Barry Shenker: For Judaism and Justice
THE sorrow at Barry Shenker’s unexpected death, at the age of 48, showed in the eyes of everybody silently standing at the grave-3ide. They included Jews, Christians and Muslims, secular and religious, ideological opponents and political friends, Israelis and Palestinians. It was a testimony to Barry’s ability to tanscend divides.
Born in South Africa, he despised and actively opposed apartheid. He also devoted his energies to the Habonim youth movement and building a just society in Israel. Barry lived br several years on and retained a deep affection for Kibbutz Tzora. In London, he worked for the Richmond Fellowship helping to rehabilitate drug abuse victims. He was an independent voice in Jewish affairs holding senior positions at the Institute of Jewish Affairs and the Spiro Institute while continuing his personal struggle for socialism-zionism is the chair of British Mapam — the Israeli left wing party. In normal times, this was a risky business, given the conservatism of Anglo-Jewry, but during the triumphalism of the Likud years it demanded exceptional bravery. Barry courageously spoke out for negotiations with the Palestinians, long before Shamir attended the Madrid Peace Conference. His socialism was more Tolstoy than Marx. He never forgot that the masses were composed of individuals. He hated Thatcherism, its selfishness and opportunism. Living in Hackney, he saw deprivation on his own doorstep.
Although not religious, he stuck to the moral principle of the biblical prophets that it was better to be, a. minority of one than blow in the wind with the crowd. He sought neither riches nor titles, but justice. How happy he was at the formation of a peace coalition in Israel just a few months ago.
An ideas man, he was a prolific writer, contributing to the Guardian as well as to the Jewish press. Unemployed during his last two years, he remained resilient and contributed weekly commentaries to Spectrum Radio’s Jewish programme.
When Barry left South Africa, Robert Kennedy delivered a remarkable speech in Cape Town against institutionalised racism. “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope — and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” That is Barry’s legacy.
Barry Shenker, born May 5, 1944; died October 9, 1992
Guardian 19 October 1992