Stanley Reiss z”l, 1934-1996

This evening, remarkably, marks the fourteenth yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my late uncle, Stanley Reiss.

Remarkably, I say, because so unfailingly is Stanley’s memory kept alive by all those who knew and loved him – with recollections, especially, of his generosity of spirit and unique sense of humour – that we can never quite believe that he has not been with us for so long. That his legacy and spirit still are, however, is, in Stanley’s case, no mere cliché.

Stanley, my mother’s younger brother, was that rarity amongst older relatives in that, far from unavoidable obligation, time spent in his company was hugely and genuinely enjoyed. I would love to join him on his evening walks, with family dog Cookie, around Hendon Park – to discuss his, often radical, views on British politics and current affairs (about which he was extremely well-read) and sport (much of which, with his uncanny ability to see the true nature of things, he was persuaded was “fixed”) – and recall jumping at the opportunity to accompany him on the trek to a family bar mitzvah in some distant community (which no one else particularly fancied) because it meant a valuable hour and a half in his presence.

Entertaining guests at the bar mitzvah of my brother Jonathan (pictured with my father), 1971.

Stanley’s repartee and one-liners, delivered with wonderful comic timing, were invariably followed by his trademark boyish guffaw and – for good measure, as if to guarantee a winner – a hearty slap on the back of the nearest listener.

And Stanley had his regular comic routines. Some of these, such as mock chases and fights with his four sons, involved traditional slapstick, while others bordered on pure pantomime: While one of said sons would be on the upstairs phone, in the middle of a sensitive teenage talk, Stanley would carefully – but always with an eye on his eager morning room audience – pick up the downstairs receiver. Covering the mouthpiece with his hand, he would await the perfect moment in the conversation (i.e., the most delicate) before interjecting: “Oh, come on . . . this is boring!”

In the family tradition (of which I am most proud), Stanley had no time for humbug or status. On one occasion, as the two of us attempted to beat the crowds to the buffet at a wedding (on my, Isaacson, side of the family) in the Royal Albert Hall, Stanley barged past Sir Keith Joseph – the brains behind Thatcherism – as if he wasn’t there. Sir Keith’s face, unsmiling at the best of times, was an absolute picture, and – even if he might not have – I enjoyed the moment immensely.

Such irreverence may have stemmed, to some extent, from Stanley’s knowledge (shared by all) that, without his admirable, unstinting observance of the Fifth Commandment, he would have achieved far more, both creatively and professionally. His father (my grandfather) Sam, however, wanted his only son in “the shop” and, so, Stanley’s most original artistic talent (he produced the work below aged just fifteen) was left to hobby . . . with guests returning from weddings and bar mitzvahs with his hilarious caricatures – often of them – sketched on the rear of their Grace After Meals booklets.

One decision, fortunately, that Stanley did not leave to his parents was his choice of life partner. And in his Egyptian wife, Gigi, Stanley found a soul mate with shared values of empathy, kindness, openness and frankness.

Stanley was a genuinely religious (in the real sense of the word) man, perhaps even – while not bearing all of the meaningless trimmings – in the true, chassidic Galicianer tradition: He loved nothing more than hearing his sons sing zemiros; while his and Gigi’s home operated a strict open door policy (a rarity in England), with the Reiss Shabbos table usually seating an assortment of characters who considered 5 Queens Road their second – and, in some cases, even primary – home.

The centrepiece of our family Seder was usually a Galicianer-Litvak dialogue between Stanley and my father regarding the role of God during the Holocaust. Where Stanley saw Him, especially in the subsequent creation of the State of Israel, my sceptic father did not. And when I eventually started to question, too, Stanley was quick to give me – and to make sure that I read – a copy of This Is My God, Herman Wouk’s classic introduction to Orthodox Judaism.

Stanley was a staunch supporter of Israel, which he backed up by encouraging – and, for once, standing up to his father’s objections to – the decisions of his sons to make aliyah. This love of Israel extended to Israelis, too, who, on chancing upon “the shop” on Sunday mornings (usually following a visit to nearby Petticoat Lane), walked out with clothing at near cost price and often a Shabbos invitation to 5 Queens Road!

The mischievous Hasmo boy, paintbrush in pocket, circa 1947.

As a consequence, in all probability, of a difficult (even somewhat neglected) wartime childhood – spent in a Welsh boarding school, far from his parents’ Letchworth sojourn – Stanley was, by all accounts, a rather mischievous boy. On one occasion, a municipal meeting was interrupted by the announcement, “Mr. Reiss, please go home: Your chickens have escaped.” Stanley had thought that he would let them stretch their wings!

