Paula Lewis

Paula Lewis

28 July 1950
Stepney, London, United Kingdom
09 February 2024
Totteridge, London, United Kingdom
Words by
Deborah Ginsburg Daughter

To do justice to Paula Tamara Lewis, wife, mum, grandma, in a few words is an impossible task. But what I want to do is to share with you just a little about my Mum, because it matters to me that we remember her as she was before she became so ill.

I have realised that when someone who is incredibly ill passes away, it is so easy for their illness to define who they were. Particularly when they were unwell for such a long time. But while she fought Parkinson’s and Dementia admirably, outliving until the very end every doctor and health professional’s life expectancy, she was not this small, passive patient that she spent her last years being. No my Mum was far from being that.

Paula was principled. She had strong values that she lived her life by and shared with me.

She was caring, compassionate, hardworking and she always helped the underdog or those in need.

I felt this so strongly as her daughter. Growing up, however I felt or whatever I was facing, I knew my Mum would listen, understand and help. And I was lucky enough to have the closest of relationships with her. No issue was ever off limits And now, as a mother myself, I realise that my Mum’s principles guided her through motherhood. She didn’t just say to me what I wanted to hear, which can often be the easiest option, but she said what was right, to help me. However hard that may have been.

writing people long letters when they were bereaved

But it wasn’t just me who benefitted. Family and  friends all enjoyed my Mum’s company and knew she was someone who could be relied on, whether just as a sounding board, for advice or for support in times of need. I distinctly remember my Mum writing people long letters when they were bereaved. She unfortunately lost her dad as a young teenager and her mum in her very early twenties, and was an only child, so she understood the pain that goes with such tragedy. And I remember her spending time writing these letters, trying to help friends and family going through this type of pain, sharing her experience of loss and trying to provide them with strength.

And Mum was a busy lady. Although she worked, kept a beautiful home, shopped and cooked she still found time to help those people less fortunate. She volunteered with Jewish Care for over a decade, visiting a local elderly lady, week in week out, providing companionship and comfort. And of course, she also volunteered through the shul and other charities. But she did so much more than organised charity work. The best example, which to me sums Mum up, was our weekly shopping trip to get groceries from Finchley. As part of our outing, we would more often than not pop in to an elderly seamstress, called Sarah, to drop off our sewing. A button to be added here, or trousers to be taken up there. I never questioned how much sewing one family of three could need. When we dropped off the bag, we would always pop in for a cup of tea and a biscuit. I never thought twice as a kid about it. Only now, do I realise that the sewing was irrelevant for my Mum. She could sew up buttons as good as anyone. But we were there to see Sarah, and to give Sarah purpose.

companionship and comfort

I know she got a lot of these values from her own mum and dad, Doris and Oscar, and her wider East End uncles, aunts and cousins, who were all so close when they were growing up. From this background, she developed a real love and commitment to Judaism and Israel. Going to shul, celebrating the festivals, and having a Kosher home were intrinsic to her Jewish identity. Her outlook was also shaped by her father’s family being virtually wiped out in the Holocaust and his suffering as a prisoner of war. She made sure that growing up I understood the history behind what had happened and valued my own Jewish identity.

Her love of Judaism and Israel did not sit on their own. My Mum made sure she enjoyed life.

She loved walking for instance. Whether that was hiking in the Lake District with Dad or mooching hand in hand with him around Hampstead, or simply walking up to the shops. She also loved music, whether it was listening to Rod Stewart, the Stylistics or Dire Straights, or dancing at weddings and barmitzvahs.

And when she wasn’t off walking or dancing, she would be with my Dad or friends at the theatre, the cinema or visiting a museum or art gallery. A lifelong member of the National Trust, she made sure we visited a National Trust whenever we went on holiday or had some spare time. She was so interested in the world around her.

she enjoyed life

All this was unfortunately taken away from Mum when she was far too young. In the face of this adversity, my Dad rose to the challenge, which is something I will always be grateful for. He ensured that Mum was given the best care and quality of life possible. While painful and so sad, he made sure that everything was done to ensure Mum was so well cared for.

And that brings me to Anny, Mum’s carer for the past six years. Anny treated my Mum with so much respect and compassion right to the end, that I will never forget. Nor will my beautiful kids, who call her ‘auntie Anny’, because she is part of the family.

