Hugo Gryn 1930-1996
It is nearly 30 years since the Shap Working
Party first met and the passage of time
inevitably brings many changes. With the
death of Hugo Gryn, the Working Party lost
one of its best known members and, not
surprisingly, it was their wish to dedicate this
edition of the Journal to his memory. In his
appreciation, Alan Brown captures something
of the essence of this remarkable man.
THIS EDITION OF THE SHAP JOURNAL IS
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
RABBI HUGO GRYN
1930 - 1996
I am a Jew,
The Mortal Jew
Who is immortal.
I am the ancient and the new.
I have prayed by the Jordan
And bathed in the Nile;
I wept at Babylon
and rejoiced on the Sinai.
I was reared through centuries by Fate
To a timeless chant
I was loved for seconds,
Tolerated for seasons,
But loathed in the end.
I danced to the rhythm of race - hatred,
I performed to the mood of chance
To an audience of monarchs and gods.
When I pleased I was applauded,
When I failed I was chased
To find a new stage for my act.
A gambler for life,
For life, naked life, any life,
With enough foul air to breathe.
I will bow,
I will hush,
I will steal,
I will lie,
I shall beg,
For life, a bit of life.
Let it be misery,
Let it be treachery,
Let it be slavery,
Let it be hell,
But let it be life.
But oh, the world has shunned me!
Blinded by the hatred of mankind,
Deafened by the curse of civilisation,
I hide in the dark of the night;
An outcast for ever - a Jew.
Following his death in
1996, a memorial booklet,
"In Memory of Rabbi Hugo
Gryn 1930 - 1996" was
sponsored and produced by
the members of the West
London Synagogue. In it,
was this moving personal
reflection written by Hugo
Gryn in 1948, when he was
18 years old.
It is reproduced here with
kind permission of his
widow, Jacqueline Gryn.
Nearly 50 years later, a
friend and fellow member
of the Shap Working
Party, reflects on the life
of Hugo Gryn
In India', said the Rabbi, 'there is a
verb "to english". It means to be
two-faced, hypocritical'. This was
not my introduction to Hugo Gryn many
years ago but I had not known him long
when he produced this provoking epigram.
I've remembered it, partly because I'm not
English, and partly because both the telling
of it and the manner of its telling summed
up much of Hugo Gryn; he enjoyed a
challenge and the vigour and rigour of
disputation; he exuded energy, compassion
and a speed of wit rarely experienced.
He was, quite simply, a remarkable man. He
never skirted a challenge, indeed he positively
appeared to relish a challenge, even seek one
out. But he was also ready to seek a resolution.
Conflict and conflict-resolution were both an
integral part of Hugo Gryn.
It was the BBC Radio Programme, The Moral
Maze that made him most famous, at least to
the British public at large, yet in the
programme he was rarely allowed to function
in his most effective mode because he was
relied upon to conclude with a Jewish
aphorism or some healing quotation from
Scripture. Perhaps that too was part of his
nature, to engage in vigorous, often ascerbic,
debate but end with a gesture that left the
door open for reconciliation.
Anyone who ever met Hugo would have to be
amazed by his vigour, energy, perception and
knowledge. He was not always right and could
recognise this generously on occasion, but he
would put his heart and soul and considerable
intellect into promoting his view. He used
that energy to support a whole range of
interests and, for him, inter-faith
understanding was one of those; there would
not be a better world or a better society unless
the religions could live together in some
degree of toleration. 'Toleration' is often
regarded as a minimalist word and there were
times when Hugo's commitment to the
existence of the State of Israel appeared to
suggest intolerance: yet it was not intolerance
of Muslims, Islam or the Palestine situation; it
was the intolerance of political systems which
did not allow peaceful coexistence. One
should add complexity to his public persona
for he had the intellect and the grace to
recognise that simple solutions are often,
perhaps usually, wrong - complexity is the order
of the day.
For Shap he was an immense strength, the
poser of difficult questions and the person
who could untie the Gordian Knot; if
something could be done it should be done
and done well with all one's energy. He
provided Shap with a bridge from the world
of RE into inter-faith/inter-cultural concerns
and he always answered the call to support
Shap. He always did everything he could
and that was considerable.
The disputation within the Jewish community
caused by his death, is in an inverted way, a
fitting memorial to Hugo Gryn. He challenged,
in life and in death. As the waters of time surge
up the beach obliterating our footprints, the
imprint of Hugo's feet, will last a little longer
than yours or mine for he walked further up
the beach of life than most of us.
He was a singular man, not just for his
humour, his wit and humanity, but most of all
for his ability to share in each person's feelings
Alan Brown - Shap executive