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Why I founded Hesped

Someone has died. A blank piece of paper. It is very late. If you are a close family member or friend you are exhausted, shocked, grieving. You might be a rabbi or cantor who has visited the newly bereaved to console and gather some history about their loved one. The funeral is tomorrow and there is a eulogy(hesped) to write.

This is a unique moment, and you carry a significant responsibility to try and encapsulate the essence of a person in a speech lasting just a few minutes. In most circumstances a hesped needs to be crafted to honour their life, and the good they brought to the world, to encourage the listeners to consider their own legacies, and as the Talmud and subsequent halachic commentaries suggest (Shulchan Orech, Yoreh De’ah 344:1) they should also aim to make the mourners feel the pain of their loss and offer some comfort too. 
 

I have heard countless hespedim delivered at funerals, shivas and stone settings, and have always been struck by the way the mourners, or officiating clergy, manage to fulfil this weighty obligation(mitzvah) of delivering a eulogy with dignity and composure, and even raise a smile. Sometimes hespedim are simple, but often and surprisingly in the most difficult of circumstances, they are powerful and moving.

I have written two hespedim myself, for my parents who died within eight months of each other in 2013.My relationship with my father was complicated. In his later years I had wondered what I might feel when he was no longer here and how I would face the task of writing his eulogy. But as I sat at his hospital bedside during his final days, I found the more difficult feelings began to fade.

Hespedim are different from obituaries. They are written in the raw time following a death, and say more about a person’s inner character and qualities than a mere curriculam vitae of what they did. Not all lives are deemed to merit an obituary in a national newspaper although every life tells a story. There are many nuances in eulogies, but I believe the writers of all these tributes seek to create the most fair, rounded, respectful and loving portrait of the person they have lost. This can be challenging, but I learned that at the end of a life we realise what really matters.

Over a number of years I had a growing sense that we should preserve these precious pieces of writing which tell the stories of people’s lives, capturing the intrinsic nature of each person. So I set out to create a treasury of hespedim which were delivered at Jewish funerals and in the following days in the homes of mourners. I decided to build this in the form of a website so that the collection could grow over time and would be accessible to all. I worked with a talented group of professionals to develop what I hope is an elegant and uplifting website, a fitting place for these personal memorials.

I am fascinated by all these stories and hope that as well as holding the hespedim of those close to your own heart, you will find many other interesting and inspiring people to meet in the collection. I hope that this archive will become an important addition to the cultural and social history of our Jewish community, and will illuminate the part we have played in British society and beyond. As a child of two refugee parents I am acutely aware that there are many people who started their lives somewhere else and for a variety of reasons made their homes here in the UK. Their eulogies tell of their journeys and the big and small contributions they have made to their adoptive home.

My father wrote books about his own life and what became of the Jews of his home town of Bamberg. He was a passionate genealogist, constructing a huge family tree and researching the many branches of his family. His Masters and Doctorate studies involved the economic contribution of refugees to industries in the North of England. After a long career as an engineer, an entrepreneur and industrialist my father became an archivist of sorts and now I find that I have inadvertently followed in his footsteps, ensuring that we hold on to the eulogies which tell the stories of ordinary and extraordinary lives. I think he would have approved of this project, and might even have given his blessing.

If you would like to get in touch with me (our email address is contact@hesped.org) I would be delighted to hear from you.

Hespedim and Covid19

When I started developing the idea of an online treasury of hespedim(eulogies) I could not have imagined the pandemic we would all now be facing . After some weeks of increasing concern, advice from experts and projections about how the coronavirus would hit the UK population, the Prime Minister announced a state of national emergency. He imposed necessary stringent measures to minimise the stress on our National Health Service and the loss of lives.

The instruction to stay at home and for members of different households not to meet has drastically affected our normal way of life, and our Jewish customs around death, funerals and shivas. The wider community is not able to gather to show respect for the dead, support the bereaved, offer a consoling hug or hear the eulogies.

Hesped.org is a place where these eulogies can be shared.

From a safe distance, we can still learn the stories of people’s lives and honour the memories of loved ones who have died.

