The following is written by Annette Lawson.
I met June through the Women’s National Commission, alas, abolished by the Coalition Government in its Bonfire of the Quangos. When I chaired the international Committee there, June, as President of the International Council of Jewish Women attended regularly. This beautiful, witty woman was not one to feel she had to speak at every meeting but when she did she always sought action. For June jaw, jaw was definitely better than war, war but it was not enough. So, if other people were not doing, June would do.
We were often together at the annual Commission on the Status of Women meetings at the UN, and there was an occasion when she was fuming about the constant and dreadful raping of women in the Republic of Congo. So she began a petition for the Secretary General of the UN and/or his Deputy, Jan Eliason. When she felt she had enough signatures, up she went to the right floor in the UN and met Mr Eliasson who, she decided, was a ‘decent man’, and bent his ear. This was typical and yet she was not pushy or obstreperous. She used her charm and reason rather to get to the person who could perhaps make the change that she could not.
Our friendship grew both because of our shared interest in women’s equality and because we were Jewish women who had been through the English girls’ boarding school system and survived. Indeed she mixed easily in the upper echelons of English Society as well as holding an astonishing range of leading positions in many organisations within different Jewish communities not only in the UK but also in Israel and Sweden.. In 2002, Mrs Mubarak held a women’s peace meeting in Sinai. . Israelis had not been asked because, if they had, the Palestinian women would not have come. June represented all Jewish women and I was a kind of runner up/supporter as needed.
On a wholly different occasion and in another country, when she found she was seated next to a Rabbi at a dinner who was raging against the wicked men who would not grant the ‘Get’, the dissolution document freeing a wife from the marriage, and telling her they were introducing all kinds of punishments for such behaviour, she asked, ‘Why not just change the Law?’ He turned his back and failed to address a single remark to her again throughout the dinner.
June was elected to the Board of the European Women’s Lobby for the International Council of Jewish Women. She was much honoured within EWL for her successful work as Chair of the Membership Committee in getting EWL to accept the Romany and Gypsy women’s organisation as full members. The matter had to be voted through by the whole assembly because the rules stated only women’s organisations with representation in at least 51% of EU member states could become full members – something these wandering and much discriminated against women, could not show.
June worked across the deepest political divides bringing women together. Meeting a delegation of Iraqi women who were visiting the UK, she promptly invited them all back for a home-cooked dinner. This was the first time most of them had actually had a chance to meet Jewish women, let alone break bread with them.
In 2009, June was elected to the Board of NAWO, the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations. It was a time of multi-faith representation with Baha’i, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Hindu and Muslims around the table. She represented the League of Jewish Women. Occasionally, for me as Chair, it could be hard to maintain a strong secular line! But this diversity enabled work of real value.
There was a special quality to June of lovability. You didn’t just like her or care about her; you loved her. I think this was because she loved us and showed it with small gifts thoughtfully chosen and with the seriously meant use of ‘darling’ as she spoke to us.
We ache from the loss of that shared love.