Reform Judaism mourns Thena Kendall who died on Sunday 25 March. She was 83. The daughter of Rabbi Jacob and Sarah Heshel and the niece of Rabbi Joshua Heshel, Thena was born in Vienna into an ultra-orthodox family. Thena was the principal founder of Totnes Jewish Community. She held regular services and gatherings in the Devon town before moving to be with her family in London.
Thena worked in radio for the BBC under the professional name of Thena Heshel. You can listen here to her speaking as part of this tribute on the BBC ‘In Touch’ programme which she produced for almost 30 years.
Click here to read a fascinating article about the Jews of the West Country, which includes a piece (on page 19) by Matthew Rosenmarsh interviewing Thena about the beginnings of Totnes Jewish Community
Ami Lee of Totnes Jewish Community said: “Thena had incredible knowledge,wisdom, integrity and courage with a passion for using her energy for ‘good’ – both in her work and her private life. She combined those qualities with a rare warmth and spacious openheartness that made those around her feel seen, respected and welcome.
“I loved her leadership and the encouragement she gave others to lead where their own knowledge or qualities fueled them. I’ve always felt that Thena is someone who knew God/goodness/love deeply and in a very intimate way”.
David Jacobs, Reform Judaism’s former Director for Synagogue Partnership said: “Over a short period of time Thena gathered together a very disparate group of Jewish women and men from a broad range of backgrounds and none. She was deeply committed to them all and worked most successfully to bring a Jewish spirit to the small community that became established in Totnes.
“It was always a great pleasure visiting her in Totnes as we led services and discussed and conversed about a great variety of subjects but especially that of Jewish identity. Thena prepared a special Haggadah for Pesach and a selection of prayers which were recited on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur for the community all of which showed her wisdom, deep Jewish knowledge and an understanding of where the members were coming from. She brought wonderful warm insights into her work in Totnes with these women and men and provided much support and comfort to them all”.
May her memory be a blessing.