Maggie helped to save shechita

SHIMON COHEN worked for former Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits. Here, he describes the relationship between the late Lord Jakobovits and Baroness Thatcher.

WHEN, in 1982, I joined the office of Chief Rabbi Jakobovits, Mrs Thatcher loomed large.

Chief Rabbi Jakobovits first met the MP for Finchley in the 1970s, but it was her elevation to Education Minister in the Heath government that brought them close.

He once remarked to her that with her responsibility for the education of our children, she was truly Secretary for Defence, a comment that she would proudly go on to repeat time and again.

They were not friends in the usual sense. They did not go to dinner together nor did they go to the theatre or the movies, nor was he a Conservative, as some media commentators would have you believe.

Their relationship was borne and flourished of two conviction driven leaders whose sense of public service was paramount.

He enjoyed the common sense of her politics and her belief in herself, and she enjoyed his.

When in the late 1980s shechita came under attack, Dayan Berger and I went to see the Agriculture Minister John Gummer.

Mr Gummer so wanted to help us but was under a great deal of pressure from animal welfare groups.

We were not making much headway and it was Mr Gummer who suggested that the matter could only really be resolved if the Chief Rabbi approached the prime minister.

Lord Jakobovits, reluctant as ever to circumvent the process was hesitant, but so serious was the situation that he too recognised that his relationship with Margaret Thatcher was the only card left to play.

It was in a private meeting in the prime minister's flat above No 10 that the deal was hatched which ultimately secured shechita and the prime minister's clear statement of support has been something that we have successfully won from every prime minister since.

When Lord Jakobovits died and the British Friends of Bar Ilan honoured him with the building of a medical ethics centre and his wife Amelie with a doctorate, Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis were the guests of honour.

My wife and I had the honour to escort the Thatchers and at one point during the evening, she turned to me and said: "You must have had the best job in the world . . . he was my friend, I relied on him and miss him so."

Over the course of their relationship, Lord Jakobovits taught Lady Thatcher why Jewish education is the security of our people.

He taught her why the bond between Jews of the Diaspora and the State of Israel is so vital to our future and he nurtured a friendship that brought great pride and benefit to our community.

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph