A tribute to Rabbi Dr David J Goldberg z”l

1 May 2019 – 26 Nisan 5779
Rabbi Dr David Goldberg

1 May 2019

The Jewish community has come together in mourning for Liberal Judaism vice president Rabbi Dr David J Goldberg OBE, who died today.

Liberal Judaism’s senior rabbi, Rabbi Danny Rich, said: “I’ve been seeing David regularly for the past few weeks. He faced his death with the utmost integrity and no self-pity. He loved those around him, especially his wife Carole.”

Details of a memorial service will be released in due course.

David will always be synonymous with The Liberal Jewish Synagogue (LJS), Liberal Judaism’s founding and largest community, where he held positions from 1968 right up until his death and spent all but three years of his rabbinic career.

It was while studying for the rabbinate at Leo Baeck College, that David became the LJS’s student rabbi before going onto become its associate rabbi, senior rabbi and finally rabbi emeritus.

Writing about his original decision to join the LJS, one of three job offers at the time, he said: “Its senior rabbi was John Rayner and his associate rabbi, David Goldstein. They were of a different academic calibre to all the other rabbis I had met, both reputable scholars and exuding an integrity and sense of vocation that inspired me. I felt it would be a privilege to learn from them. Thus began a relationship with the synagogue that lasted, save for a brief period elsewhere, for all of my working life. And John Rayner was to become my mentor, guide, closest colleague and dearest friend.”

During his tenure as senior rabbi at the LJS, David further enhanced the synagogue’s reputation as one of the world’s leading and most innovative congregations.

Along with his rabbinic colleagues, he also cemented Liberal Judaism’s reputation as a cutting edge and radical movement – pioneering on issues such as granting Jewish status to the child of a Jewish father and blessing the partnership of a Jew and someone of another faith.

On his website, David recalled that he was particularly proud of four firsts: to have been the first prominent Jew in the UK publicly to call for recognition of legitimate Palestinian rights in 1978; to have been the first rabbi to initiate dialogue meetings between Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the same year; to have been the first Jew to recite Kaddish in Westminster Abbey when he co-officiated at the Memorial Service for (Lord) Yehudi Menuhin in 1999; and, as a cricket lover, to have been the only rabbi ever to have had an article in Wisden or to have been interviewed on Test Match Special.

David retired from the pulpit in 2002, using his time to write or re-edit several critically acclaimed and widely read books.

His Story of the Jews won five star reviews as it recalled Jewish history from Biblical times to the present day, complete with accompanying facsimiles, letters and important documents.

His other works included This Is Not The Way Jews, Judaism & Israel and The Jewish People: Their History and Their Religion, co-authored with Rabbi John Rayner.

David also served as a chair of Liberal Judaism’s Rabbinic Conference (now the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors) and co-chair of the London Society of Jews and Christians.

Interfaith work was a particular passion and in 2004 he was awarded an OBE for everything he had achieved working to build bridges with other religions. One of his most famous quotes was that “I have more in common with a liberal of another religion than I have with a fundamentalist of my own faith.”

An outspoken iconoclast throughout his life, David never compromised his principles and would regularly point out whenever he thought Liberal Judaism was deviating from the radical path he once set.

In later life, David was a regular fixture on TV, in newspapers and at many conference and events. He also had an audience with the Pope, spent five days with the Dalai Lama and officiated before several members of the Royal Family.

Before his death, he dictated a final 1,500 word article to his former PA Joan Shopper which, as per his wishes, will be published in full in the next edition of LJ Today.

In it, David writes: “It has been a fulfilling career, during the course of which I hope I may have touched others with some of my enthusiasm.”

Click here to read Rabbi Danny Rich’s appreciation of the life of Rabbi David J. Goldberg.

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