​Legacy & Future

Introduction/ Narrated by Harry Hurst

A podcast series compiled from oral histories and produced as part of a digital exhibition exploring how Liberal Judaism has evolved since it was co-founded by British visionary Lily Montagu in 1902.

This episode explores the theme of Lily’s legacy and the future of Liberal Judaism

During the oral history interviews for this project, all of the participants were asked about what they considered to be Lily’s legacy. They were also asked about their hopes and dreams for the future of Liberal Judaism. Responses were diverse, with many confident about the future. Others expressed the need for ensuring survival of Liberal Judaism which remains a comparatively small movement. Connected to this concern is a discussion about whether Liberal Judaism should merge with the Reform movement and some of these views are reflected here. Whilst many participants discussed the legacy in broad terms, such as adaptability and inclusivity, others described specific aspects of Lily’s work. Although the majority of participants did not know Lily Montagu, they nonetheless share a sense of legacy and a vision of the years to come.

She did set up a movement with Mattuck and Montefiore. And you know , here we are hundred years or so later, and we’re a stronger movement or as strong as we were then. And, and I think that’s her legacy that its  lasted this long. You know, we can only hope that it can blossom and go forward and be a contribution to the world in the future. And I don’t see why we shouldn’t be. 

I don’t think we can be complacent because people have a lot of choices nowadays and they won’t be Jewish just for duty anymore, and I don’t want it to be a Judaism just because of anti-Semitism. I mean, that’s when people pull together obviously, but that’s not what Judaism is about, as far as I’m concerned. And I think we’ve got a lot to contribute to the world ,if we, yeah, if we can kind of do it right.

Jackie Richards

The point is we want a society, which I think Lily Montagu was thinking about. She didn’t have to go and become a magistrate, which was dealing primarily non-Jews or youth magistrate dealing primarily with with non-Jewish kids when she was a Jewish woman with money,. But I think she was doing because she believed in a different type of society. we need to create societies in which people don’t feel they’ve got to hide what they feel who they are what they say.

Danny Rich

I don’t know whether so much Berlin and Frankfurt but the seminary in Breslau seems to have been a focal point for a core group of young rabbis young students who showed promise.

Not necessarily all exactly the same age as my father, but certainly students at the seminary at the same time. And I think the threat of their annihilation was something that seems to have made her decide that she would do something profoundly useful to help practically. And that’s basically what I understand she did. I don’t know quite how she managed it, perhaps through connections in the civil service. I understand being a member of a prominent family, she may very well have had connections of which I know nothing. But somehow, some way she managed to corral many of these young students and provide practical help for getting them out. And that was certainly the case for my parents.

I tell that story with huge, huge pride and gratitude. Because we have four grandchildren.

It was a huge, a huge personal gesture, I think of Lily to have been so involved in in Breslau and I wondered why perhaps it was a passion for a new style of Judaism which captivated her personally. Because she engaged with that redemption. That whole whole determination to not just continue Jewish life but to to save life and to build a new view.

Sue Leon

My legacy is really that it’s my duty to hand this on to my children and to my grandchildren, and probably I can’t do it to my grandchildren, they’re only one and one-and-a-half and three. But I have handed it on to their parents and I hope they will hand it on to their children. And it certainly worked in my case and I think it may even work in the next generation….

Progressive Judaism has wonderful values and these are humane. … therefore, I would like them to keep loyal because so much life has been lost and suffered that they must keep to it, and I would like to do it until my dying days.

Ruth Shire

We’re all a little nervous of the shape of politics nationally, and internationally, and there’s so much bigotry and hatred and around for all sorts of people. I think the voice of Liberal Judaism is going to be so important not to just let us all get despairing to be honest. It’s going to keep us going.

Gillian Dawson

For me, the most distinctive thing about liberal Judaism, it is reflective. It’s reflective Judaism it questions what we quote, ‘what we believe’, and what we think and what we practice and what we follow. And it kind of constantly asked ourselves is that still what we believe what we practice what we follow, and whatnot. So I think it’s a very thoughtful form of Judaism, it’s very concerned with ensuring that it’s a religion of ethics, you know, and the ethics is, is how to, you know, basically live in the world and do good in the world as well. And so that’s what I like about the real Judaism. It’s not just kind of… it demands something from you. You just can’t go with it. You can’t just sign up for it and not be affected by it.

