Bumper crop from Leo Baeck

By Keren David, July 9, 2009

Eight Progressive rabbis were ordained on Sunday at the largest graduation ceremony held by Leo Baeck College.

Seven-hundred people were at West London Synagogue to support the new rabbis, “whose influence will be felt by a generation to come”, said Leo Baeck vice-principal Rabbi Michael Shire. “We are proud of their high academic achievements and skilled pastoral and spiritual abilities.”

The graduates hail from Britain, Israel, America and Russia. Some already have roles with communities, such as David Mitchell, who has been a student minister at Radlett Reform Synagogue and will now become its second full-time rabbi.

Rabbi Mitchell, 29, was raised in an Orthodox Edgware family. He became interested in Progressive Judaism while studying geography at Oxford University and was a cheder teacher for the pluralist community there. “I gradually found my own way,” he said.

His move to Progressive Judaism coincided with his coming out as gay — he and Ian Kirsch were the first Jewish couple to have a civil partnership ceremony — and his dissertation was on sexual violence against men in the book of Genesis.

“It’s very bizarre that it has never been fully explored,” he reflected. “There has been a lot of attention given to violence against women in the Bible, but little about men.” He is delighted to be working at Radlett Reform, the community his partner grew up in. “They’ve made a terrific fuss of me. Tons of people from Radlett were at the ordination.”

Another of the group, 47-year-old Monique Mayer, becomes probably the only UK rabbi to keep pigs. “They’re probably the safest pigs in Wales,” she reasoned. “People ask us if we’re going to eat them and we say, ‘no, we’re Jewish.’”

She keeps the pigs, along with dogs, ducks and geese, at home — an outdoor adventure centre in Goytre, Wales, run by her husband Nigel Finkel. It’s a long way from her past in Texas, where she worked as a science teacher before embarking on rabbinic training.The couple have installed a kosher kitchen at the centre and are hoping to host an increasing number of Jewish groups.

Debbie Young Somers, Tanya Sakhnovitch, Janet Darley, Judith Rosen-Berry, Judith Levitt and Yuval Keren are the other new rabbis.

Last updated: 4:06pm, July 9 2009