From Yet Another Perspective

Created on 21/11/2005

Tony Klinger’s View of Liberal Judaism

You might have thought yourself safe from the further thoughts of Deputy Klinger now that I no longer represent the synagogue directly at the Board. No such luck. I am not going to report to you on the meetings at the Board that I have attended over the last couple of months. Now someone else will represent Woodford and no doubt they will be sending their reports into the Bimah.

Until very recently I was proud to serve Woodford as its Deputy at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Now I have been let loose on that exalted body on a bigger front, representing Liberal Judaism’s ten thousand plus members. It seemed a very big responsibility to me when I was offered this position thanks to the prodding of Rabbi Rebecca. The personage being prodded was Liberal Judaism’s Chief Executive, Rabbi Danny Rich.

I spent a very happy and interesting few hours with Danny last week and found this both instructive and inspiring. He is everything you hope someone in his position might be. He is bright, dynamic, articulate, affable and above all “generous of spirit”. I see this last to be the greatest gift of all. He sees our World being full of love and good people, even when sometimes the logic tells us that the glass is half empty. We need a man like this to steer our movement through what promises to be uncharted territory, unlike what has gone before.

There is a common theme running through every recent Board of Deputies meeting. This is that there are many terrible and unrelenting enemies of us as Jews, and Israel as a nation. I don’t want to rehearse all the well-trodden paths that most of you are aware of. I will just mention three recent happenings.

During the French riots there have been a very large number of anti-Semitic attacks that both the French Government and the official Jewish representative bodies deny are linked.

The next major incident I want you to consider took place in Bulgaria, a country in the last stages of accession into the European Union. A couple of months ago one of their major elected parties publicly stated that their country needed to rid itself of all its Jews. It then went on to list fifteen hundred Bulgarian Jews and their addresses on their web site. The message was clear, here they are, go and get them.

Last and by no means least there is the infamous speech by the new President of Iran calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. Imagine how the world would react if a Jewish or Israeli leader called for an Islamic state to be wiped out just because it was Islamic?

It was in this atmosphere that Rabbi Rich and I talked about the big issues and the smaller issues. We started by talking about our synagogue, and we agreed that although not everything was great, but neither was everything so terrible. There are some wonderful people inhabiting our synagogue, people who give of their time, their funds and above all their heart. We saw solutions to problems, and he clearly is a wonderful team player and ally. I believe he’s right, that after some consolidation and further progress in organization we can continue to be a highly desirable community able to demonstrate our spirit and commitment to each other.

This brought us to discussion of the themes of Liberal Judaism and their relevance. I told him how, when I was getting married some thirty-three years ago, that my good friends, Rabbi Lew, told me he would like to see more at our shaul, then in Dean Street. It was orthodox and I was the third generation of Klinger who was a member. I felt somewhat embarrassed to tell him that I felt a terrible hypocrite to arrive at the synagogue having to drive because of the distance, and then discreetly park my car. He responded by saying that he wasn’t the Lord’s policeman, but he would like to see me. It struck me as a common sense that the Almighty might well applaud.

I suppose that kind of reasoning is what brought me to Liberal Judaism. Faith coloured by common sense and a feeling for the times we live in. Rabbi Danny Rich epitomises this attitude. He’s a can do man, and since his appointment he has begun to prove the point.

I’ll make some predictions that modesty would forbid Danny making. I believe that you will see Liberal Judaism begin to really grow in numbers and vigour. I believe that the money we need to generate for our movement will be generated and enhanced. I believe we will get our message of inclusiveness; involvement and engagement in the wider, surrounding community will grow and prosper.

Statistics sometimes discussed at the Board suggests that the United synagogue is fairly static, Reform is in the doldrums in many respects but the Charedi is growing very fast. It has the high birth rate, the fundamental belief, and seemingly the answers that gets recruits. It looks as though these ultra orthodox people that some consider a throwback to life in Middle Europe in the nineteenth century, might well number between 20-40% of all those in the UK who number themselves Jewish.

This brings one neatly to the other side of this argument. This is really the problem, the very large and increasing number of Jews who don’t count themselves as Jewish. Those that don’t belong to or contribute in any way to any branch of organized Judaism. The folks that might just join a synagogue when they’re getting a bit older and they start to think about not being buried in a Jewish piece of consecrated ground. What a great shame that they only want to be Jewish when they’re dead!

I think that we in Liberal Judaism can reach out, under the guidance of Danny Rich to reclaim some living Jewish life from people who might yet welcome some of our warmth, our Jewishness, our love. There’s just the chance that being positive will find a receptive audience with a great many people who are looking to place themselves back in the bosom of their faith. Let’s welcome them home, it’s warm inside.