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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.


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,
I'll crawl, 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 and emotions.

Alan Brown - Shap executive