and Bianca

Bianca Sakol, the young Borehamwood activist whose charity, Sebby’s Corner, adds an MBE to the Points of Light award she received from the prime minister in October.

The charity supports hundreds of families with essential supplies for babies and toddlers, across Hertfordshire, Barnet, and north London. Sakol, 34, who began the charity when she struggled to find places to donate outgrown clothing from her own two children, told Jewish News: “I genuinely thought it was a joke at first. How could this even happen? It’s really special because Sebby’s Corner is so new. We began in January 2021 and only received charitable status in November 2021. So it’s a real thrill.”

A total of six of survivors are also celebrating much-deserved honours: Susan Pollack OBE, Lily Ebert MBE, Harry Olmer MBE, Harry Heber MBE, Yvonne Bernstein MBE and Michael Brown BEM. Additionally Michael Karp, a trustee of the Holocaust Educational Trust, is made OBE; while the TV presenter and campaigner against antisemitism, Rachel Riley, receives an MBE for her services to Holocaust education.

Susan Pollack

Karen Pollock told Jewish News: “Rachel Riley is a champion to us all, including the thousands of young HET ambassadors across the country she has inspired. Rachel made a choice to stand up and be a leading voice in the fight against antisemitism — we thank and congratulate her on her well-deserved honour.”

Michael Brown, originally from Hanover, in Germany, came to Britain with the Kindertransport and has spoken of his escape from the Nazis to schoolchildren across the UK and Germany. Harry Olmer, now 95, who marked his third bar mitzvah only recently at Mill Hill Synagogue, said: ‘Receiving an MBE was completely unexpected, I had no idea. I wish everyone who has received an honour a huge mazel tov!”

Lily Ebert said the award of MBE was “the utmost honour and privilege. After losing my mother, youngest sister and youngest brother in Auschwitz, I could not even imagine myself surviving. I was 20 years old. I am now 99, and accepting an award from the King. It feels like a dream – every day I have to remind myself that this is my reality, and how extraordinarily lucky I am to be here.”

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The Duchess of Cambridge shares a joke with Holocaust survivor Yvonne Bernstein after the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Commemorative Ceremony at Central Hall in Westminster, London (Photo credit: Chris Jackson/PA Wire)

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, paid tribute to Yvonne Bernstein, who was hailed as “life-affirming” by the Duchess of Cambridge after she photographed her as part of a Jewish News-initiated project in 2020 . She said: “We are so delighted to hear of Yvonne’s honour — we know the impact she had made on so many people through sharing her experiences with others. This honour rightly recognises her contribution not just to Holocaust education and commemoration but to society as a whole.

The chief rabbi wasn’t the only communal figure to receive a knighthood. Political scientist Vernon Bogdanor and MP Julian Lewis can also add ‘Sir’ to their names. Sir Julian told Jewish News: “Representing New Forest East allows me to serve our community locally, whilst focusing on security and defense at a national level. Today’s recognition of that work is as generous as it is encouraging.”

One of the country’s most eminent clinicians, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, has been made Companion of Honour. Sir Michael is director of University College’s Institute of Health Equity. The special distinction is awarded for having made a major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government, lasting over a long period of time, and is limited to 65 people at any one time.

One of the country’s most eminent clinicians, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, has been made Companion of Honour.

His lifetime work is in public health. Born in London but trained as a doctor in Sydney, Australia, he was knighted in 2000 for his services to epidemiology and the understanding of health inequalities.

Commenting on the honour, Sir Michael said: “Over decades, when the evidence has shown it to be necessary, I have been critical of government policy, particularly since 2010. Despite that criticism, this award has been made. It is a recognition of the importance of truth and evidence in having a reasoned debate about the kind of society we want. Without the support of UCL, with its eminent global reputation, my job would have been much harder.”

Lady Sarah Dorfman receives the OBE for her services to ballet and dance. Lady Sarah, wife of Sir Lloyd Dorfman, said: “Supporting ballet and dance has been a personal passion of mine for many years. I am particularly proud of championing programmes to support the physical and mental wellbeing of dancers.”

Francesca Simon, the admired children’s writer and author of the Horrid Henry series, is made OBE

Lady Sarah was a governor of the Royal Ballet School from 2012 to 2021, including deputy chair in the last two years. Through her family foundation she has also supported the English National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Academy of Dance.

Francesca Simon, the admired children’s writer and author of the Horrid Henry series, is made OBE. The American-born novelist only recently acquired British citizenship, becoming one of the last candidates to swear allegiance to the Queen.

Others honoured this year include Dr Naomi Katz Sacks, who receives the MBE for her public health work in London; Dr Joel Meyer, also MBE, for his work at Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals in London; Sonia Friedman, OBE for services to theatre; and Jon Suchet, also OBE for services to journalism.

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