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.“
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
“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.“
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.”
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?”
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.”
It’s an international, respected, renowned organization. That’s good.
Because when we started there were sort of 10, 12 communities, small in number.”
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi
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.