Yom Shishi, 21 AdarI 5781
Friday, 5 March 2021
Think big, go deep – and lead the way PDF Print E-mail

LIBERAL JUDAISM Biennial Weekends are about having a great time and coming away inspired by a sense of vision and common purpose. Is expecting one weekend to produce a vision too ambitious? I think not. 

A new musical production of Top Hat has just started in the West End and its co-producer Ted Hartley, an elderly American, adapts an old joke about the commodity markets: "How do you make a small fortune in show business? Start with a large fortune." The same could be true of a vision for Liberal Judaism. We can be open to the Biennial freeing up our creativity and dreams.

Thinking big - and entertaining some crazy ideas - will produce some small, decisive steps which will turn into bigger steps. But we need to use the occasion to recapture some of our founding zeal.

This is a good time for Liberal Judaism to reassert itself and make a difference by taking a few steps back to move further forward. As the French say, "Reculer pour mieux sauter". Marcel Proust understood this well when he dipped his madeleine into his cup of tea. The past is important, because without understanding it, and better appreciating what we have kept and what we have lost, we cannot make more of the present and the better world to come.

Simon Benscher, Liberal Judaism’s co-chair of communities, and Rabbi Pete Tobias, have done a magnificent job planning this year’s event, with outstanding support from the Biennial committee, Rabbi Danny Rich’s team at the Montagu Centre and rabbis and members from all across our movement. They have shown method and madness in giving the event a deep focus, which paradoxically generates a broad programme of activity.

Three years on as chairman of Liberal Judaism, I am proud of what our movement has accomplished and hopeful about what it will achieve in years to come. It is an organisation that connects the past, present and future, the head and the heart, the light touch with the serious.

It can be stubborn and difficult, apart from mainstream and a part of the mainstream, but at its best Liberal Judaism is a movement defined by its values yet open to change and adaptable. It is not afraid to stand up for its beliefs and to embrace an exciting yet uncertain future.

Rabbi Danny Rich and I want this to be a movement that leads the debate. It is the quality of ideas that drives change, because ideas inspire people.

I am reading Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope, which was written during the 1930s in the United States, where Bloch lived in exile from Nazi Germany. After developing the idea of the not-yet-conscious – the anticipatory element which he sees as integral to the human spirit – Bloch offers a prescription for ways in which humanity can reach its proper "homeland", where social justice is combined with being open to change and to the future.

No other religious or cultural movement can quite speak to Bloch’s terms in the way that Progressive Judaism can. Let us grasp this opportunity to exercise leadership.