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In memory of Rabbi Willy Wolff (1927-2020)

Reform Judaism was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Rabbi William (Willy) Wolff on Wednesday 8th July at the age of 93. As a dedicated servant of communities in the Reform Judaism family, he will be greatly missed.

Rabbi Willy Wolff was born in Berlin in 1927. He fled with his family in 1933 to Amsterdam and from there to London in 1939. Whilst he dreamt of becoming a Rabbi from an early age, post-war realities led him to become a journalist. He rose through the ranks, becoming a Parliamentary correspondent and reporter of global events for several UK national newspapers, including the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Reuters, over his 30+ year career.

Wolff never abandoned his dream of becoming a Rabbi, though, and started his Rabbinic training at Leo Baeck College at the age of 53, being ordained in 1984. Rabbi Wolff went on to hold posts at West London Synagogue, Newcastle Reform Synagogue, Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue, Wimbledon Synagogue and Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue. He was also involved in bringing the Darlington Hebrew Congregation into the Reform Judaism family and was Deputy Editor of the Manna magazine throughout its publication.

In an historic appointment, Rabbi Wolff was made State Rabbi of Mechlenburg-Vorpommern in Germany – a post which had previously been vacant for 65 years. He served the Jewish communities in Schwein, Rostock and Wismar until his retirement at the age of 88 – during which time he learnt Russian to be able to cater to the significant number of Jews from the Former Soviet Union in these areas. In 2014 he was named an honorary citizen by the City of Schwerin.

Wolff kept himself physically fit and active even into his later years and cared for his wide circle of friends and family across the world. He will be sorely missed by them and by all who came into contact with him.

Zecher tzaddik livracha – May the memory of the righteous be a blessing.

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