In the last term the Lyons Learning Project ran its first serious 8 week course for students of different levels. Upwards of 40 people were engaged in learning. The wonderful Rabbi Lior Nevo, led sessions on 12 Jewish Questions – ranging from prayer, belief, miracles and Shabbat. Others have joined me (Rabbi Neil Janes) unpicking texts of the Talmud, discovering that Jews have always asked questions, challenged accepted norms, worried about identity and God and struggled to find their voice in our ancient texts. We have also had the opportunity to write our own Torah commentary which will be shared at the Shira Chadasha service on 14th May at WLS and the Lunch and Learn that follows it. Finally, I led the first work place programme for a law firm in the City providing a session about Judaism as part of their inclusion and interfaith programme. Now we look forwards to the Spring and new year.
You’ll see the programme we have planned for the Spring and in September 2016 we will be launching our year long programme, including, we hope, a year-long programme of learning on the Melton programme from the Hebrew University.
This spring, I am thrilled that Rabbis Danny Rich and Charley Baginsky will be joining us for our Spring Series of the Lyons Learning Project. They will be responding to the title ‘The Question that keeps me up’. I want us to hear what our leaders think about the issues facing the Jewish world today. We spend too much time reacting to either violence between Israelis and Palestinians or reports of antisemitism in UK and Europe. Of course, those are pressing concerns when they happen, but we are at risk of only ever being reactive and never contemplating what the future might hold and why we should care about the Jewish future at all. Rabbi Danny Rich is the Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism and is therefore one of the most important leadership voices for progressive Judaism. Rabbi Charley Baginsky has recently been appointed to the Alliance for Progressive Judaism and is the only leader in the whole of the UK currently working in a role that is intended to bring the Reform and Liberal movements together on shared projects and issues.
For me I worry about two things: Firstly, will progressive Jews take their learning seriously as adults. We would not expect our children to stop learning about science or history at the age of 13 or even 15. And many of us have felt that moment of anxiety when our children’s homework outstrips our own knowledge (or at least has us scrambling for the laptop). Just last term I found myself reading up on the spread of the Great Fire of London and reminding myself of the Taxonomy of the Animal Kingdom. But I worry that we are satisfied with essentially early-adolescent understandings of something essential to our very sense of self – our Judaism. I want us to be confident in being part of the Jewish conversation and that means, in part, our understanding of one of the primary modes of Jewish expression, our texts.
Secondly, and perhaps more vitally, I am worried that as progressive Jews we will no longer have an ability to explain why it is important to be Jewish in the future. We will be satisfied with goodness and universalism and forsake our heritage and our future as Jews. If we cannot explain why it is important to be Jewish and surrender the space to those who explain the answer in exclusivist, isolationist terms, then I’m afraid we might as well kiss a pluralist, open and tolerant Judaism goodbye.
So do we care about tomorrow enough to do something today? We must be part of the conversation, we must be learning and we must be prepared to make a commitment to our Jewish future. For updates follow us on facebook and visit our website www.lyonslearning.org.uk