I would say. I hope that the ethical struggle that LJ has always dealt with for the past 100 years is still being an issue today in your present, mainly because ethics is something we’re never to find a solution for ethics is a question constant struggle as times and situations change. So I hope that LJ is still as reflective and still committed to its core values as it was in 2019.

Corey Shultz

Well I think I always hang on to that absolute key value that I think came from the work, well it did come from Lily Montagu speaking in about the spiritual possibilities of today, in 1899. So this is before the foundation of the Jewish religious union … And before the formal kind of establishment of Liberal Judaism, and that is that we have what we are doing is meeting the needs of the age. So that’s what Liberal Judaism is about. It’s about meeting the needs of the age. And to me, that’s absolutely key. And of course connected to meeting the needs of the age is meeting the needs of individuals, because the age is one which recognises that individuals have rights. … So they were meeting the needs of the age at the beginning of the 20th century, we’re meeting the needs of the age at the beginning of the 21st century, and the needs have changed.

Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah

Well, if she had the foresight and impetus to help form Liberal Judaism, and the things that it stands for, particularly inclusiveness then I’m sure she’d be very proud.

Michael Austin

I’d like to see the legacy to go to being a viable competitor to the united synagogues, and to that you have two places where you can go and worship the united synagogues where you have Orthodox Judaism, loads of which you can question because it doesn’t make sense. Or you can go to, let’s call it liberal Judaism doesn’t matter What the name is, or you can go to liberal Judaism, which is logically thought out religion, which most of which makes sense. So where I really liked it to go is to be a viable contender against Orthodox Judaism.

Peter Phillips

I think it will hopefully, it will just go from strength to strength because we now at West central beginning to get quite a lot of younger people because we are an old community, there’s a lot of younger people now are beginning to come to, to the services beginning to become members. And it’s nice because it is accommodating it is modern. and everybody come can participate.


I really hope that liberal Judaism can take the best of its history and the best of what we see in our system movements like the reform movement, and keep those things and I think one of the things we can really learn about is innovation in worship and not getting bogged down with who we used to be, I guess one of the things I’ve always hoped for, for liberal Judaism is it embraces change. And I get really worried if someone says, well, liberal Judaism is this and it’s any definition that cannot move. I really want it to be the movement that moves, the movement that changes.

Mich Sampson

I would say I’m not a comfortable liberal Jew. I’m a healthfully uncomfortable, liberal Jew, if you like. And I think if I moved geographically for example, it would be equally possible that I might join a Reform community as that I might join a liberal community, that’s still the case, that’s still true. And if, and between you and me, one respect in which I do have some bits of vision for the future of the progressive movement is that I really look forward to the day when the liberal and reform movements can manage to put aside their historic differences and whatever remains of that, because, to be honest, as far as I can see, it’s not much except in a kind of culture of, of identity. But I hope that we will put aside those differences and become one movement because I do think that that’s what ought to happen. And that’s what will be healthy for the future of Progressive Judaism. I really feel that quite strongly.

Robin Samson

I personally would not be in favour of a merger because I feel we’ll lose the special nature of liberal Judaism.

I think I’m just happy with it as it is now. Yes, I don’t think I need want it to go particularly either way. I say I’m not madly in favour of a merger with the Reform Movement. But I could see advantages of size wise of having just one movement with the option that within certain parameters a congregation can choose where they go.

Rosita Rosenberg

The fact that I – because it’s so important to me now, I don’t want Judaism to ever die out, and I think that the more Liberal we are, the more likely we are to remain.


There still seems to be a difference between the various steps of Judaism, you know. According to some Jewish people, the Liberal synagogue is right at the bottom and you’re getting what we used to call the Golders Green cowboys who are right at the top, you know. I think Lily’s legacy could possibly help to make it more accessible.


I think if you’re not Jewish, you probably have little idea of the idea of Liberal Judaism. I think liberal Judaism could be a lot more vocal than it is. I think there is a culture in this country, for all sorts of reasons, including the war, where people keep their Jewish identity quite sort of as something that they might reveal at some point, and I think that’s a real shame because I think then people’s views on Judaism and what it means to be Jewish, I mean, even on the news, you know, they interview someone Jewish, it tends to be somebody who looks quite Orthodox Jewish, you don’t feel the strong presence of liberal Judaism, in the media. I don’t think as Jewish people, we’re representing ourselves very well.

