Gwen Montagu
(1923-2003)


Gwen in her 30s

 

She took a degree in English at Newnham College Cambridge and was one of many women finally admitted to full degree status at a ceremony in 1998. Her interests included archaeology and textiles. She took part in the excavation of the Fishbourne Roman palace. Her studies in medieval history and medieval church architecture led to her participation in much of her husband Jeremy's published work, in which her critical eye for style was also always a vital part. That she was named as co-author in only two works disguised the amount and the importance of her contribution to all the others. She was also a constant and unfailing support in all his activities.

She was a skilled embroiderer (several of her works, ark curtains and scroll covers, are part of the ritual equipment of the Oxford Synagogue) and she built up a wide-ranging collection of embroidered textiles which is now deposited in her memory in the Rose Archive of Shenkar College of Technology, Ramat-Gan, Israel.

She was much involved in women's issues and worked in the National Council of Women and a number of other organisations. She was an active member of the 35s, who worked for the emancipation of Jewish Prisoners of Conscience in Soviet Russia. Before we moved to Oxford she was President of the Association of Jewish Women's Organisations. She served on the council of a number of other Jewish societies, in particular those of the League of Jewish Women and the International Council of Jewish Women, whose Newsletter she edited, and whom she represented at many other organisations and conferences including the United Nations Decade of Women's conferences at Nairobi and Beijing.

She and Jeremy were among those who initiated the Masorti (Conservative) services which are now a regular monthly feature of the Oxford Jewish Community. While he was Senior Member of the Oxford University Jewish Society she frequently provided hospitality for students, and continued thereafter to help in the 'incarceration' and invigilation of students who could not take their exams on the official dates because they fell on the Sabbath or Holy Days, a practice that Jeremy still continues. She was a leader among those responsible for making separate Women's Services a regular occasion at the Oxford Jewish Community. Women read from the Torah scroll themselves, not only on Simchat Torah, when women can also process and dance with the scrolls, but also on normal Sabbaths. Many women from all over Britain and from abroad had their first experience of such services when in Oxford, and their first aliyah to the Torah (called up to say the blessings usually reserved for men). An Etz Hayim (Tree of Life), for which members of the congregation can commission leaves to record occasions of happiness in their lives and those of their families, stands in the foyer of the Oxford Synagogue in her memory.

Jeremy Montagu

 

 

 

Links


The League of Jewish Women

The International Council of Jewish Women

The Oxford Synagogue

Shenkar College of Technology, Ramat-Gan, Israel (The link to the Rose Archive should be live soon).

 

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