His obedience to Da’as Torah came to the fore when I had the privilege to interview him, some five years before his passing, in his Givat Shaul home. We discussed the many projects he was involved in and the Jewish Tribune came up. He explained to me that whatever the view of some people, what matters is the vote of the Va’ad Rabbonim at the Agudas Yisroel. They decided that Orthodox Jewry in Great Britain needed a newspaper and so started as a fortnight publication, until it became a weekly newspaper. He was therefore confident in the prevalence of the paper, especially as it has the most prominent Torah leaders who – through the Editorial Board set the tone of what and how to voice Torah hashkofoh. He was passionate about the Tribune and was hopeful that it would one day be given a facelift, a wish that was fulfilled in his lifetime!
He had a genuine smile, respected every person and always tried to maintain a cordial relationship, living up to the title he was given by people who hardly knew him: Ohev Shalom verodef Shalom – he loved and pursued peace. He related to everyone in Klal Yisroel without differentiating between Frum or non-Frum, Lithuanian or Chassidic, Moroccan or Yemenite and it didn’t matter whether he spoke to a child or a venerable Rosh Yeshivah. As someone from a non-Chassidic background, it was remarkable to see how everyone liked him and he was accepted across the whole spectrum of the community. Indeed, he was “Ruach Haberiyos Nochoh Heimenu”. No wonder his full name spells the word Yachad (יח"ד).
As one of his many protégés relates:
“We knew each other from about sixty years ago when as a young boy of twelve he came to Gateshead Jewish boarding school. Jeffrey then became the housemaster and apart from overseeing the boys there and when their time would come to enter Gateshead Yeshiveh, he also helped them settle in.
Jeffrey was a practical person, carrying out the decisions of Rabbi Bamberger of the boarding school and others. He was a Lamdan in Chessed, he had great insight into both people and situations, knowing their characters and how to handle them, which enabled him to do the right type of chessed with them – this was his Geonus. Had good advice for everyone
As an example, in those days boys used to go from boarding school to Sunderland for at least a year or two before coming to Gateshead. Rabbi Bamberger the principal of the boarding school wanted me to go to Gateshead as I would benefit from the fact that the yeshiva learned Maseches Kidushin just as my knowledge of Kidushin was at its peak and therefore would be a shame to lose this opportunity of augmenting my proficiency in this tractate. He mentioned that Mr Davis who was a good half day in Yeshivah would be able to help me to be admitted. He went above and beyond his call of duty, setting up chavrusos for me with the best of the best: one bochur learned all the Ketzos relevant to the Masechta and another one was my Chaye Odom chavrusa, whilst my Gemoro Rebbe was also a top bochur. He set me up in the most wonderful, caring and productive manner so as to ensure my stay at yeshiva in a most wonderful way and even kept an eye on me whilst I was in Yeshiva. If not for him I would probably not have had a head start in Yeshiva. We used to visit him Friday evenings and it was wonderful to spend time with him. I was just a young bochur but he was always on the lookout for our welfare, pairing us up with older, more mature Bochurim. We used to visit him where he lived in the East end and later on after his marriage we used to visit him in Stamford Hill.
The way he invested in his staff as if they were his own children, which demonstrated itself when I was looking for material on this article.
He was sometimes tough with an employee, but always ended up having them firmly on his side. This is because they realised that ultimately he had the benefit of the larger picture in mind, which they inevitably wanted to be part of.
Unlike some Askonim of his generation, he always encouraged newcomers to start out in the path of doing for the Klal. He demonstrated foresight uncanny for someone in the position of power he was in: allow the youngsters room for growth, teach them the ropes and let them flourish. One day it will be these youngsters who will need to lead; the better trained they are, the more Klal Yisroel will benefit.
When the writer of these lines started the Calculu Training Centre, I visited his office to procure the contact list of the staff at COPE Institute in the offices of the American Aguda headquarters in New York. As usual, Rabbi Davis was sitting at his humongous desk that was overflowing with paperwork. People were coming and going whilst the telephone had many red lamps flashing, indicating that they needed his attention. When he heard my request, he pulled out the list from his desk drawer, as if he was waiting for me and gave it with the most encouraging smile I have yet to see.
The way Rabbi Davis was portrayed in the Hebrew press succinctly captures the essence of what we lost:
“Rabbi Davis was a true Mentsch and a special person, a Ba’al Habayis of the Agudas Yisroel school, permeated with pure Torah Hashkofoh. His knowledge of – and faith in people wasn’t diminished even when faced with sometimes ever growing demands or even verbal attacks from those same people he was trying to help. He imbued his children with activism for the Klal without looking out for a tangible or otherwise intangible reward. He succeeded in mediating between the local and central government Education departments, pushing through amendments in the law of the land, to accommodate the unique Chinuch BeDerech Yisroel Sabbo, many of which are still in place to this day. He dedicated his life to Klal Yisroel and sought only the best for them, a real Oseik BeTzorchey Tzibbur Be-Emunoh, of the previous generation”.
When I was approached to write about Reb Chaim Yaakov Davis - or as he was affectionately known “Jeffrey Davis” – I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of emotions that was part of every conversation. Whoever I spoke to whether on the ‘phone or in person, became animated during the interview, trying to keep their enthusiasm in check. He became synonymous with the organisation to which he gave the bulk of his life to. The ideas and ideals for which Agudas Yisroel was established came to life through his actions. The life and achievements of Reb Chaim Yaakov can be summed up in four words: “Jeffrey Davis, Agudas Yisroel”.
First published on 18 January 2016, on Jewish P.O.S.T. - the Jewish Voice for the People Of South Tottenham (now defunct).