Sarah Daniels

but what is the future? ….. We have to go where the people are. And that’s the only way we can see it developing. And so we can still be a voice, a Progressive voice, Let’s bring back the community spirit. And that’s what we need to do in the Liberal and Progressive field. It’s all about community, belonging. And unless we get that back and get people involved and say to young sixteen year old Joshua, “Here, I’ve got a job for you. Come in here and see if you can give me a hand doing this.” Let them take the lead. I’ve always believed that you should give a handover to the young, young people. Because there’s a truth in the saying that the older you get the more conservative you become. You won’t take the chances.

And I’m passionate about Liberal Judaism, and Reforme Judaism, I’m passionate – and you have to call it all Progressive Judaism – I’m passionate about it. And I’m passionate that it speaks and has relevance. The way we do it, we have to rethink the whole thing. We’re going to have to rethink how we set up our communities. Are they permanent structures or will – are they transient?

LL2019Larry Peters

Liberal Judaism offers a great deal to modern people, who then can quite happily live a life in the style they want to achieve.

I would like them to think like the Quakers. If you talk about Quakers, you know immediately what values they have. You know immediately that they are an honourable persons with a good history, what they’ve done. And I would like, when I say I’m a Liberal Jew that they have the same idea of me. She is a very decent, humane person and she has values. And I don’t know if we’ve arrived at that stage, but I’d like to think we shall eventually. When I first came to Birmingham and met people of the Orthodox group, because doctors meet and so on, and we’d say we are Pro – Lib – then it was still Liberal. Liberal Jew, they’d say, “Oh, never mind.” And I hated that. And when I go now and say I’m a Liberal Jew, they don’t say that. They say, “Oh, have you got a lot of new members?” And I feel we have come forward and I would like them to come forward more. And though we have quite a few Jews now who were converted formally, they are very – the ones I know are very loyal and make big contributions.

Ruth Shire

I’m just a little cog in a large machine, I hope carrying on where Miss Lily left off.

Rita Adler

Oh, I think she’d have been overwhelmed…totally overwhelmed, as we are… it’s achieved so much.
It’s an international, respected, renowned organization. That’s good.
Because when we started there were sort of 10, 12 communities, small in number.

Lionel Lassman

She’s, for me, a role model who, for her, her faith and her work in the world were just inseparable. She was a campaigner, she campaigned against the death penalty, she campaigned for women’s votes. She was not afraid to be outspoken. And that was part of what her Judaism taught her, was to care for people. So through her work with young women especially, everything she did in society that was part of what her Judaism taught her to do. So that’s what’s influenced me most and helped me to think about myself and how I integrate those two worlds.

Rabbi Margaret Jacobi

So although Lily’s legacy goes back to our founder members, being part of the Liberal Judaism is acceptance and progression. And I feel I’m in the right place for that.

Sarah Winstone

And so I think legacy if if I was Lily Montagu or any of the other founders looking down Montefiore looking down and I’d say, Oh, well haven’t I done a good job. And it’s all working out well and perhaps in another hundred years’ time, they’ll all be liberal. I don’t know that’s how I see a legacy.

Peter Phillips

I always want to start with where people are, and if I can do that then I will have fulfilled something of Lily’s legacy.

Rabbi Janet Burden


This podcast series of oral histories is part of the exhibition: Lily’s Legacy – Voices and Visions of Liberal Judaism, a project supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

It was produced by Miri Lawrence and Lucia Scazzocchio, Sound editing and design by Lucia Scazzocchio, and special thanks to all the contributors who agreed to share their stories. For more information about what you’ve just heard, do visit the exhibition website,  www.lilyslegacyproject.com



To download or share all the podcasts in this series go to lilyslegacy.transistor.fm/subscribe

Legacy & Future

Liberal Judaism has a history of continuity and change. Whilst Liberal Judaism has stayed true to the aims of its founders, it continues to evolve in the 21st century. What then is Lily’s legacy and the future of Liberal Judaism? Responses to this question are diverse, encompassing individual hopes and apprehensions. Some contributors are worried that Liberal Judaism remains a comparatively small movement. Others recall that Liberal Judaism has grown extensively since its beginnings.