Rabbi Charley Baginsky
19 June 2018
Liberal Judaism Patrons’ Dinner
“I want to begin by thanking Robert for his incredible words tonight. His involvement in communal life and his journey to the commitment to making an impact on society is inspiring. I know too that he is in much demand and his ready agreement to speak to us tonight, not only tells us much about his willingness to engage with us, but is testament to his rabbis at NPLS, whose leadership I know he greatly admires.
Over the recent weeks there has been much talk about the divisions in the British Jewish community and I am regularly asked whether the days of calling ourselves a Movement are done with, for the tendencies towards tribalism have the potential to add to the divisive nature of our community as a whole. The answer friends, is not that we exist in order to create division, but because rather that our position in the marketplace of Judaism is essential. At our fundraising convert in November I spoke at length of the Jewish stories that would not have been told were it not for Liberal Judaism and I know personally that many people in this room know this, from their own deeply personal experience – that without Liberal Judaism they would not have had a Jewish home in which to tell and develop their own story.
Over the past two years I have been moved by the number of stories I have heard of this ilk from across our many Liberal Judaism communities. It continues to amaze me how many lives we touch by our innate belief that we have to open doors to our communities rather than provide hurdles for people to jump over. But, I have learnt much too.
Rabbi Danny Rich, our Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive constantly reminds us that we have a responsibility to do more. I do not think that he is talking simply about numbers but that we must have a burning ambition to realise the potential of Liberal Judaism. I am ambitious for us as a Movement, as Liberal Judaism, and we are far from being complacent. I am absolutely confident that there is more that we must be doing and more stories that we have a responsibility to embrace.
In a years time, I want Liberal Judaism to open an education hub at the Montagu Centre, properly resourced and technologically advanced. We need to support all our communities, both those in the heart of greater London and those further afield. We must ensure that we fulfil our promise to be a movement – realising that we are only as great as the sum of our parts – learning from each other, sharing resources and best practices and pushing the boundaries of the methodology by which we develop it.
I also want to expand our young adults and students’ resources, partnering with our friends in the Reform movement for chaplaincy and beyond – but also by seeking an immediate way to provide reasonable, affordable membership to Liberal Judaism. A membership that allows access to all our communities and ensures that when the time comes for those ever pressing life cycle moments, these young adults can rest assured that someone will support them and provide an engaging and meaningful experience for them.
Finally, I want us to start talking about having a mission. We know that the two growing groups in British Jewry are the secular and the Charedi. I believe that within the secular group of British Jewry we will find Liberal Jews who do not yet know they are Liberal Jews. To identify yourself on the census as Jewish means that you still retain this as part of your identity. It is our responsibility to reach out and provide a home for their Jewish story.
On a personal note, I am about to reach that very Jewish of birthdays – 40! And to end I want to take us back 40 years to 1978 and a speech that was made by Rabbi Alex Shindler to the Union of Reform Jews of America – I am sure my friend Rabbi Larry Englander who has joined us tonight, will remember. He reminded everyone that they were the heirs of the Midrash that taught that the tent of Abraham and Sarah had an opening on each of its sides so that whencesoever a stranger might near they would have no difficulty in entering Abraham and Sarah’s home.
We too are immensely grateful for the sustaining help that you have given us over the years, help materially as well as in time and talents. But like Rabbi Shindler I am choosing not to give you a comprehensive report of Liberal Judaism’s year, but rather to offer you an opportunity to be part of changing the landscape of Liberal Judaism. With your help we can remove the last impediments which prevent those who have not yet stepped through the door of a Liberal Jewish community from doing so. 40 years ago Rabbi Shindler challenged the American Reform movement to launch an outreach programme aimed at all Americans who are unchurched and are seeking religious meaning. We have done much in those 40 years of wilderness – wilderness is perhaps the most creative space for Jews – but the time has come now for us to enter the Promised Land and take our Liberal Judaism to the next stage: As he said
“Judaism offers life, not death. It teaches free will, not the surrender of body and soul to another human being. The Jew prays directly to God, not through an intermediary who stands between them and their God. Judaism is a religion of hope, not despair. Judaism insists that humans and society are perfectible. Judaism has an enormous wealth of wisdom and experience to offer this troubled world and we Jews ought to be proud to speak about it, to speak frankly and freely, with enthusiasm and with dignity.”
I am excited and ambitions for the future of Liberal Judaism. Not for my own sake, but because I genuinely believe we have a necessary role to play in the Jewish community and in the world as a whole. However, I cannot do this alone. I urge you please tonight to consider giving to Liberal Judaism – if you can continue your patronage, if you can become a patron, if you can give something once a month. But our work is real and meaningful. To coin a phrase I genuinely believe… our time is now.
There are cards on the table, please give what you can.”
Find out more about our 2018 Patron’s Dinner here.
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