2 July 2018
Liberal Judaism members from all around the UK and beyond took part in an “inspirational” Biennial Weekend – discussing the next steps in liturgy, theology, policy, outreach work and shared values that will drive Progressive Judaism forward both in Britain and around the world.
For the first time in its history, the Biennial Weekend was completely sold out with more than 300 delegates representing 37 communities and eight countries and not one spare room in the St Johns Hotel, Solihull, which hosted the conference. One third of the delegates were attending their first ever Biennial.
Rabbi Danny Rich, the senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism, said: “The Biennial Weekend had a very special atmosphere and spirit. Every person I met over the three days – covering all ages, areas and backgrounds – had their own different Jewish story but all had the same thing in common… finding their home in Liberal Judaism.
“This event was a sign of a Liberal Judaism that has a real confidence going forward – one with inspirational music, liturgy and rabbinic leadership and a radical message of true modernity and inclusivity to take back out into the world.”
Keynote speaker Rabbi Danny Freelander (pictured), the president of the World Union For Progressive Judaism, praised Liberal Judaism’s work welcoming mixed-faith families, patrilineal Jews and Jews by choice, its outreach work setting up new communities in far-flung areas and its consistent campaigning for equality including LGBTQI+ rights.
He then laid down a challenge for Liberal Judaism to shout about these successes, move towards an even more inclusive and open Judaism and never be cowed by criticism that may come from the Orthodox world.
Other speakers at the Biennial Weekend included Reuven Marko and Anna Kislanski, the chair and chief operating officer of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), Samia Diab and Student Rabbi Dahlia Shaham from Israel’s Leo Baeck Education Centre and Gillian Merron, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Delegates were also able to experience Liberal Judaism’s new draft Shabbat morning service, led by its creators – Rabbis Elli Tikvah Sarah and Lea Mühlstein. This was followed by a feedback session, chaired by Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, that collated a wide range of views from members as Liberal Judaism seeks to turn the draft into its first siddur since 1995.
Many of the busiest sessions at the Biennial Weekend were on topics of theology, liturgy and music led by Liberal Judaism ministers including Rabbi Dr Judith Rosen-Berry, Rabbi Janet Burden and Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel and Cantors Gershon Silins and Tamara Wolfson.
LJY-Netzer, Liberal Judaism’s youth movement, ran a parallel programme throughout the weekend including everything from learning about Jews around the world to outdoor wide games to performing crazy science experiments. Young Liberals also led a special musical service and Havdalah for the whole Biennial.
A track on social justice, facilitated by Liberal Judaism’s Tamara Joseph and Citizens UK staff, included the Biennial’s first ever session led by Skype as Barbara Winton – daughter and biographer Sir Nicholas Winton – called in from a refugee camp in Athens to talk about how delegates can help today’s refugees as her father did those fleeing the Nazis.
In another technological advance, the key services and sessions from the Biennial Weekend were filmed by a three-camera crew and live streamed on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the Liberal Judaism website. All videos from the Biennial can still be watched on demand at any time, by clicking here.
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, Liberal Judaism’s president, hosted a session with World Union for Progressive Judaism board member Andrew Keene looking at the movement from both insider and outsider perspectives.
A final session – hosted by Rabbi Dr Judith Rosen-Berry and Rabbi Charley Baginsky – then put everything together by asking how Liberal Judaism can share its messages with the world and live up to the conference’s title of ‘The Formula For Truly Progressive Judaism’.
Charley, Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships, said: “This Biennial was Liberal Judaism at its best – with 10 different tracks and 64 presenters covering a vast array of topics and more than 300 delegates of all ages fully engaged and empowered.
“Our challenge now is to look at the next steps and ask how can we find and attract all those other people who would also find their home in Liberal Judaism.”
Liberal Judaism’s next event is its first ever Annual Dinner, which will take place in central London on Tuesday 27 November.
There will be more photos and stories from the Biennial Weekend – including details of the Chair’s Awards presented by Liberal Judaism chair Simon Benscher – in the next edition of LJ Today.
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