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Tribute to Rudi Leavor, an interfaith champion and much loved leader

Rudi Leavor, who has died at the age of 95, was a much loved leader of Bradford’s Jewish community and a stalwart supporter of Reform Judaism. 

Born in Berlin in 1926, his family fled Germany when he was 11 as the rise of Hitler’s regime took hold of the country. They settled in Bradford – almost by accident. Asked to choose a City between London and Manchester everywhere was overcrowded. Bradford was the first place that offered space for the Jewish refugee family. 

Rudi qualified as a dentist and built up the Bradford Reform Synagogue becoming President and Chairman. He was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) in 2017 for his work with the Jewish community and in interfaith and community relations.

A chance encounter with a local halal restaurant owner who requested Rudi’s help led to an enduring friendship between Rudi and the local Muslim community. When Bradford Reform Synagogue faced closure in 2012, the local Muslim community played a key role in ensuring its doors stayed open- a testament to the strength of this friendship and to Rudi’s legacy as a beacon of tolerance and interfaith understanding in Bradford.

Rudi was a keen singer too and was active in synagogue affairs well into his nineties.

He recalled what his family went through when told by his father that he was to leave Germany.  He said: 

“We could feel antisemitism coming up, it wasn’t a fierce event or situation. My parents hadn’t thought of emigrating. One day they were arrested by the Gestapo, fortunately for just one day. But it gave them the impetus to emigrate. I remember the day we left Berlin, my hometown. We were assembled with my grandmother, and her sisters for a coffee. I thought of how we were going to leave many relatives, including my grandmother, my uncles, aunts, who it was likely we’d never see again,” he added. 

He said he and his family were good Germans but also good Jews. He met his late wife Marianne, who was a Jewish refugee from Breslau, in Bradford, and they had four children, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

David Jacobs a lifelong friend and consultant for the Movement for Reform Judaism said, “Rudi was a beacon of light in the Movement for Reform Judaism. He will always be remembered as a man of enthusiasm, energy, quiet passion and most importantly for his religious heritage.  

A German refugee he refused to let any memories from those terrible times dominate his life. He never forgot his experiences and when explaining them to young and old alike he somehow turned the Shoah from a negative outlook on life to a positive one. He showed great compassion and respect for people from all religious beliefs and backgrounds.  In particular his inter-faith work in Bradford where he remained a dominant figure was tireless. He was a true example to us all.”

Robert Wiltshire, chair of the Movement for Reform Judaism, commented “Rudi was a tireless and committed supporter of Jewish life in Bradford and his efforts in community building are an inspiration to us all. On behalf of the Movement for Reform Judaism we are truly humbled by his life’s work and will continue to honour him by following his example.”

Rudi celebrating his 90th birthday with a cake shaped as his beloved Bradford Reform Synagogue
Rudi on a Shavuot retreat with the Youth Association of Synagogues of Great Britain, the forerunner of RSY-Netzer. It was taken in 1948 and Rudi is number 28.

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