The first time I saw Barbara, she was coming to my home to pick up the food we had collected for Streets Kitchen outreach, she had offered to drive the boxes to our tables in Camden.
I remember her bubbly voice asking me what there was to carry. Barbara was over 80 years old and smaller in size than my teenage daughter, yet I did not even have time to put my shoes on as she was already carrying the heavier box of sandwiches to her car boot.
She got offended if I even suggested that maybe I should do the carrying and she could do the driving – that was the only time her smile disappeared from her face. Barbara would do anything she set her mind to.
With time I found out how she practised this in all aspects of her life.
On Sunday when we volunteered together, she used to arrive early, so that we had more time to talk between collections. She told me about her childhood in California, about her family there, and then in England.
She had a talent for storytelling. Taking me back to her in-laws, practising Jews in North London, and sharing about customs, traditional food and festival celebrations. So many details and colours and smells that echoed with my childhood, so many images of communities that have long been gone. Nostalgia for me but happy memories for her.
We shared about social justice, identity, racism, community life, vibrant London and of course volunteering for causes she was passionate about.
One of the most remarkable things about Barbara was how her actions aligned perfectly with her values. She did not preach for social justice, she fought for it.
I remember the passion in her voice (and in her eyes) when she told me about her years-long fight to change the UK Race Relations Amendment Act of 2000 (long before the Black Lives Matter movement). She explained the activist movement she was part of, the coalition of lawyers and community leaders who relentlessly fought to add the requirement for public authorities to work towards the elimination of race discrimination, towards equal opportunities and good race relations.
She described what it took and how much patience, method, rigour were needed and how they succeeded after countless battles and resolute
pugnacity. This model of moral integrity combined with relentless energy and willingness to help others was unique and admirable. For many of us, it was inspirational too.
While her actions and commitment showed all seriousness, her personality was cheerful and jolly. She was always up to something creative and unexpected, like the time she did the ‘Camden clean
air cycle’ tour on her bike, at 81 years old. Cheerful also in her way of dressing, always so colourful.
She had the energy, curiosity and attitude to life that too often fade with age, but for Barbara life was a joyful ride. She was a happy-go-lucky character and a free spirit that you could only love the moment you met her.
The last time I saw Barbara, she told me about a lecture she was going to deliver to law students. She was so enthusiastic, providing me with details of incredible accuracy and precision. While we had arrived 30 minutes early for our food collection, we got caught in her passionate recount and were told off like school girls by Gail’s manager for arriving late to pick up the food.
That day, we agreed to meet up on her return from a holiday she was very much looking forward to, to discuss the so-called humanitarian duty to homelessness. She promised to help us lobby for the law to change. She gave me homework to do, facts to research, elements to gather, and documents to look for.
We were going to have coffee at Kossofs on her return – that used to be the small family business bakery where her in-laws used to buy the challah from on Shabbats when she was younger. ‘It was not as fancy back then!’ she told me once we picked up food from their new branch.
I have done my homework but Barbara won’t join me at Kossofs. She has joined her husband and all the folkloristic characters of her childhood that she described to me many times. I imagine her being greeted with love, clapping and champagne that will make her large, unforgettable smile shine.
Cheers, Barbara! And thank you for who you were and for all you did. We miss you very much already.
Stephanie Levy, on behalf of us all at SK