I avidly read newspaper obituaries and some of them I keep. Just yesterday I was reading about William Wolff who passed away at the age of 93. He was a German Jew who escaped the Nazis to live and work in England. He was to enjoy a thirty-year career in journalism but then one morning in 1979 he woke up and decided to become a rabbi. He was 52. In 1984 he was ordained and went on to work in Newcastle, Milton Keynes, Reading, Brighton and Wimbledon. Wolff also responded to a call to serve the Jewish community in Germany, which was rapidly expanding mainly due to the return of 100,000 Jews from Russia, many of whom were ignorant of their religion. Eventually he was appointed chief rabbi of northeast Germany and saw his role as educational but also as an integrator ensuring that his fellow Jews did not become incarcerated in a walled ghetto.
Interestingly, when Pope Benedict instigated a move towards Easter prayers requesting the conversion of Jews, which resulted in an outcry, Wolff to his credit called for calm and a working towards good relations with the Vatican.
Dividing his time between Germany and Henley on Thames where his bungalow resembled a ramshackle bookshop, William Wolff was an eccentric personality, regularly fasting because it stimulated his brain and frequently a visitor at the races at Ascot. Also, he would enrage his colleagues as he was impossible to find and never answered his mobile phone.
Another larger than life personality was Doris Buffet who was described in The Times last Wednesday as a philanthropist who gave away millions of pounds to the underprivileged. One of her admirers said of Doris, “She saw herself as a rescue operation, not in the sense she was going to pick you up and carry you to safety, but that she was going to get you out of the ditch.” Amongst the many good projects she supported were the funding of scholarships for women who had been in abusive relationships, education for prison inmates and help for men and women who suffered mental illness. Of the latter Doris had a particular interest: both her grandmother and great grandmother had spent time in Nebraska State Mental Hospital. As a child Doris had a rather loveless relationship with her mother; “I never heard the words I love you,” she said. However, Doris went on to demonstrate great love and compassion to many thousands of people in need. She once said, “The best return is when lives change for the better in some way.”
Lastly, I come to Richard Overton, a war veteran, who passed away in December 2018 aged 112. He had been the oldest man in America and despite putting his longevity down to ‘cigars and whiskey-spiked coffee’, he often emphasised the importance of his Christian Faith in life and how he loved to worship the Lord in Church. He once said, “Church is a wonderful place. Keeps me going, makes me feel good. I love that church singing, beautiful. It’s good to have a spiritual life but you gotta live it.”
I hope these stories have been interesting or perhaps even inspiring.
Have a very blessed week.