Chairman’s Actions: Lucian J Hudson shares the story of his conversion to Judaism

Lucian J Hudson
19 September 2011

Recently I was interviewed by the South Bucks Jewish Community Newsletter on the reasons why I decided to convert to Judaism. It was suggested that I share this with a wider audience. I hope that after reading it, others will write to me about their own experience or acquaintance of conversion.

I was brought up by Polish parents as a Roman Catholic, and went to a Jesuit school in Paris between the ages of five and nine. That means I am blessed with a Jesuit education, a love of reason and science, yet an appreciation of the limits of human rationality. Ever since I can remember, I have believed in a beneficent God and reality. I don’t hold God responsible if a child trips and cries or if there’s a terrible earthquake. Much as there is suffering and ignorance, and occasional evil, I believe in the triumph of the human spirit, the kindness of strangers and a bright ultimate future for humanity – provided we become custodians, rather than exploiters, of our planet.

After leaving France, as a child, I lived in North London and Jewishness was very much part of my surroundings. My best friends were Jewish, and I loved their intelligence, warmth and resourcefulness. And, as an enthusiastic student, I found that there was a string of Jewish thinkers – Spinoza, Marx, Freud, and Einstein – whose ambivalent relationship with Judaism and the world really interested me. Jewish meant “questing” and “questioning” and I could relate to that.

The more I became immersed in Judaism, the more enlightened and enriched I felt. When I turned 40, ten years ago, a new millennium had started and I tried to make sense of my family history and my place in it. Judaism spoke to me more than any other tradition, and one step led to another. People call me a Jew by choice, but I prefer to say “I was drawn to Judaism” – like a plant is drawn to sunlight.

It took about four years before I converted in April 2005. Danny Rich was then the rabbi at Kingston. He was, and still is, my great teacher. We became good friends and Kingston is a very friendly community. We are blessed in Liberal Judaism with so many different communities – whether it is my own, LJS, or many I visit and hope to visit. I got to know other Liberal Jews and found them very welcoming. I drew much inspiration from reading the Torah and other texts, and from prayer and reflection.

My wife, Margaret, was wonderful about my decision, particularly after she learned about Liberal Judaism’s stance on equality and mixed couples. We can never take equality for granted. My friends, especially Jewish ones, were most intrigued and excited.

I’m sure many people are surprised that six years on I am now the chairman of Liberal Judaism. In fact, on hearing of my election almost two years ago, one outspoken prominent British Jew – whom I like and respect – apparently said: “Who would believe it? A non-Jew running the Liberals!” It is a sign how far British Jewry has developed that I can take that loaded comment in the spirit in which it was intended: Liberal Judaism still has the power to surprise and challenge.

I really don’t care too much if I am accepted. It has taken me many years to realise this. This is my choice and others can share in it or not, as they wish. I hope they do because Liberal, Progressive and Reform Judaism can, and should, build bridges more than any other part of the Jewish community.

The advice I would give anyone thinking of converting is this: do it for yourself, and nobody else. And just go for it, and take yourself out to where providence will guide you. You will see, hear and feel in new ways, whether this is gradual or dramatic.

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