Esther’s Scroll commemorates one of our dearest members, Esther Atkin, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 102 years.
Esther had no surviving family at all, and yet the 40 or so people who attended her funeral and the 50 or so more who came to her shiva all felt themselves to be her family. There were half a dozen loving carers who had looked after her in her own home for the last five years, surrounded by her own books and belongings, and the rest were the equally loving members of her NWSS family. All of our lives were of real interest to her, and we shared her joy in being a part of our community and our sadness at her death aged 102. We celebrated her life with the memories we all held of this very special lady.
Esther was the smallest and slightest member of NWSS (you worried that a puff of wind would blow her over) but she was all spirit and character and intellect, and possibly one of the toughest people in our community, fuelled she said by her daily glass of red wine. Up till about 2008 (aged 92) she was still taking herself by bus and train up to London for evening and lunch-hour concerts at all the major concert halls. Her friends worried for years about her negotiating the unsavoury passageways around Waterloo Station, but she was only once mugged in the street, when she had her bag snatched by a young lad on a bike, just yards from her home in quiet suburban Whitton! She spent several weeks in a care home while she recovered from this attack, and used the time very constructively – she asked to have her Siddur brought into the home, and made sure that the nurses and carers knew an awful lot more about Judaism when she left than when she arrived!
She also supported many art galleries and museums, and was often at Members’ Only viewings, and the first person to recommend a new must-see exhibition. Up to about 3 years ago two of her carers were driving her up to town on Sunday mornings for a “wheelchair viewing” so her recommendations were still useful and relevant.
Esther grew up in Spitalfields where her father (always “Father”) was a tobacconist. Her parents had come to England from Russia, but Russian or Yiddish were never spoken at home. There were two older brothers, Joseph and Isaac and her older sister Minnie, all of whom became doctors. Esther was educated at the City of London Girls School, and later studied languages, holidaying alone in Austria and Germany in the years before WW2 and getting a sense of the way things were moving in Europe. When war came her parents evacuated to Sheffield, and Esther got a job there with the engineering firm Black & Decker, where she played an important part in the office and personnel management. The company valued her highly and she maintained her connection with them all her life, coming back south with them after the war to work in their Maidenhead office in her little car, driving there daily from Whitton where her parents had bought a house.
During this time her father died. Her mother lived to be 108 and died in 1982 and it fell to Esther to be her main carer. A delightful, helpful lady named Jeannie and her husband Terry took charge of her daily needs like family until Jeannie sadly died two years ago.
“Mother” was a strong character, who had firm opinions and values (no toys or sweets for her children), but every encouragement for education and culture. Esther inherited her values and opinions. She didn’t often eat bread or potatoes, because “Mother never had either of them”. Back in the East End a neighbouring family had been the Sigaloffs and after her mother’s death their son David, an early member of NWSS, brought Esther along to a High Holyday service. From that day on she was one of the most regular attendees at our services, classes, study groups, Torah Breakfasts and all the other study opportunities introduced over the years. In 1996, at 80, she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and in 2000 she was Kallat Bereshit. Esther shared what she learned with her sister Minnie in Glasgow, who became a great friend of the community and is buried in our cemetery. Esther and Minnie were keen to have a library and very generously had the messy back room refurbished and furnished and now used for so much else as well. Surely the Atkin-Wolfe room commemorates their love of this community.
Esther wrote cards galore to members – for birthdays, anniversaries, B’nei Mitzvah and all simchas, apparently penned at 5.30am, as well as sending postcards from holidays. All were appreciated and treasured. She especially supported and followed the development of our young people who reciprocated with great affection.
Esther was the last of the Atkin family and as the years went on she accepted the mitzvah of reading the study passage to mark the deaths of both parents and siblings. This was a treat for the congregation – she saved up passages which interested her from books and newspapers, and they were always interesting, relevant and succinct. She read from “her” chair in the second row, and every word reached to the corners of the synagogue, loud and clear, with lots of emphasis – this is how many of us will remember her.