Elstree rabbi quitting with happy memories - and a warning on children's 'disconnect'

California-bound Rabbi Pete Tobias says the challenge for Liberal shul is to engage 11-13-year-olds, as well as other generations


The Liberal Synagogue Elstree will be looking for a new minister after the announcement that Rabbi Pete Tobias will be leaving after 17 years to take up a post with a congregation in the Southern Californian town where his son and family reside.

Informing members, the rabbi wrote that he wished he had kept a record of the bar- and batmitzvahs he had officiated at —“it must be in excess of 150. I know that there have been almost 100 participants in the Kabbalat Torah ceremonies.

“During my time here I’ve written several books, enjoyed an 11-year run on Radio 2’s Pause for Thought slot and seen Watford get promoted [twice] and relegated [definitely once; probably twice].”

But he expressed “disappointment with the disconnect between children’s attendance at Jewish schools and their [and their families’] involvement in the life of the synagogue.

“I think a major challenge for the future of TLSE and the Liberal Judaism it espouses and promotes is how to engage not just the 11-13-year-olds in the bar-/bat-mitzvah process but all the generations.”

He hoped that before taking up his new post in September, “there will be occasions when an appropriate farewell can be said. It will also be important to plan for the future of TLSE and I hope all members will engage in the task of helping to shape the beacon of Liberal Judaism in South-West Hertfordshire it has been my privilege to nurture for the past 17 years.”

Responding, shul chair Mike Walton said he would be “forever grateful to Pete for inspiring me to become involved in TLSE, an aspect of my life that is very important to me. I know many other members of TLSE feel the same way.

“It will certainly be a challenge for the community to fill his shoes [but] we are looking at Pete’s departure as an opportunity to build on his legacy, to try to inject new life into the synagogue and to work to address the types of issue that Pete expresses disappointment at in his letter.

“We have already put a plan in place for the recruitment of a new rabbi.”

Adding his tribute, outgoing Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich described him as “an engaging proponent of Liberal Judaism, which is no doubt why his books are so well-read and his radio broadcasts were so popular.

“Many of his congregants and students — as well as those who have attended Liberal Judaism’s Kadimah summer camp and our biennial events — will fondly remember his creative sessions, including those on the connection between ancient Judaism and modernity.

“Liberal Judaism’s loss is California’s gain.”

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