George was born in August 1940 in Hayes, Middlesex and one of his earliest memories is hearing the drone of bomber aircraft as they took off from nearby Northolt airport destined for Germany. He was the fourth child after three sisters - two of whom had been born in New York City, where their Swiss mother had settled with her first husband. After his death in a building accident their mother moved back to England, remarried and produced a fifth child; another son. When George was eight his mother took him with her on her first visit to her homeland since she left Switzerland in 1926. The trip in February 1949 would give him a lasting enthusiasm for travel and an enduring love of all things Swiss.
At Acton County Grammar School he excelled in art and his swift cartoon sketches of the teachers were uncannily accurate and very popular. On the sports field he was a talented high-jumper. Unfortunately, the swimming option - at which he was a prize winner - was discontinued after the first term. The post-war years were hard for the family of five children, and George, like his sisters, had several part-time jobs (newspaper delivery boy, ice-cream vendor outside Richmond Park, grocery deliveries and more) in order to make ends meet and buy the things they wanted. A new bicycle was top of the list and that would lead on to an enthusiasm for motorbikes.
On leaving school with a clutch of O-levels - and with an unprecedented 100% pass in technical drawing (see pictures right and below) - he signed up for a marine engineering course. After two years of study at the then Hendon College of Engineering, where he learnt to play classical guitar as an extra-curriculum activity, he obtained his diploma and went up to Ardrossan in Scotland for some hands-on shipyard experience.
In the 1950s the family decided that Australia was the land of opportunity and they all became 'ten-pound-poms' but because of age differences and skills requirements they migrated at different times and this broke up the unity of the family. During his four years living 'down-under' George continued his interests in art, music and photography. A keen student of current affairs and politics it led him to urge the Australian government to recognise communist China, a prescient and controversial stance at that time. On his 500 cc single cylinder, racing-green livery Norton motorbike - named Rosinante after Don Quixote's trusty steed - he explored the underdeveloped south-east region of Queensland. This was before it became a favourite tourist destination after infrastructure improvements were made starting in the early 1970s. These trips would be the spur for the many return visits he made with his future wife.
George returned to the UK via the United States and spent several weeks there based on Long Island where his Aunt Helen lived. During his travels around the Eastern states, a noteworthy highlight was dining at the White House in Washington.
Soon after his arrival back in England in late 1964 George revisited his former guitar teacher who was still teaching at the same study centre, rebranded as a polytechnic. There he met the woman who would become his wife. Nikki was married and had two children but had already taken the first steps to obtain a divorce from her first husband. She and George married in October 1968 and he thereby became a devoted and dependable step-father to Kerry and Darrell. Family life was disrupted in the following eight years because of several court applications by Nikki's ex to obtain care and control of the children. One of the most harrowing episodes was when the children's father made an application to court for Nikki to be committed to prison. It was quickly dismissed but the judge grilled the lawyers on their vexing methods. The various welfare officer reports which were ordered by the court attested to the safe, supportive, happy home environment which George and Nikki provided for the children.
Much about their life together is told in
For Your Ears Only, the autobiography of Nikki van der Zyl who is famed as the voice of the Bond girls. In the book she writes:
Looking back over the years, George had been a wonderful stepfather to both children, playing with them and assisting them with their homework. He introduced Darrell to computers, passed on his DIY practical skills, played badminton with him and later taught him to windsurf. He did all the countless things that any good Dad would do. We went on holidays together and drove down to Mudeford with our motor van to enjoy windsurfing in Christchurch Harbour.
Out of respect for his rabbi father-in-law, George enrolled on a Judaism course and was tutored by Rabbi Dow Marmur and others at the Whitfield Street study centre in North London. There he studied alongside a young Colin Eimer who would later become one of the most respected Reform rabbis in the country. George learnt a lot about the religion and this knowledge enabled him to support his wife and children in their continuing religious practices. In 1967 he was one of many who volunteered to assist Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict known as the Six-Day War.
Through the years he has met all types of Jews and, unfortunately, some have sought to damage him (either financially or by attempting to destroy family relationships). Judaism teaches that Jews should repent of their sins during the days of atonement (Yom Kippur). The Halacha requires that the transgressor obtains the forgiveness (known as mechilah) of the wronged one. But not once in over 48 years has George been approached by those who deliberately set out to cause him harm. (As of 14th October 2016, two days after Yom Kippur 5777, no forgiveness has been sought by the main offenders, which would have indicated an act of atonement.) This is just one of the reasons he finds all religions sanctimonious and the cause of most social strife.