Such humanity earned Stanley the sobriquet, “Shirt”: he would give the shirt off his back to someone in need. And it was a quality that he never lost: in later years, Stanley would leave cash for a down-and-out old school friend – they were the first pupils at Hasmonean Grammar – with doormen of Tel Aviv beachfront hotels, requesting that they hand him a little each time he pass by.

A wonderful son, husband and father, Stanley was also so many people’s best friend. And his sudden passing, at the tragically premature age of 62, was a deep and terrible shock to all of them. My father, not always the most sentimental of men, was quite broken about it for the rest of his days.

Stanley always saw the light side of life, and – while little comfort to those he left behind – there was something in his unfussy departure from this world (though he would dearly have loved a lot longer in it) about which he would have approved. Indeed, there was much about Stanley’s simplicity and lack of ego to which we can all aspire.

Heading straight to Bushey Cemetery from my hastily arranged flight from Tel Aviv, on that dark morning in October 1996, the first words that Gigi said to me were “You had such a lovely uncle.”

That said it all. Here was a man who had made a real difference. And life since, for lots of us, has never been quite the same.

http://www.justgiving.com/melchettmike/

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21 responses to “Stanley Reiss z”l, 1934-1996

  1. Mike, this is a beautiful post.

    As I’m sure you are aware, I knew Stanley zl very well as both he and Gigi were very dear (and longstanding) friends of my parents. Indeed, we were privileged to have Stanley present at our wedding – the shock of his sudden passing barely a month later all the more indescribable.

    The world lost a very special individual when the good Lord called your uncle back and although I didn’t see him every day, I still miss him as though I did.

    May his saintly memory be forever blessed.

  2. A beautiful, loving tribute … a gutte gezogt … t’hi nishmato barukh!

  3. very nice piece about your uncle – I remember him well from the Hendon days and wish long life to all the family – may his memory be for a blessing

  4. Norma and Barry Saipe

    Your beautiful tribute brings back his memory so vividly! We loved and admired him and miss him to this day! We wish long life to dearest Gigi and all the family.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this with me Mike.. he sure was a memorable character and was so lovely to me when i moved to London. You are so right, his and Gigi’s house was always open to anyone and everyone. I had no idea that he was such a talented artist and wonder how his life would have been had he not had to work for Uncle Sam in the shop. I love the photos you posted and thank you for keeping his memory so alive….

  6. poetic !

    He was a lovely man for whom I only have fond memories…!

  7. Mike, I never knew your Uncle Stanley but I did get to know his sons a little at Raleigh Close. Unfortunately our friendship was made during the year of kaddish that we were all doing for our respective fathers.
    Your tribute was heartfelt and kind and makes me think that his sons have inherited some of their fathers qualities. They (Robert particularly) welcomed me into Raleigh Close and made me feel comfortable in Shul (an achievement in itself) helping me through the service and listening to my many moans and worries. Please pass on my best wishes to them,
    Jason

  8. Daniel Epstein

    Lovely post, Mike.

    A special man, who I feel fortunate to have known.

    I loved “Number 5, Queens Road” as a kid.

    Yehi zichro baruch.

  9. DEAR MICHAEL,
    WHAT A LOVELY THING TO DO TO REMEMBER OUR WONDERFUL UNCLE. JUST SEEING HIS HAPPY SMILING FACE EVOKES SUCH WONDERFUL MEMORIES OF A GREAT MAN.
    I SPENT MANY WONDERFUL SHABBATS WITH HIM GIGI AND THE BOYS AND HAVE TRIED TO EMULATE THAT WONDERFUL VIBE AROUND THE DINNER TABLE WITH MY OWN BOYS.
    THANK YOU UNCLE STANLEY FOR THOSE MEMORIES AND LIFE SKILLS.
    MONIQUE X

  10. That’s a lovely tribute, cousin Melchett.

    It was my wedding reception (22 years ago last week) at which Stanley bum-rushed the spiritual father of Thatcherism, who, incredibly, had been an old boyfriend of my mother-in-law. Stanley positioned himself behind the MC during the speeches and therefore his beaming face occurs in every photograph taken!

    He was my favourite uncle. My favorite Stanleydote was when, as a teenager, I shlepped up to Petticote Lane one Sunday seeking casual labour on one of the stalls. A ganif engaged me for a pound an hour, which horrified Stanley when I told him about it. He marched over to the stall, gave the bloke a fiver and put me to work in his shop for three pounds an hour. That’s family.

