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Building a new Progressive Jewish movement by Rabbi Mark Goldsmith

This is an extract from the sermon given by Rabbi Mark Goldsmith at Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue (EHRS) on Rosh Hashanah morning 5784:

As the world changes, so Judaism changes with it and evolves. A short while ago we read our Torah portions which followed two of the great innovators of Jewish life, Abraham and Sarah. They were the first to develop the Jewish response to God and what God wants us to do. It is why when someone converts to Judaism, they add Bat or Ben Avraham v Sarah to their personal Hebrew name, to say that they have chosen to be directly in Abraham and Sarah’s Jewish chain of tradition.

I want now to concentrate on the words that opened our whole Torah service this morning. It took us to a Rosh Hashanah 2,500 years ago when the Jewish exiles to Babylonia came back to Jerusalem and a whole new Jewish ritual began – the public reading of Torah.

This was what you could validly call a Progressive Jewish innovation of Ezra, the Priest, and Nehemiah, the Jewish governor of the country. As Rabbi Stephen Bob points out (CCAR Journal Winter 2023 – Challenges and Opportunities for Change Biblical Models) there is simply no other record in the Bible of Torah being read. Before this innovation, Jews were Jews because they came to the Temple in Jerusalem and made the sacrifices that were necessary at the proper times of the day, week and year. But a Judaism that was about to become worldwide needed to be based on the story and values of our founding document.

That was the Torah that we hear today week after week, year after year. And it has worked to keep us Jewish wherever we may live. This innovation gave us the generations that lead up to us, and, as we celebrate bar and bat mitzvah here in our synagogue by hearing them read Torah, it will continue.

How will our coming generations’ Judaism be organised? How will it have its stake in Jewish society and in the nation of Britain?

Between Reform and Liberal Judaism, Progressive Judaism has over 80 communities, large and small, throughout the country with around 30-40% of all synagogue members, depending on how you count it.

We have a great diversity of practice but yet a remarkable unity of inclusivity, determination that being Jewish means to be an effective and contributing citizen of the society around us and conviction that we owe a duty to ourselves and our future generations to teach Judaism, do Judaism, think Judaism, as Jews make a difference to the world.

Together Reform and Liberal Jews are members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism with more than 1,000 Synagogues in over 50 countries and coming on for 2,000,000 Jews. Indeed, the WUPJ was founded here in London, almost 100 years ago.

Our Progressive rabbis are trained together at Leo Baeck College which Reform and Liberal Judaism created nearly 70 years ago.

The pinnacle of both our Reform and Liberal youth movements is the Shnat Netzer gap year – a year of living, learning and serving in Israel together at the end of a school career.

Reform and Liberal Judaism campaigns and votes together as a caucus in the Board of Deputies and together we help to ensure our voice is heard in the World Zionist Organisation through Arzeinu, the Progressive Jewish voice on Israel, successor to Pro-Zion. Our children, when educated in pluralist and Progressive Jewish day schools, do so together, at JCoSS, Clore Shalom, Akiva, Eden and Alma.

We continue currently as two separate movements. Is this the best way to make Progressive Judaism thrive in the years ahead?

And that is the question that we are going to be addressing as a congregation, as our movements and as a Progressive Jewish world in the year or so ahead.

We are going to do this much better as one newly created Progressive Jewish movement which includes Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism.

We won’t lose our prayer books, we won’t lose our style of worship, we won’t lose our traditions but we will gain a stronger voice in our country, we will gain the capacity to create thriving Judaism for our future generations, we will evolve into a stronger Jewish future and we will stop duplicating resources for no benefit.

As we build the new Progressive Jewish movement we need to thrive, may 5784 be a great year for all of us.

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