Historian who predicted charedi boom dies at 63

YAAKOV: A teacher-turned-journalist

THE academic who first predicted a charedi population explosion died this week.

Dr Yaakov Wise, 63, had spent the last nine months in and out of North Manchester General Hospital after living in sheltered housing at Gan Eden, Salford.

In between hospital stays, he spent brief periods at Heathlands Village, Israel Sieff Court Care Home and Newlands.

Historian Dr Wise was born in Prestwich and went to King David schools until he moved with his parents to St Annes at the age of eight.

He trained as a teacher, but changed professions after doing his teaching practice in failing London schools.

He retrained as a journalist and worked in PR and marketing, serving as head of corporate communications for Hillingdon council, London.

He then became Hackney’s first Orthodox Jewish community liaison officer with responsibility for delivering council services to the Stamford Hill Jewish community.

His first claim to fame came when he was featured in the 1991 Channel 4 documentary about charedi life in Stamford Hill called Volvo City.

In the programme, Dr Wise said: “As a child I was pretty mainstream.

“Then, when I grew up, I assimilated into ‘white gentile society’.

“But at the age of 29 I decided that Western civilisation was not getting anywhere.

“I was very lucky that my mother sent me to Israel for a holiday, where I met a rabbi who literally saved my soul.

“I have been an Orthodox Jew ever since.”

Dr Wise, who at the time was a bachelor, was seen washing his own dishes, as well as canvassing as a Social Democratic Party local election candidate.

He maintained his interest in politics all his life, although he changed his party allegiances.

Soon after the airing of the programme, Dr Wise moved back to Manchester where he taught at a small Orthodox school and worked as a PR consultant. But his TV fame followed him.

His future wife Shprintze was shown a video of the programme — and decided he was the man she wanted to marry.

And she did. They settled in Ravens Close, Prestwich.

Shprintze now lives in Israel, but while they were together she encouraged her husband to pursue academic ambitions.

After gaining an MA in politics and modern history at Salford University, Dr Wise acquired a PhD in religions and theology at Manchester University’s Centre for Jewish Studies, where he became a research fellow.

He wrote his doctoral thesis on The Rise of Independent Orthodoxy in Anglo-Jewry – the History of the Machzikei Hadass Communities, Manchester, and became an expert on the history of charedi Judaism.

In the early years of the current century, he was the first to predict the community’s population explosion.

He also wrote for the Jewish Telegraph, concentrating on features on the charedi community.

But Dr Wise’s interests spread much further afield.

They included discovering the Jewish roots of Pope John Paul II and then-Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as unearthing ancient historical documents and facts about disused Jewish cemeteries. Having no children, he and Shprintze fostered youngsters in need of care.

After researching the effects of dementia and mental illness among Holocaust survivors, Dr Wise set up the Greater Manchester Jewish Mental Health Alliance to support and assess the needs of Jews of all ages suffering from mental health issues.

He also established links between the Manchester Polish consul general and the Jewish community.

During his hospital stays, he described graphically and good humouredly on his Facebook page his multiple health conditions and his persistence in defying his doctors’ dire predictions.

He is survived by a brother in Israel and Shprintze.

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