Liberal Judaism promises ‘to keep pace with modernity’ with discussion on new siddur and innovative services at Biennial

Nearly 300 Liberal Jews, from 39 different communities, saw a confident movement looking to the future at the Liberal Judaism Biennial Weekend.

The conference included themed services covering the main eras of Jewish history, panel discussions on Brexit and anti-Semitism, a musical tribute celebrating the 60th anniversary of Leo Baeck College, the graduation of a new class of lay leaders and speakers including author Cole Moreton, Imam Sayed Razawi and HUC-Jerusalem’s Rabbi Dr Dalia Marx.

The Biennial, which had the theme of ‘Thinking Outside The Book’, also saw delegates join with 30 rabbis and six student rabbis to discuss a potential new siddur for Liberal Judaism and share creative ideas for musical and multimedia services.

Liberal Judaism’s flagship event, the conference marked a step change in the movement’s growth and standing through its radical speakers and programme – which did not shy away from addressing challenging issues including Israel and the Diaspora, the role of religion in public life and politics, sexuality and identity and campaigning for social justice. It also looked at how all of these tie into Liberal Jewish liturgy and prayer, now and in the future.

Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich, said: “The breadth and depth of our Biennial programme shows our movement’s confidence, willingness to explore uncharted seas and focus on keeping pace with modernity.”

In a Shabbat sermon to delegates, looking back at more than 100 years of Liberal Jewish prayer, Rabbi Elli Tikvah added: “Liberal Judaism from the outset responded to ‘the needs of the age’ – and by definition, the needs of the age change: hence the need for succeeding generations to create new prayer books.”

The Liberal Judaism Biennial Weekend took place at the St Johns Hotel, Solihull, from Friday July 1 – Sunday July 3. Highlights included:

  • A journey of Jewish liturgy through the ages, taking in themed services from Solomon’s Temple, the Rabbinic Period, the Spanish Inquisition, 18th century Chasidim and modern Liberal Jewish and BuJew prayer spaces.
  • Each community designing their own unique tallit that was displayed throughout the conference and used as part of a special closing ceremony led by Rabbi Aaron Goldstein. The tallitot were each community’s response to the end of the Hashkiveinu prayer – “Blessed are You Eternal God, spreading the shelter of peace over us.”
  • Workshops examining new liturgy, service ideas and music for Liberal Judaism, led by Rabbis Lea Mühlstein, Dr Charles Middleburgh, Dr Dalia Marx, Janet Burden, Dean Staker and Liberal Judaism’s Officer with responsibility for music, Graham Carpenter.
  • Rabbi Dr David Goldberg hosting a conversation with Cole Moreton, who pushed the audience to think about the role of spirituality today and urged everyone to ensure people can find a religious expression that is more than a balm for the ails of society.
  • A packed session, hosted by Rabbi Danny Rich, where Imam Sayed Razawi answered delegates’ questions, ideas and concerns about Islam and interfaith relations.
  • Lively panel discussions on both anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism and Brexit, with guest speakers including Board of Deputies chief executive Gillian Merron, Durham University’s Dr Ilan Baron and Peter Mason of the Jewish Labour Movement.
  • A full parallel programme for 6-15 year olds, run by Liberal Judaism’s youth movement LJY-Netzer – including sessions on everything from feminism to Jewish pirates.
  • A musical extravaganza celebrating 60 years of Leo Baeck College, featuring tributes, sketches, song, poetry, rabbis in fancy dress and a set from Daniel Cainer – the comic bard of Anglo-Jewry.
  • The graduation of 16 new lay leaders, as part of the Ba’alei Tefillah Class of 2016.
  • Nine members, of all ages, winning Chair’s Awards for their dedication to their communities and the movement, and a special presentation to former Liberal Judaism chief executive Rosita Rosenberg to celebrate her lifetime of commitment.
  • An announcement that Rabbi Charley Baginsky, who chaired the Biennial committee, has been appointed as Liberal Judaism’s new director of strategy and partnerships.
  • The first ever Biennial meeting of community chairs, which was addressed by Liberal Judaism chair Simon Benscher, deputy chair Lucian J Hudson and Robert Weiner – the new chair of the Alliance for Progressive Judaism between Liberal and Reform Judaism.
  • Workshops and services led by prominent Liberal rabbis, including Rabbis Dr Andrew Goldstein (Liberal Judaism’s president), Harry Jacobi, Richard Jacobi, Dr Margaret Jacobi, Sandra Kviat, Monique Mayer, Tanya Sakhnovich, Pete Tobias, Alexandra Wright, Rene Pfertzel, Mark Solomon and Dr Deborah Khan Harris, principal of Leo Baeck College.

Reflecting on the weekend, Rabbi Charley Baginsky said: “This year’s Biennial has been the best yet, not only because of the inspiring speakers, presenters, rabbis, participants but because of the number of people who worked together collaboratively.

“It is indicative of the passion that Liberal Judaism evokes that people want to be involved, push the boundaries and create community. I have never been prouder to be part of this exceptional movement.”

Pictures by Charles Davis and Candy Parfit