    Rest in peace, Uncle Stanley.

    Barry

  11. I read your blogs regularly without responding, however, on this occasion one has to honour the life of a very special man. Without doubt Mr. Reiss as I always addressed him, educated me in the ways of Hachnasat Orchim, open, warm and always one to lend an ear. My house has been an open door policy since I married. Daniel can verify this fact as we were neighbours in Netanya for over nine years till we moved to the Golan. Policy is still open to anyone visiting the area.
    I remember one occasion (probably more than once) when Daniel was still asleep, I had come around, and Mr. Reiss engaged me in conversation, I lost track of time talking, and eventually Daniel finally woke up. Mr. Reiss always had a good word of advice, and always no matter how bad a situation pointed out the silver lining. I am thankful to have known him, his family, and extended family.
    Yehi Zichro Baruch

  12. Beautifully written, Mike! You captured the man – who was my first cousin.

    I visited his shop in 1986 when, after a 22-year uninterrupted stretch in Israel, I went back for a week to blighty, and on the first day there visited Stanley in his shop. There was almost immediate recognition of my ‘Reiss’ face, and after a chat he invited me to come back at closing time. I did, and he drove me to his home where I also met Gigi – a very impressive lady!

    His son Robert drove me over to meet your mother Norma.

    The last time I saw Stanley was here in Jerusalem, at Robert’s wedding; if I remember correctly, it was on Mount Scopus.

    One thing that connected his artistic talent with his father’s business, was that he found an outlet for his creative talents by designing Safari suits, which he then sold in his shop – so successfully, that the shop was renamed ‘Safaris’, a hybrid of ‘Safari’ and ‘Reiss’.

    At the Hasmonean, the very aged Art Master Mr. Rothschild once told me that Stanley was the most talented student he’d ever had. (Stanley, in return, told me that when Rothschild hit him on the back of the head, his fingers felt like ‘five cold sausages’.)

    He was a lovely person – may he rest in peace.

    Adrian Reiss

  13. One story I remember from visiting the shop with my Mum back in the late eighties or early nineties. One of the trusted employees had been caught stealing bits and bots of money over time from the shop to deal with a gambling debt. Stanley stood there and told my Mum exasperatingly: “I can’t believe he did that…If only he’d have told me he was in trouble I would have helped him out properly”. What a man.

    Stanley Reiss was that one of hos worker

  14. I too remember Stanley well..who could not? We were classmates at Wessex Gardens Primary School until he was “rescued” by Hasmo. I clearly recall his total lack of accepting anything the teacher said unless it was clearly explained. This resulted in his intentions being missunderstood and his invariably being caned on the back of his legs on a regular basis. Stanley’s enthusiasm for clarification however remained undimmed..an attribute that stayed with him throughout his regrettably shortened life. I miss his “hail-fellow-well-met” demeanour even after all this time. Joe L.

  15. Arnold Kaplan

    Following Adrian Reiss’ comments about Stanley’s Safari Suit designs, I was very privledged to be involved with him in producing these garments in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe for some ten years and we had many great moments of fun together.

  16. janet kaplan

    what a great post. i think you truly capture his spirit. i particulary remember his open door policy; a refreshing find for us who had just arrived off the boat from south africa. he and his family made us feel very welcome.

  17. A groyse mazal-tov to the Reiss family on the birth of little Ella.

  18. On behalf of all the Reiss family, thank you very much, Daniel . . . but who is she?!

  19. Adrian’s latest grand-daughter. A beauty, by all reports!

  20. David Freudmann

    Stanley z”l and I became friends the first day that I started my schooling at The Hasmonean. We remained close friends until the day he died. Although I moved to Toronto in 1960, whenever I came to London I would visit him and Gigi. We would carry on a conversation that we might have started a year or two earlier as if no time had elapsed. Both Gigi and Stanley always made me feel their home was mine.

    My Bar Mitzvah in Feb 47 was the first one Stanley had been invited to in his own right, and his a few months later was the first one for me in my own right.

    I had 4 brothers and regarded Stanley as my 5th brother. Flew to London for his funeral, the saddest I had attended in my life until then. Miss Stanley even now.

    David Freudmann

  21. Lovely memories of your uncle , you really encaptured him well. I remember him from school ‘The Hasmonean ‘when we were coed, & he was a class above me, with his maroon cap perched on his head.
    Best wishes to you all. Miriam Sklar

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