Archbishop of York delivers inaugural Lionel Blue memorial lecture


The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, discussed social media, celebrity culture, globalisation, nationalism and terrorism during a wide-ranging inaugural memorial lecture for Rabbi Lionel Blue, who died in December, aged 86.

Broadcaster Vanessa Feltz, senior Reform and Liberal rabbis and Barnet Mayor Councillor David Longstaff were among a capacity audience of 230 at the North Western Reform Synagogue, Golders Green, for the talk. It was part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Leo Baeck College, training Progressive rabbis and educators, of which Rabbi Blue was the first alumnus in 1958.

Dr Sentamu recalled him as “a man of warmth, humanity, faith and wisdom. His wonderful ability to share the truth and humour of his experience of life and God endeared him to audiences across the world.”

Drawing on Jewish and Christian texts and traditions — and writing on religion, philosophy, art and pyschoanalysis — the lecture included exploration of the word “simchah”, which appears in Ecclesiastes 17 times.

“It isn’t easy to give a precise translation of simchah. It doesn’t mean pleasure, satisfaction, gratification, amusement, entertainment or even happiness. It means ‘joy’, specifically the joy we share with others.

“When the book of Deuteronomy talks about festivals as days of national rejoicing, it uses the word ‘simchah’.

“When Jews today talk about a wedding or a barmitzvah, they say, ‘we’re having a simchah’, meaning a joy we share with friends and the community. You can find happiness in solitude but you can find joy only in the company of others.

“In an age in which even phones are smart but all too few people are wise, there is an abiding wisdom in Ecclesiastes that speaks to us here and now.

“The pursuit of self will not satisfy even the self. We need the Divine other to open our eyes and hearts to the human other. And there we will discover simchah, the joy that only exists in the virtue of being shared.” 

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh, dean of Leo Baeck, said afterwards: “Rabbi Lionel Blue was a most loved rabbinic colleague and a friend through the radio to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the UK.

“His interfaith work was core to his being so we were delighted that the Anglican Church’s second most senior cleric gave such an insightful lecture in his name.” 

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