Clive Marks ז״ל Lamed Vavnik

September 1, 2023 by Jeremy Rosen
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In my long life in Jewish affairs, I have met very few prominent public figures who were or are righteous in the true sense.

Jeremy Rosen

That is probably because being in the public eye too often means getting seduced by power, popularity, or egoism and avoiding taking a stand.

One of them was Clive Marks, who died two weeks ago at the age of 92, and I was fortunate to be able to speak to him on the phone at length a few days before he went and thank him for his friendship and all the good that he had done. He was a modest, self-effacing man. He never stood on ceremony or allowed those who disagreed with him or his choices to deflect or deter him. He distributed his beneficence gently and smilingly like a fairy godmother.

Clive was born in London, the son of a businessman in the clothing trade. Clive became a trustee of property magnate Arnold Silverstone, who became Lord Ashdown, for whom he worked as an accountant. He oversaw the Ashdown Trust funds of millions of pounds between 1977 and  2021 when he wound the trust down. His benevolence extended to both Jewish and non-Jewish charities around the world. Yet, while others in Anglo Jewry became household names, Clive Marks remained almost unknown though he was one of the great benefactors of British Jewry of his age.

“My father taught me business ethics,” he once told me, and he founded the Jewish Association for Business Ethics. His charities included the London School of Jewish Studies (the former Jews’ College), World ORT,  the UJIA-Ashdown Fellowships, the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Children of Chernobyl, Norwood, the London College of Music, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the new University of West London. As well as funding and teaching an extensive project on Holocaust music. He was the vice-chairman of the Council for Christians and Jews and a co-founder of the Cambodia Trust. He was awarded the Coventry International Peace Prize in 1999 by the Bishop of Coventry for his contribution to peace and reconciliation and was appointed OBE for his charity work and dedication to improving Christian and Jewish relations. He particularly liked to support unfashionable causes.

My debt of gratitude to Clive was as a friend and someone who supported my younger and much-lamented brother Mickey. Mickey had founded YAKAR Educational Centre named after our father, in Stanmore, London, and was struggling to gain traction in a very conforming Anglo Jewry. He struck up a strong friendship with Clive, who helped expand it to Hendon. He regularly attended services and lectures at YAKAR. When Mickey moved to Jerusalem to establish YAKAR there, I stepped in for a while as the director of the London centre until it transferred to Israel. Of all those who helped Mickey in his work, Clive stood out above the rest, with the sole exception of the late Howard Ronson.

YAKAR in Jerusalem is now run by Gila Rosen, Mickey’s widow, and Shlomo Dov his second son. And in Tel Aviv by Chananel, his third son. YAKAR has had a huge influence as a centre of Jewish religious and ethical study and outreach. It combines independence, religiously and politically. And stands for a non-judgmental inclusive Judaism which has brought inspiration to many from all over the world. Clive was a partner in this.

The Talmud talks about 36 unknown, righteous people upon whom the world is dependent because they have a special relationship with God, and it is kept secret (Sanhedrin 97b). The number is derived from the numerological value of the two Hebrew letters Lamed Vav and so they became known as the Lamed Vavnicks. The Talmud also talks about 30 for Jews and 30 for non-Jews or 45,  ( 30 in Israel and 15 in the Diaspora). As for the nations of the world, they are sustained by 30 (Chullin 92a),  which if you think about it proportionally, must make them even holier to carry that load all by themselves. As with so many things, the Talmud loves different opinions.

The Zohar took up the idea, and it entered Chassidism, where the rebbes are supposed to be the present-day Lamed Vavniks. As there are far more than 36 Rebbes nowadays and each one claims saintliness, the Almighty might have a problem making the final cut.  But of one thing, I am certain. Clive was one of them.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen lives in New York. He was born in Manchester. His writings are concerned with religion, culture, history and current affairs – anything he finds interesting or relevant. They are designed to entertain and to stimulate. Disagreement is always welcome.

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