As a London-born boy (he was born January 1936), he was privileged to witness the growth of the Charedi community in London and farther afield, which set the stage for his life of Askonus.
His first exposure to full time Torah learning was at Yeshivas Ahavas Torah, which was housed at 93 and 95 Stamford Hill. This boarding school was led by Rabbi Gedalyah Schneider Zt”l, a son of Reb Moshe Schneider Zt”l.
The dormitory was at 93 Stamford Hill and the Beis Medrash was across the street in “95”, where the Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel Shul is now housed.
Reb Moshe Schneider opened his heart to Torah, when as a very young boy he attended the Yeshiva Toras Emes in Knightland Road for about one year, alongside Torah luminaries like Rabbi Azriel Schechter Shlita, the president of European Keren HaShviis, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch Shlita and Rabbi Yitzchok Tuviah Weiss Shlita of the Edoh Hachareidis in Jerusalem, amongst others. When he went to learn in Gateshead Yeshiva, the two Reb Leib’s – the Lions of the North - Reb Leib Gurwicz and Reb Leib Lopian ZTL, who was also his Shadchan, opened his head to Torah and became his guiding lights in life, whom he always cherished as his mentors.
The post-war era brought him in touch with the many Gedolim who stopped by in London. He was familiar with the famous Tzadikim of yesteryear like R’ Sholom Shwadron, R’ Aron Kotler and The Ponieviezer Rov ZTL. He made Tzeire Agudas Yisroel Shul his home, where he sat at the feet of Reb Mordechai Yosef Kamionka ZTL, who with his unflinching Ahavas Yisroel imparted to young Jeffrey this trait, which he honed for the rest of his life for the benefit of the Jewish people.
Reb Chaim Yaakov was many things to many people, which he managed to do without calling attention to himself. His sole aim was to help people, as Mrs Rita Hinden – his PA who worked 34 years for Rabi Davis, so aptly put it: Rabbi Davis’ middle name was “Help”.
If Jeffrey’s middle name was Help, then his last name was “Always” (M. S.).
As a Yungerman, he was beOvyo shel Korah (i.e. involved in the thick of things) in many projects, mainly in the Gateshead Yeshiva Alumni charity organisation which he started together with Rabbi Avrohom Gurwicz, nowadays the Rosh Yeshivah and a number of ex-Gateshead Talmidim (amongst them YLT”A: Reb David Chontow, Reb Yitzchok Katz and Reb Izzy Reich). The way he engineered the fundraising and the dinner events ensured that the Yeshivah managed to procure more space, build new buildings and maintain them, though the constant flow of funding that is in effect to this present day.
Pirchei Agudas Yisroel grew together with Jeffrey, as did the Tzeire Agudas Yisroel. In the early years of Camp Aguda, when Rabbi Azriel Schechter appointed him as head counsellor, his presence ensured that – together with his trusted helpers – the grounds pulsated with joie de vivre. He didn’t hesitate to bring on board a Madrich who literally dropped in from the cold, such as was the case with HaKodosh Reb Avrohom Shmuel Goldberg HY”D of Har Nof. As a young man fresh out of university, he was looking to spend summer in a Frum environment and when he heard that Camp Aguda might be looking for a Madrich he called Rabbi Davis. As it happened, the call came to him out of the blue, as his hands were full with work trying to finish Shabbos preparations. There and then he invited young Mr Goldberg to come and be part of the camp staff; they stayed best friends for their entire life.
The same could be said about the historic conventions in Bournemouth: together with the legendary R' Yitzchok Meir Cymerman ZL, he was the guiding light for the planning committee as well as the driving force behind the team that executed the event to its minutest details. Still, with all his prowess at organising, he deferred to authority if and when the situation demanded it. His mantra was: “Dabor Echod laDor” – there should always be one ultimate decision maker and he submitted to their will faithfully, even when in his view things could be done differently. When he started out at the Aguda, he was answerable to Reb Boruch Moshe Cymerman. After Mr Cymerman’s Petiroh he reported to his brother, the late Reb Itche Meir, who – in Jeffrey’s words - was a man with a vision.
Rabbi Davis had broad shoulders, took upon him the rough jobs of balancing books and straightening out problems.
His perceptive mind grasped the most complex topics, never wavering from the destination ahead of him. He dealt with emergencies with the astuteness of a field marshal, always calculating the next step ahead. The managerial, financial and interpersonal problems he dealt with would have felled much strong-willed people than him. His saving grace was the ever present smile, which used to disarm anyone who crossed his path.
Jeffrey became to be known as a faithful servant to the community and the ideal representative for the National Council of the Agudas Israel organisation of Great Britain. Whether arranging high-profile meetings with local, national or overseas dignitaries or penning a letter of protest to an Ambassadors for their country’s mishandling of a Jewish person or community, Rabbi Davis hit the mark with laser-precision.
He built up the prestige of the Aguda in London by augmenting its narrow remit to the gamut of services we now take for granted. He served the community with tremendous dedication and gave of himself to each and every part of the Kehillah, regardless of their affiliation.
He also innovated the idea of government and charitable grant applications. This generated a new avenue for fundraising, based on a per-Talmid bursary, a feat not many in the Yeshivah world have managed.
When he came back from Gateshead to London in 1966, he started the Achisomoch charity, which – apart from supporting the Gateshead Yeshivah - has to date distributed hundreds of millions of pounds to charitable causes. This charity is run by the same people for forty years now, all with Jeffrey’s foresight and oversight.
Reb Moshe Sherer, the head of Agudas Yisroel in the United States contacted Rabbi Davis as a matter of course, when the Pan Am flight exploded over Lockerbie. Rabbi Davis immediately set things in motion by contacting Rabbi Betzalel Rakow, who at that time was the Gatheshead Rov ZT”L, to ensure Kevod HaMeis was maintained until the Misaskim in the Manchester Kehilla headed by the late Reb Shlome Adler took over.
Such was the man, always starting a project, making sure it’s properly run by a capable team and – hop onto the next project.
He was also the headmaster in the Beis Rochel Girls’ School for many years. His Talmidos remember him fondly as someone who had a listening ear to - and acted fairly with his pupils, no matter what age.
First published on 18 January 2016, on Jewish P.O.S.T. - the Jewish Voice for the People Of South Tottenham (now defunct).