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Howard speaks at luncheon

Last updated: 2004-11-09

Michael Howard

Michael Howard photo: Justin Grainge

Conservative leader, The Rt Hon Michael Howard, QC MP, was guest speaker at the 17th Jewish Care Minerva Business Luncheon, held on Monday 8th November at The Grosvenor House Hotel.

It was a record year for the prestigious annual luncheon, sponsored by Minerva Plc in association with Nationwide. Not only did it attract a record audience of nearly 800 supporters but it raised almost £300,000 for the charity’s combined call centre and help desk, Jewish Care Direct, the first point of contact for people needing help.

Bertha Leverton, the recipient of the prestigious Minerva Jewish Care award, was honoured for “outstanding work in the Jewish community.” Bertha is the founder of the Reunion of the Kindertransport and co-editor of the book, ‘I came alone’, stories of children sent to England on the kindertransport (train) to escape the atrocities of Nazi Germany. She works tirelessly to ensure that the stories are never forgotten; the organisation continues to be run by Bertha and her committee under the umbrella of the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR).

Welcoming the guests, new Minerva Business Luncheon committee chairman, Mark Shipman, said the award had been re-named as the Minerva Jewish Care Award in memory Philip Greenwold, a committee member, so that his “contribution would be recognised for many years to come.”

Clearly delighted, Mr Shipman later praised the team for their “phenomenal effort.” He added: “I am proud to be associated with a lunch of this calibre that will help so many people by harnessing the energy and the dynamism of the business world. It is a fitting tribute that Bertha should be honoured the same week as the anniversary of Kristallnacht. She is indeed a worthy winner.”

The award was presented by Jewish Care’s president, Lord Levy, having been announced by co-deputy chairman, Steven Lewis. Guests included Michael Howard’s mother, Hilda, who is a friend of Bertha Leverton; both women are members of Stanmore Synagogue. Jewish Care’s honorary president, Lord Young, chairman, Michael Goldmeier and chief executive, Simon Morris were also present.   

Bertha Leverton said: “I am lost for words today … I don’t quite know what I have done to deserve this award. But obviously you seem to think I do. I accept his award on behalf of the 10,000 of us who came as underprivileged children, most of whom – 90% – lost their parents in horrific circumstances and had to gather themselves together and build up a life. And I am glad to say that most of us managed to do so and have families. Although we never forget and we will never forgive, we have become citizens of Great Britain and we will always be very, very grateful to the country that gave us refuge. The kinder all deserve awards.”

She added: “Jewish Care is a most wonderful organisation and we as kinder appreciate the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre where many of us meet. It is a wonderful thing that you are doing for us. I also suffer from an eye complaint that makes it difficult for me to read and I get talking books [from Jewish Care] for which I am very, very grateful.”

The audience were noticeably quiet while Mrs Leverton read a poem from the book, written by Lilly Lampert, one of the kinder.

Afterwards, talking of the award, Bertha Leverton said: “It was absolutely wonderful. When I set up the Reunion of Kindertransport in 1988, I didn’t know what I had started. It just grew.”

Jewish Care also received praise from Michael Howard. Noting that it was 44 years today when John F Kennedy was elected President, he recalled Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. “For me, his words sum up the spirit of Jewish Care and the thousands of other charities working round the clock in Britain today. You have turned dreams into reality – bringing hope to communities where before there was only worry and concern.”

The leader of the opposition went on to praise Bertha Leverton’s work “in reuniting the remainder of the Kindertransport, those children who came to Britain after the horror of Kristallnacht… Bertha you are a remarkable person and we are delighted to honour you today.

“Since becoming leader of the opposition, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling round Britain. And wherever I go, I meet remarkable people who give up their time to help those who are less fortunate. I visit communities that have pulled together to tackle the problems they face. And I see society working to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people, often more successfully than the state.

“Take Jewish Care – living proof of society in action. Residential and nursing homes, community centres, sheltered housing, social services and counselling – all services you provide every day of the year to thousands of elderly and vulnerable people including my mother, who, I am happy to say, is with us here. Of course, my mother wishes I had become a doctor, but I’m afraid this will have to do.”

Mr Howard’s address continued on the themes of principles, social justice and the voluntary sector: “I know it’s not fashionable to talk about political principles today. But I happen to believe they matter. Principles tell you a lot about a politician – the values they hold dear, the way they address a challenge, their ambition for their country.

“It is a fact that the poorest people in Britain today pay a higher proportion of their income tax than the rich. Yet they get the worst health care. They suffer the poorest education and they are most likely to be victims of crime. They certainly don’t get value for money for the taxes they pay. That’s not what I would call social justice.

“In so many cases, voluntary organisations are better at delivering services than government. Voluntary organisations are more flexible and responsive. They tailor their services to the communities they work in. They do not simply hand out money – they know how it’s going to be used… Institutions like Jewish Care do not simply offer a contract with their customers, they offer a covenant – a relationship, an understanding of the emotional aspects of life, a recognition that we are not economic units or faceless statistics, but human beings.”

The event concluded with a vote of thanks from committee member, Jonathan Dennis.