The Hespedim

Frankie Abramson

Ronald Bayfield

Daniel Beckman

Charles Blake

Anna Bild

Esther Doreen Brookes

Murray Brookes

Clive Callman

Judy Callman

Eric Charles

Henry Cohn

Marian Colet

Shirley David

Paul David Dworkin

Shalom Elmaleh

Jennifer Emanuel

Lily Ezekiel

Barbara Fabian

Edith Feuchtwang

Daniel Keith Freedman

Edward Gilbert

Lawrence Goldie

Suzanne Goodman

Michael Gottlieb

Henry Grabiner

Renee Grabiner

Fay Gray

Bernard Grossman

Laurence Grossman

Alexander James Halfin

Ernest Hecht

Eleanor Marie Herman

Harold Hoffman

Lena Hoffman

Sylvia (Babs) Jackson

Eric Kaufman

Wendy Kates

Maurice Kaye

Sylvia Kennedy

Leonard Krikler

Britta Lamberg

Harold Langdon

Gerald Lee

Trixie Lee

Trudie Leibling

Jeanne Lester

 Anne Loebl

Herbert Loebl

Ramon Luder

Charlotte Michaels

Alan Millett

Janet Millett

Vera Mire

Ian Murray

Eve Oppenheimer

Rudi Oppenheimer

Vera Plaut

Marcus Sefton-Green

Richard Shaw

Sonia Shaw

Elizabeth Shepherd

Michael Sherbourne

Beryl Shisler

Beryl Slade

Joseph Smilg

Alfred (Freddy) Stern

Gabrielle (Gaby) Stern

Gabriele Charlotte Stern

Hazel Sternberg

Sigmund Sternberg

Herta Stiefel

Ann Strauss

Amanda Summers

Sam Tucker

Josephine Wagerman

Peter Wagerman

Annelise Winter

William Wolff

This list is not yet linked to the individual hesped pages.To read the hespedim, please click on Collection at the top of this page and then use the Search function.

A different way to honour a yahrzeit

Towards the end of our daily and Shabbat services, it is customary to read out a list of the people whose yahrzeit (anniversary of the Hebrew date of death) are occurring that day or in that week, before reciting the Kaddish prayer.

When I was in New York a few summers ago, I attended an Erev Shabbat service at a Synagogue just south of Central Park. As it was holiday time many congregants had left the City and the service had moved from the magnificent sanctuary to a smaller space downstairs. It was still a very large gathering by our UK standards, but as I understood later, the Rabbis take advantage of this “quieter” period to introduce some different and perhaps more creative elements to the usual tefillah (prayer).

On this Friday evening, before the names of those who were being remembered was read, a member of the community was invited to stand up and say a few words about her father whose yahrzeit she was honouring that Shabbat. This woman spoke briefly, but in a couple of minutes of anecdotes she managed to convey a picture of the self-styled “ ordinary guy’ who did not think he was anything special, but was clearly a lovely man. The tribute reminded us that behind every name on the yahrzeit list was a person who had lived a life, each one with a story.

It was such a simple yet impressive addition to the service. The opportunity to share and hear a mini hesped brought depth and meaning to this moment of memorial for everyone present.I think such a practice could enrich our experience of Kaddish here too.

Hidden Treasures


We are delighted that Hesped.org is one of the archives included in the Hidden Treasures project, established by the Board of Deputies of British Jews to celebrate Jewish archives in Britain. Large and small, national, local and communal archives featured on the website will enable visitors to discover more about the history of Jews and the Jewish community in Britain.
https://celebratingjewisharchives.org/the-archives/

Sephardi Voices UK

Sephardi Voices UK was founded with the mission to record and capture the experiences of the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East, North Africa and Iran who settled in the UK. Filmed interviews document the fascinating history, rich culture and vibrant traditions of the communities the interviewees left behind.
This project allows the families of the interviewees to connect with their past, whilst simultaneously allowing both researchers and members of the general public a window into the histories of these unique communities.

https://www.sephardivoices.org.uk/

 

What will I find in the Journal section?

We plan to collect varied and interesting articles about the experience of writing hespedim, hespedim in Hebrew literature, and anything else relevant to the subject of hespedim. Watch this space.