I would also like to thank Danny, whose love for my Mum and support for me and my Dad, day in, day out, has truly been unimaginable. I have no words to sum up my gratitude to you.

When some people are told that they are “just like their mother”, it can make them roll their eyes. For me, it is the biggest compliment in the world.

I would like to thank everyone for coming, and to say we look forward to seeing people back at my parents’ house for some food later.

Words by
Deborah Ginsburg Daughter

We have been in the unfortunate situation where we have had a long time to come to terms with the idea of Mum leaving us, and I always thought that by spending time thinking about it beforehand, I could in fact prepare myself for when it would eventually happen. But as anyone who has lost someone close knows, it is nigh on impossible. However what it did do, was to force me to really think about Mum, and what she has taught me, and make sure that we remember her as she was before she became ill. Because that was the wife, Mum, and friend, who we all loved.

The love she had for her family

At the levoyah and at last night’s shiva I made the point that when most people are told that they are just like their mother, they roll their eyes, but for me it is the highest compliment. Because I would be so proud to have her qualities.

At Mum’s heart was her family. A lot of people over the past few days have kindly said how much my Mum loved me. I appreciate hearing it, but I also know it so well. Because my Mum showered me in love. Every single day. She made sure I knew how much she loved me and she did everything and anything she could to help me. She set me up for life, providing me with a full childhood and giving me every opportunity to thrive. Whether that was going to the theatre, off camping, daytrips to Westcliff, or help with my studies, tutors, books, museum trips. So many experiences to open up my eyes to the world. She wasn’t prescriptive in what my Dad or I did. She just wanted us all to find our passions and see us happy. Mum and I were the best of friends.

I have so many memories of Mum’s love for me. One that sticks in my mind for whatever reason, but does make me smile, is watching mum, when I must have been really very young, cut up the chicken one Friday night and slowly and carefully remove all the good, soft, juiciest parts of the chicken, and place them on one plate. My plate. I found it so amazing that my Mum didn’t sneak herself some of the best bits, but kept them all for me. As a Mum now, I know it is just what you do for your children, because you love them and you want the best for them. Out of life, and out of a roast chicken. But at the time, I distinctly remember being bowled over by it.

The love she had for her family extended beyond just me and my Dad. Growing up in Stepney, her Mum was one of eleven, and cousins, aunts and uncles would be constantly in and out of each other’s homes,  sharing a meal together, playing a game, celebrating a simcha or a festival, or just round for a cup of tea. I like to think of it as a really traditional Ashkenazi East End warm family upbringing. Like many others who grew up in the area, she eventually made her way to North London, but her love and connection to her family remained and she organised a truly memorable family reunion for the Kaufmans and way before the days of, she helped to pull together a family tree identifying hundreds and hundreds of family members.

fiercely independent

She was also fiercely independent. I can only presume this came from losing both her parents at such a young age, and being an only child, she was forced to grow up quickly and fight her own corner. She was never intimidated to raise her hand and say what needed to be said. So, when she got married and at a time where it was very much the tradition for the groom to give the speech, Mum defied that, and in addition to Dad, she spoke.

Thinking back to Mum’s personality, it was this grit and determination that made her so strong, and enabled her to really fight against her illness. Not just by defying expectations, but by giving us  what Dad has termed, these ‘blue sky moments’. Where she would manage to peek out from under the illness, even for just a moment, and show her beautiful smile or even laugh, a proper belly laugh. We all clung to these moments, because we got a glimpse of the real Mum, the real Paula, who we all missed already, even though she was just there.

But Mum did not want our sympathy. She did not want the ‘how are you’ head tilt, or the tears. Mum was admirable. She was a strong woman, and I know she would want to be remembered in that way.

the importance of helping others

She set a real example to me with her own compassion for others. She made me realise what a privileged life we led and the importance of helping others. Not just paying lip service to it. I mentioned at the levoyah about how Mum volunteered with Jewish Care, visiting Tamar every weekend, talking with her, reading poetry, popping to the shops when she needed something, and sharing the odd chocolate. She showed me that by helping others, you help yourself too.

I know I am so incredibly lucky to have had her as my Mum. Her values, outlook and most importantly actions will continue to live on I hope, not just in Dad and me, but in her loving grandchildren who will grow up, hearing stories of Grandma and experiencing enveloping love, just like I experienced.