Created on 17/4/2008
Most of you reading this blog are not Jewish, in fact, for sure, the majority of the group reading this are not Liberal Jews, the group I take pride in belonging to. This is not Jewish lite, since I am not a religious person. I am what I was born into, racially and tribally Jewish, but not a believer in a bloke or woman with flowing robes on a mountain top, bearded or otherwise. For me if there is a deity it is the good within us all, and the Devil might be the opposite.
Liberal Judaism in the UK has about ten or eleven thousand official adherents. We are small enough a group to be both vertically and horizontally integrated but big enough to be a pain in everyone else’s ideological butt.
I want to see our World being full of love and good people, even when sometimes the logic tells us that the glass is half empty. We need to steer our movement through what promises to be uncharted territory, unlike what has gone before.
There is a common theme running through recent Jewish and Israeli history. 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 that very recently joined the European Union. 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 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?
When I was getting married many years ago my good friend, Rabbi Lew, told me he would like to see me more at our shaul, then in Dean Street, Central London. 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. I believe that you will see Liberal Judaism begin to really grow in numbers and vigour. I also believe that as a paradoxical defensive reflex the ultra orthodox movement will grow even faster and bigger in the Diaspora. The real squeeze will be on the former middle ground conformists whose assimilation into a larger heterogeneous society will make them vanish. Their beliefs will result in their own demise. How can they live with the moral dichotomy of their children “marrying out” if they are not inclusive of their grand children?
I believe Liberal Judaism will continue to succeed in exporting its message of inclusiveness; involvement and engagement to the wider, surrounding community and that this will grow and prosper.
Statistics suggests that the British United synagogue membership (similar to the American Conservative movement) is fairly static, Reform numbers are 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 to 40% of all those in the UK who consider 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, does and should continue to reach out, 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.