IT is often said that Britain’s two biggest Jewish communal organisations do not work together well.
But for a period of around six years, both the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies were headed by the same person — Henry Grunwald.
Upon the JLC’s inception in 2003, Henry was a founder and chairman.
And from 2003-2009, he was president of the Board of Deputies.
It was the latter that saw him have to don a bulletproof vest at a 2009 rally against Hamas in Trafalgar Square.
He told the crowd of 15,000 that “we are the people who want peace and who want life for Israel”.
Of that event, he told me: “I spoke, as did the Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, and we both had to put on bulletproof jackets. It was a horrible experience.
“The worst that happened at the rally was that there were people on the edge of the square shouting.
“The police were fantastic and gave us protection.”
The 70-year-old father-of-four is no stranger to being at the centre of big news stories.
For the QC was defending barrister in the witchcraft murder of a young boy, and the assault and torture of his siblings in 2012, the first honour killing case by a member of the Kurdish community and one of the largest-ever drug importations leading to one of the longest trials.
The law industry was always going to be Henry’s calling.
He said: “I was the boy of the family — although my sister was more than clever enough to go to university.
“I was the one who was going to get the education.
“My parents had one friend who was a solicitor, so from when I was very little there was an expectation that, if I was able to, I was going to become a solicitor.
“I didn’t have any choice and that was how it was going to be.
“My sister married the boy next door, who was a newly-qualified solicitor, and when I was doing law at university I worked at his firm over the holidays and I decided that I wanted to be a barrister, not a solicitor.
“It was a much better option for me and I have no regrets — I would have made a pretty awful solicitor.”
Educated at University College London, where he was made a fellow in 2006, he was called to the bar in 1972, specialising in criminal law. He took Silk in 1999 and became a Bencher of Gray’s Inn in 2001 — the same place as Lord Carlile.
The grandfather-of-eight grew up in Whitechapel in the East End to a London-born mother of Polish heritage, Heddy, and a Czech father, Eugene, who arrived on August 4, 1939 on a work permit for Feld’s kosher restaurant.
His father’s culinary career was prominent throughout young Henry’s life.
“He had trained as a pastry chef,” he recalled, “and was lucky enough to get a work permit and to be allowed into the country under the designation of racial refugee.
“He was lucky because almost all of his family was murdered in the Shoah.
“My mother and father met when my father needed somewhere to live — my grandmother was looking for a lodger, so my father married the landlady’s daughter.”
Eugene would later work at the Central kosher restaurant and the Noshery in Hatton Gardens.
But he left his work at work and would only cook at home if there was a big occasion.
“When you do it all day long, it’s a very hard life — often working seven days a week,” Henry said.
“He used to make the most fantastic pastry, from birthday cakes to cream horns, but he tried not to cook at home.
“He never taught me, but I’m the soupmaker in the family! My chicken soup is said to be very good.”
While Henry didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps into the culinary world, he did so into the world of Jewish communal life.
His father was on a shul board of management, while his mother was involved in a ladies guild.
He said: “It’s a bit like mother’s milk. You have the role of community involvement to follow and I fulfil that role strongly.
“I also think that, because of what my father’s family experienced, it’s important for the Jewish community to be properly looked after and that our voices are heard in the right way and the right places, which led me to a particular interest in Holocaust education.”
Henry has been the chairman of the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire since 2012.
And it’s a role of which he is more than proud. But it is not without its issues.
He said: “We’ve been lucky over 24 years to have one of two survivors there every day to speak to large groups of school children.
“But we realised a few years ago that this wasn’t going to continue forever, and we’ve had days over the last few months where this hasn’t been possible because there are now fewer and fewer survivors remaining.
“A few years ago, we decided to try and fill the gap we saw coming by developing the Forever Project where we, via complex technology, filmed 10 of our survivor speakers.
“But this wasn’t just them telling their story, it was getting them to answer 1,300 or more questions.
“The project is interactive so that the audience can ask questions of the image, which is a 3D projection, and get an answer back.
“It’s a fantastic use of modern technology to be able to use a Forever Project film like this.
“Nothing will ever be as good as interaction between a live survivor and an audience, but it’s the closest we’ll ever get to it.”
The long-term plans for the centre also involves modern technology to take the centre into the future.
Looking back on his career, Henry was quick to state that he has no regrets, and classes himself as “really lucky”.
He explained: “We were a poor family — we didn’t even have an indoor toilet until I was 11.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky professionally, communally and personally.
“I have the most fantastic wife, who I married in 1976, with four children and eight grandchildren with maybe more to come.
“When I look back as a whole, I sometimes have to pinch myself.
“When I led a delegation of the Jewish community for a meeting with then-Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street, and I found myself, this little East End boy, sitting opposite him in the Cabinet Room, I though ‘what would my father, who fled the Nazis, have thought of this?’.”
He added: “Regrets, maybe the odd thing, but they pale into significance against what I can look back on and take real pride in a positive way to have had the good fortune to be involved in.”
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