Rabbinic Conference Report to Liberal Judaism’s AGM July 2016

Rabbi Richard Jacobi
5 July 2016

I am writing this report in the wake of the Biennial Weekend 2016, and this report will briefly review key points of 2015, and make some comment about where Rabbinic Conference and the movement are now.

Some Key Highlights of 2015
This is not an exhaustive list, and I apologise in advance if any major achievement is omitted.
Rabbi Charley Baginsky completed her two-year stint as Chair of Rabbinic Conference, having done much to improve the relationship between the Conference and both the Board of National Officers and the movement’s staff team at the Montagu Centre. Rabbi Alexandra Wright (who sends her apologies that the shiva for a deceased congregant prevents her from attending) and I have taken over from Charley. We seek to continue to strengthen the “three-legged stool” upon which the congregations and all Liberal Jews sit.

Early in 2015, I formally commenced work towards the successor liturgies to Siddur Lev Chadash, convening a committee with a mix of lay and rabbinic colleagues interested in the prayer life of our communities. Rabbi Lea Muehlstein has taken this mantle of chairing this group from me, and the Biennial Weekend gave us all an invaluable opportunity to think “Outside The Book”.

An contingent from LJ, including several rabbis attended the World Union Biennial Conference in Rio, and Rabbi Charley Baginsky gave a plenary speech, entitled ‘Klal Yisrael Chai,’ on the Israel-Diaspora relationship.
A high proportion of LJ rabbis gave sessions at the Day of Celebration, which explored our relationship with the various meanings of the word “Israel”.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah co-edited Women Rabbis In The Pulpit with Rabbi Dr. Barbara Borts, marking the 80th anniversary of the ordination of Rabbi Regina Jonas and the 40th anniversary of the first woman to be ordained by Leo Baeck College, Rabbi Dr. Jackie Tabick. Both editors are willing to visit your congregation to speak about the background and context of the book. From personal experience at Woodford last month, this is very worthwhile, and I commend them to you.

The Rabbinic Kallah in early December was led by Rabbis Rachel Benjamin and Lea Muehlstein. Its title: ‘The Motor and/or the Fuel – Liturgy and Prayer’ conveys its theme, and we were able to experience, explore and exchange ideas and practice over the three-day retreat.

On Into 2016
The Rabbinic Conference is keen to develop stronger and more focused relationships between us, the Board of National Officers and the staff team at the Montagu Centre. Following a proposal presented by Alexandra and me, I am working with Tamara Schmidt to develop an event and process that will, we hope, yield better fulfilment, enjoyment and achievement for all of us and, thereby, Liberal Jews in all communities.

Work continues on aspects of the new Siddur’s content and form, with an interesting focus on Chanukkah provided by Rabbis Lea and Elli.

The insight given by the rabbis and lay people involved in the Biennial weekend into the past and possible futures of prayer and worship within Liberal Judaism have been stimulating for all of us. I, for one, never thought I would be prostrating myself in the Temple at an LJ Shabbat service, and the response to that vignette was fascinating.
We are all busier than ever – rabbis, volunteers, paid staff (who also volunteer much discretionary time). My hope is that we can clarify our purposes over coming months, so that we all can be more securely at the leading edge of Judaism.

My thanks to:

  • My co-Chair, Alexandra Wright;
  • Rabbis Dr. Andrew Goldstein and Mark Solomon who co-chair our Beit Din with such compassion and sound judgement;
  • Alexandra Simonon who supports our Rabbinic Conference and Beit Din work;
  • Rabbi Danny Rich and others in the Montagu Centre, who provide leadership, challenge and support;
  • All rabbinic colleagues for their passion, creativity and spiritual leadership;
  • All those who enter synagogues to study, to pray, and give time to support the community.