George pursued his engineering career and at one stage worked on a hush-hush project at the secret government establishment at Porton Down. His work on calculating the stresses in building structures led him into the field of computers. There his talents for analysis and accuracy bore fruit and he set up his own software development company. Always community minded he was a volunteer for the Victim Support charity for many years and during that time helped hundreds of people. Incredibly he was told to leave because he was being too helpful to some victims and (unwisely) had exposed failures of the local social services - but this did not stop him doing other pro bono work. Happy in the water he became a proficient windsurfer and on land became a competitive badminton player and in the air tried his hand at gliding and microlight flying.
Kerry and Darrell (see photo above right) left home as young adults to pursue their own dreams. In 1998 Darrell married Marie Kramer a solicitor and their wedding and reception both proved to be a travesty. The normal expectation of groom wedding speech etiquette is that generous thanks are given to the family members who participated in the couples upbringing. Darrell's speech was not only devoid of any reference to his illustrious grandfather, the late Rabbi van der Zyl, in whose synagogue the marriage ceremony took place, but hurtfully omitted any mention of his mother and sister. Further offence was caused by excluding them from the traditional wedding group photos. Subsequently Darrell had two daughters and thus made George a Zeida (step-grandfather). See LinkedIn pages for Kerry and Darrell. On his Linkedin page Darrell falsely exaggerates both his attendance and achievements at university. See Misinformation. In 2009 Darrell (re)married.
Extract from Submission to the Prime Ministerís Holocaust Commission|
by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, May 2014
Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust says: Ask your children what they learnt from their Holocaust Memorial Day activities at school. (2016)
The celebration of family is regarded as a major part of the Jewish tradition. Rabbi Berel Wein says "It has become ever more imperative that family relationships and influences be strengthened. The family is the last and strongest fortress for developing character, morals, tradition and proper role models for children and later generations. A child who sees and interacts with grandparents and great-grandparents can gain a greater perspective on life and its events than what the child would gain on its own without the input of generations. ... One of the many terrible consequences of the Holocaust has been the disruption in the chain of generations. Knowing the past generations is somehow a crucial and necessary component for Jewish survival."
Don't Stand By; speak up for these grieving grandparents now.The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing. (Edmund Burke)
Mishpachah Clarification: Some people are under the impression that Marie van der Zyl (a member of the Board of Deputies) is the daughter of Nikki van der Zyl, and thereby a descendant of the late Rabbi Dr. Werner van der Zyl. That is incorrect. She is the daughter of Barry Kaye (former press spokesperson for Newton Abbot Constituency Labour Party) and Szusanne Lustmann. Her first marriage, in 1992, was to Nicholas Kramer. She acquired the surname van der Zyl in 1998 by her second marriage to George's step-son Darrell van der Zyl. Marie is therefore the step-daughter-in-law of George Rooker. After the wedding, her father sent George a series of grossly offensive letters containing religious tracts which were heinous and and constituted harassment.
The first chapter Norman England covers the period between the arrival of Jews in England in the footsteps of William the Conqueror in 1066, placing themselves in service of a despotic regime, until their expulsion in 1290. |
(A pre-release digital version is available on request.)
A second chapter on European colonies in South America examines the privileged Jodensavanne, a slave owning community in 17th century Surinam, which became a place of unparalleled Jewish autonomy; the only Diaspora community to achieve complete political self-rule before the founding of the State of Israel.
Click here for latest composite of ALL van der Zyl related images.
George continues to produce innovative software solutions and travels widely with Nikki whenever the opportunity presents itself. His talent for drawing faces enabled him to see the hidden face in a famous painting 'discovered' on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. His autobiography Apfelstrudel to Chicken noodle - A Stepfather's Life, to be published in 2016, will include over twenty newly discovered family photos showing the happy times spent with Kerry and Darrell. Now an historian he is currently undertaking research for The Privileged Minority: Jewish History unredacted. (See panel above.)
Examples of George's early art work ... (click to enlarge).