Rabbi Kathleen Middleton and Rabbi James Baaden have been elected co-chairs of the Reform Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors. They replace Rabbi Celia Surget, who is moving to the United States in June to take up a senior position at a congregation in New Mexico.
Rabbi Middleton was born and raised in the Netherlands, and read Semitic languages at the University of Amsterdam before applying to Leo Baeck College. Upon ordination Rabbi Middleton joined the Rabbinical team at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue and became the Minister of Middlesex New Synagogue, now Mosaic Reform, in 2008.
Rabbi Middleton is very active in interfaith projects; she is vice chair of the Hillingdon Council of Christians and Jews and a member of the Harrow Interfaith Council.
She commented, “I look forward to leading the Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors at this exciting time when we are looking forward as a country to come out of the pandemic. Among all the hardships we have endured, it has also shown us different ways of being a community, of being connected and reaching out. This will no doubt leave a lasting impact on our communities and the Movement as a whole, which may push us into unanticipated new directions.”
Rabbi Baaden grew up in the United States and Canada with a Scottish mother, and came to the UK as a student. After a career in journalism he joined Leo Baeck College and was Rabbi of South London Liberal Synagogue. In 2008, Rabbi Baaden became a freelance Rabbi whilst studying for a DPhil at Oxford University. He has worked for the Jewish community in Düsseldorf, for the Liberal synagogue in Utrecht in the Netherlands, and most significantly at Sha’arei Tsedek (North London Reform Synagogue) for over a decade.
Reflecting on the changes to his life during the pandemic, Rabbi Baaden commented “I live with significant disabilities – brought about by a neurological disorder which impairs my mobility and causes me severe pain. I owe my life, and my excellent quality of life, to the NHS – something I never forget. The present online era has in fact opened up new possibilities for me as a disabled person. At the same time, lockdown meant that I could not be at my mother’s side when she died last year.”
Rabbi Baaden’s time serving the Jewish community in Utrecht brought him into contact with Rabbi Middleton’s family; her parents were his congregants during this time. Rabbi Baaden describes Rabbi Middleton as one of his “best friends” from his time at Leo Baeck, adding “We have been looking forward to working on something jointly for 20 years – and now we have a project! I hope we can make an ongoing contribution to our profession, our Rabbinic colleagues, and the wider Jewish community.”