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“They Know I Stick To My Guns”

Shoshana R. Meiri

Joe Lobenstein — former borough councilor, mayor, Agudah and kehillah activist, long-time askan and journalist — still remains a canny communal campaigner, and his political acuity, age notwithstanding, is as sharp as ever. One of the first frum Jews to receive the monarchy’s coveted MBE honor, he’s spent the better part of the century advocating for his community within a borough council which, before he entered politics, was virtually oblivious to the needs of the Jewish community.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In 1939, as a twelve-year-old refugee, Joe Lobenstein arrived in England with his parents and sister, carrying a single suitcase and a dismal ten marks each. Now, more than seventy years later, Mr. Lobenstein — former borough councilor, mayor, Agudah and kehillah activist, long-time askan and journalist — remains an astute communal campaigner, and his political acuity, age notwithstanding, appears to have dulled not a whit. He is, by turns, both inviting and steely. His face, with his clipped gray mustache, is vibrant; his sharp blue eyes and arched brow reveal his rich past.

Mr. Lobenstein is particularly renowned for his election as mayor of the London borough of Hackney for an unprecedented four terms, and for having been one of the first frum Jews honored by the Queen with the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). The royal award hangs in pride of place on his dining-room wall, with the Queen’s strong, black signature — Elizabeth R — across the top. Three other awards flank it — his “Chaver” title from London’s Adass Yisroel Shul; an elegant “Guest of Honour” plaque in black and gold, from Ponevezh Yeshivah; and the “Freedom of the Borough”, an honor bestowed by Hackney Borough Council in recognition of his lengthy service.

A forest of photographs — both personal and official — crowds walls, tables, and bookcases. In one, he greets the Queen, resplendent in his golden mayoral chain, at the opening of a local hospital wing. In another, he and his wife smile proudly outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, after receiving his MBE. And alongside are the photographs with gedolim: a handclasp with Rav Shach, ztz”l; a smile shared with Rav Shmuel Wosner, shlita; hearing Havdalah on Motzaei Yom Kippur from an ethereal, white-clad Manchester Rosh Yeshivah. 

 

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