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Rabbi Danny Rich addresses the Liberal Judaism Council of Patrons' PDF Print E-mail

Chief Executive’s Address to the Liberal Judaism Council of Patrons’ Dinner

at The House of Lords on Tuesday 5th April 2011

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Lords Haskel and Fink, Dan Patterson, Ladies and Gentleman:

This is the seventh dinner since one of my predecessors, the late Rabbi Dr Sidney Brichto –to whom I paid a special tribute at the last annual dinner- and the then untitled Stanley Fink established the Liberal Judaism Council of Patrons.

The Dinner has a threefold purpose: to thank existing Patrons, to encourage invited guests to consider whether they might join the Council of Patrons, and to give the Movement’s professional head an opportunity to report on where the Patrons’ donations have been spent.

 

Those of you who were there at the beginning will recall what the money was notto be spent on: it was not to underwrite any deficit in Liberal Judaism’s annual running expenses, and neither was it to pay for core services which constituents ought but felt unwilling or indeed unable to pay for.  It was to identify areas where the central movement based at the Montagu Centre might best carry out a task which would bring mutual strength to both the centre and its constituents, and to support innovative but properly costed and evaluated areas of work.

 

The first task of the Patrons’ resources was to underpin an initiative which would renew –or bring – a confidence to Liberal Judaism, and, at the same time, to increase its influence over, and participation in, the British Jewish community and society at large.  This was to be partly achieved by the recruitment of a particular style of Chief Executive and of a Public Relations and Press Officer, and, if the last six or so years were to be judged on this category alone, Liberal Judaism has had its successes.  Liberal Judaism’s number and quality of appearances in both the Jewish and the national press and on radio has been accompanied by the publication of a new highly regarded haggadah, pamphlets on Death & Mourning and Compelling

Commitments with a further pamphlet due on Journeys into Judaism and a book too, currently titled Rebellious Judaism. Further, Liberal Judaism has for two years offered a session at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, sponsored events at the Jewish Museum, the Jewish Film Festival and this past Jewish Book Week, and there is no doubt that Liberal Judaism’s voice is heard at and acknowledged –and increasingly appreciated – in, for example, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies even by those who might be described as our rivals and certainly not our friends.  The example par excellence was the recently booklet, Zionism: a Jewish communal response from the UK whereby on behalf of the Board of Deputies and other communal organisations, the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, the Movement for Reform Judaism, and, let us be clear the United Synagogue, Liberal Judaism took the lead: it was our Chair, Lucian Hudson, who edited the pamphlet; it was our staff who distributed the booklet to churches throughout the country; it was your Chief Executive who oversaw the distribution to central Jewish offices and drafted all the accompanying letters.  Just think about it, Liberal Judaism entrusted with a task on behalf of all those august bodies – and one involving Zionism!

This confidence reflected in so many diverse ways does not happen overnight and neither is it resources-free in cash terms and in the demands made upon Liberal Judaism professional staff and its volunteers, particularly the Board of Officers.   It is more than opportune for me to remind this audience that the partnership of volunteers including Vice Presidents and my own team beyond anything that volunteering for office or being paid for ever warranted has furthered the joint Council of Patrons and Liberal Judaism agenda.

The idea was that this new found confidence and spread of Liberal Jewish values and influence would have its impact on numbers of members and communities.  It was Patrons’ money which supported the Office of Outreach Rabbi which Aaron Goldstein filled so successfully before his much deserved succession to Northwood and Pinner.  Nevertheless since his departure much of the work he did has fallen on the Chief Executive and the last three years have seen a new community affiliate to Liberal Judaism per year: Crouch End in 2010, Shenfield in 2009, Gloucestershire in 2008, and probably Wessexin 2011.  Not only have we at least arrested our decline in numbers when the total is diminishing but new communities bring novel ideas and opportunities.   They also in their early years bring a cost (although I am sure you will be pleased to know that a number of communities nurtured under Aaron Goldstein including, for example, Lincoln and Edinburgh are now modest contributors to the annual budget) and, in spite of the excellent support provided by the North London Trust, the sustenance of these new communities relies on Patrons’ money.   The demands on the existing Liberal Judaism staff is difficult to measure and to absorb but it is unsustainable, and that is why I am determined even in the current climate to find resources to offer work in our small communities to the three graduating students of the Leo Baeck College in a Communities Division which will be led by Student Rabbi Sandra Kviat who is with us this evening.  Our confidence in these three - one Danish-born and two British (one brought up in the Reform Movement and one in our own) - graduating Rabbis enables me to pay tribute to the Leo Baeck and to its outgoing Principal, my friend and colleague Rabbi Professor Mark Saperstein who is also with us this evening.

In addition to this I promised the Patrons that I would use their money in areas of need but which were not considered core by the unwritten agreement between the Montagu Centre and its constituents.  We did some innovative work with the ‘tent’ project and Young Adults but, truth be told, there is an area that has become more urgent: university students.  You only need to read the Jewish or daily newspapers to know what pressure our students come under, both from anti-Israel sentiment but, I am afraid, even more disturbingly from blatant Antisemitism.

As I result I make no apology for moving Patrons’ resources into this area by first employing a student worker attached to the LJY Netzer Youth Department and second by signing up nearly every Liberal Rabbi to agree that his or her telephone number would be available on at least one major campus.  Thus Liberal Judaism has maintained contact with some 500 students this year, even if it has meant only   Chanukkah and Pesach packages.  Is it enough? Undoubtedly not and the irony is I now have an experienced rabbi who is willing to serve as Chaplain, I have a grant for £10,000 per annum for three years from a Trust but I do not yet have the extra £40,000 per annum which would enable me to offer the first full time Liberal Chaplain to the Hillel Chaplaincy Board …but I will in time.

Let me return to my beginning.  First, I want to thank our existing Patrons and trust you will renew and even increase your pledge.  Second, if you are not yet a Patron let me say this.  I am seeking your support for an organisation and ways and means to deliver what I promise you they will.  Three new Gold Patrons at £11,000 each per annum would fund the Chaplain; two new Silver Patrons at £5,500 each per annum would fund a new community; and two new Bronze Patrons at £2,200 each would buy a scroll for a new community.

Friends, Liberal Judaism is not known for its aggressive fundraising and in any case it is not permitted here in the House of Lords.  Nevertheless, I am going to become a little more assertive in my fundraising efforts because we have the values, the ideas, the commitment, the ongoing success, and it is only a shortage of funds which threatens our achievements, and deprives men, woman and young people in this country of a great jewel in their lives: Liberal Judaism.