Merv Lebor

Merv Lebor

13 May 1954
London, United Kingdom
28 April 2023
Leeds, United Kingdom
Words by
Daniella Lebor Daughter

Working across colleges, classrooms, and mosques in deprived areas of West Yorkshire, Dad dedicated his life to helping others teach and learn.

I would often come across people Dad had influenced. One time, after the London terror attacks in the early 2000s, a former student of his came up to him in the street and said he had started down the road of becoming a terrorist, until he became one of Dad’s students and changed his mind.

Dad was a person of very varied interests, talents, and experiences; he was a talented writer, publishing hundreds of academic, popular articles, poetical works, and short stories. In the last decade, he published two books and contributed chapters in others.

he connected with a more diverse group of people than anyone I can think of

He was a very religious and spiritual person, who put on tefillin every day. His Judaism was central to his life.

Yet he could not be ‘boxed’ into any category. Despite being a Jewish boy from Hampstead Garden Suburb, he connected with a more diverse group of people than anyone I can think of. It’s like when you read the foreword to a nineteenth century novel and you can’t believe how extraordinary and surreal the author’s life was. Dad’s life was a bit like this, and few facts about him illustrate it:

• Dad lived in Chapeltown during the riots, where he and Mum were integrated into this predominantly black neighbourhood, befriending pimps and sex-workers, communists, and radical political types.

• He dipped in and out of the literati, meeting with famous writers, and among other things, once interviewed the former Prime Minister Callaghan for a magazine he edited.

• He lived on a kibbutz with Mum, where he worked in the fields and had ‘kibbutz parents’ who were Holocaust survivors.

• He travelled around the former USSR with the Communist Party in the 1980s and was threatened with a gun for taking a photo of a train.

• He did a PhD in his sixties and handed in a first draft of his thesis in his first meeting with his supervisor.

• He wrote a hilarious and very eccentric literary novel, which we were working with an editor on throughout the last few months of his life.

Like Abraham’s tent, his home was always open to everyone of all backgrounds, and he welcomed people, sometimes highly eccentric ones, to our home. He always saw the best in people and was able to learn something from, and teach something to, everyone he came across.

He has been with me through every step of my life. He would do anything to support me and our family, no matter what or when. Just as he helped everyone in his life that he could.

Fundamentally, he was a kind and gentle person. The best Dad and Saba. Our lives won’t be whole without him.

Words by
Sarah Rowe Daughter

Dad, Daddy, Saba,

It’s hard to say words about you because words define and limit and you have so many aspects; you were kind, caring, gentle, compassionate, warm, non-judgemental, undemanding, humble, funny, jokey, playful, friendly to everyone, extremely appreciative and so very good.

I feel very privileged that you have been my father and I, your daughter.

In all settings you have been a living example of how to be, a real mensch and kiddush Hashem

You have been so supportive and a source of strength throughout my life and always wanted the best for me, Michael and our children. You and Mum have been a wonderful team and an amazing example, so positive, real, there for each other and so giving to the wider family and friends.

Your home has always been an open, welcoming , warm, inclusive place where everyone has felt comfortable to be themselves.

You have been a religious person where prayer, shul, connection to Hashem are central to you. You have been enthusiastic and knowledgeable. In all settings you have been a living example of how to be, a real mensch and kiddush Hashem.

We will miss you terribly and remember you for all your good.

Words by
Laurence Lebor Brother

My brother Mervyn, or Merv as he preferred more recently, died on Friday morning 28 April 2023 (Iyar 7, 5783). He was sixty eight, turning sixty nine on 13 May.

He had been ill for over a year, suffering from an incurable disease, but he was treated with great care and attention by his medical team with medicines and treatments which helped him maintain a quality of life, even though he became weaker and weaker. Blood transfusions every week, up to the point where he no longer had the strength to go to the hospital. And above all from beginning to end Merv was cared for devotedly by Jo.

The funeral was on Friday afternoon, we sat shiva in Merv’s house until Monday afternoon, then went down to London and sat at Louise’s house until Thursday morning.

The most moving part of the shiva was when the whole family gathered at Merv’s house on Monday afternoon. There was Merv’s widow Jo, her two daughters Sarah and Daniella with their husbands, Michael and Jonathan; myself and Marian, together with Rachel, Deborah and Jonty; Louise and Simon, with Gabriella, Tali, Reuben and Boaz; and Jo’s sister Sharon with her husband Steve. Even my oldest friend Ian who had flown in from Israel especially.

We sat for a number of hours talking about Merv, discussing his attributes and his talents; his likes and dislikes; his religious conviction and his spirituality; his diverse connections with people; his quirks and characteristics; his sense of humour; his dress sense, or lack of; his adventures and experiences; his unexplained support of Fulham FC; his writings and his interactions with his students; most of all his warmth and his kindnesses.

my funny, clever, kind, warm, generous brother

Merv and I, and our sister Louise were born and brought up in Hampstead Garden Suburb in London. I am the eldest, Merv was three years younger than me, Louise is ten years younger than me. Merv and I attended Menorah primary school, he went on to Hasmonean grammar school, and I attended Christ’s College in Finchley.

We had very different personalities, not that unusual for siblings. I was not particularly studious, more interested in football, music, and having a good time. Merv was good at his studies and he was sociable and popular.

Although the truth was that we did not particularly get along in our younger days, we were three years apart, moved in different circles, did different activities, and mainly he was the annoying younger brother! And we were physically apart for most of our lives. Merv went to Sheffield University when he was eighteen to study English Literature where he met Jo who was from Liverpool. They married, found jobs in Leeds and apart from a short stay on a kibbutz in Israel, remained there for the rest of his life. I lived in London all of that time until we left for Israel in 1994.

Of course we got together for family occasions, happy and sad, but I do not remember ever having a cross word with him. Merv was not like that, he did not start arguments, not with me anyway. I think he just preferred to get his point across mildly. You either agreed or you disagreed and went away quietly.

We spoke more often as his health worsened, and ironically we got closer as a result. And he always ended our conversations with, ‘You keep well now…’. In the latter stages of his illness, he was less inclined to speak to anyone and resorted to exchanging WhatsApp messages. He sent a ‘Good Shabbos’ message out to all the family every week. Even on the Sunday before he passed away, he sent me a Whatspp message scolding me for my support of Tottenham, suggesting that I should change my allegiance to Fulham. But he wrote it as if he was speaking in a faux German accent..’Vot is happening mit ze Spurs… move to Fulham before too late…’. He maintained his sense of humour right up to the end.

I already miss my funny, clever, kind, warm, generous brother and I am sure he has found his place in the world to come.