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  • Jo Bird

Celebrating Bernard Barry, my grandfather.

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Baruch Shimon Babinsky is one of the last to go, of a generation of Jews born before the Holocaust.


Grandad is my role model for how to live as a Jewish person - he rejected religion for its hypocrisy. He was an atheist, an anti-fascist fighter, a Kinder Scout walker, a Morning Star reader, an inner-city school teacher, an organiser of school trips abroad, an outward facing internationalist and traveller, and not a Zionist. He was witty and warm.


By all accounts he was also a strict, disciplinarian father and teacher. But he didn’t show that side to me. He clearly adored me. He was always on my side.


The first love of his life was Bertha. She was mother to Rica and Judith, and I am proud to be given Bertha as my middle name.


One of Grandad’s favourite light-hearted stories was about his time in the army. One Sunday, each Christian religion was called out and the congregations trooped out to their churches. The first time this happened, he was the only man left, and told to peel potatoes all day. So the next Sundays he fell out with a different church every week, learning a lot in the process, and avoiding extra kitchen duties like everyone else.


Grandad was excellent at giving thoughtful gifts. For example, in my twenties, we went shopping together for this Star of David necklace, as I explored my Jewish birthright. He gave me a deposit to buy my first house. For my step-daughter, he bought an adorable pet rabbit, and school uniform when she started secondary school. He brought dear Vera into our family.


Grandad gave me a thousand pounds to start Olive Co-operative, and in 2006, when he was 86, Grandad said he wanted to come on one of my guided study tours to Palestine and Israel. And so we did, with my mum, dad, our Emma and friends coming too.

About ten years ago, his short term memory started failing him. As his dementia started to take him from us all, he set about putting his affairs in order.


In 2009, he wrote from Manchester to Spain to “give a fuller picture of Manchester Brigaders and the material support from the people of Manchester to Spain in its struggle against the fascist Franco”. This book is a summary of decades of his meticulous work and personal experience. It is part of his gift to all of us.


I miss him a lot already. I loved visiting him, catching up on our news, him beating me at chess, singing to music, skyping with my cousin Sadie and Miguel, and enjoying his sense of humour.


I’d like to end with one of his jokes. Last time I saw him in the care home, I mentioned that he had fallen asleep with his glasses on. “Well” he said, “I wanted to see what was going on in my dreams.”

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