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Ruby, my advice to you is:  “Enjoy It!”

Clarice's Story

At the age of 93, and still running a literature club on zoom during COVID, Clarice inspired me as a woman of strength, never afraid to stand up for what she believed in from a young age, and a feminist before that was a popular word.

Clarice was born in Germiston, South Africa on 3 January 1928. She had such fond members of her childhood, recalling it was very different to what she would later provide for her own children in the UK. One highlight being an annual de-camp to Cape Town’s beaches where the weather was fantastic.

One childhood story which made me laugh was the tale of her brother, 10 years older than her and frustrated at having been an only child, riding a horse and cart around the town after she was born, telling anyone that would listen he had a sister! He was so excited! 

Though she was surrounded by a loving family including many aunts, uncles and cousins, she later moved to Edinburgh where she lived for 33 years with her husband, giving birth to four children.

Clarice did not have an easy time of it. She is obviously a highly socially motivated person which I aspire to be, not only becoming quite political in South Africa before she left, but later running soup kitchens for immigrants in Edinburgh, teaching them English while also working part time in her husband’s doctor surgery and pursuing a degree in Humanities with the Open University. 

Tragically, Clarice’s daughter died of breast cancer. This was a highly emotional moment in our conversation when she revealed how this unbearable heartache affected the entire family. For example, her eldest daughter Melanie refused to go to school. When she did return, and her school, Channing, let her aunty sit in the staff room to ease the process. Clarice told me that she too had battled cancer, undergoing chemotherapy. And while today she finds herself surrounded by the love of her three children, many grandchildren and now three great grandchildren (Talia, Jessica and Hannah), this is clearly and understandably an indescribably traumatic experience to live through.

She moved to Hampstead Garden Suburb in London when her husband Joe retired. Much preferring London to Edinburgh, she is visited by her grandson Josh once a week as well as her daughter Melanie, but proud of still doing her own ironing and cleaning! 

She was delighted to find a place at Belsize Square Synagogue soon after they moved to the capital. She loved Rabbi Mariner, the community, and in particular the open ethos. She loved that her grandchild Holly did exactly what the boys did and that girls could read from the Torah. She was impressed that they gave to Camden food bank - and appreciated Belsize Square’s progressive attitude to both gender equality and willing to be part of the wider non-Jewish community. These are things I also absolutely love about the shul.

On her 90th birthday, she invited her great granddaughter Talia to open the ark with her since Talia would not be doing that on her Bat Mitzvah the following week at an orthodox synagogue. It’s worth underlining that I understand one synagogue or belief system is not better than the rest, but I personally found myself in full alignment with Clarice and applauding her for those moments. Being brave, standing up for herself, and others is clearly a big theme in Clarice’s life and it was a real privilege speaking to her. 

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