Liberal and Reform merger ‘most significant event for a generation’

New chair of Progressive Judaism says coming together will give the two movements even more energy and momentum


The new chair of Progressive Judaism has described the merger of Liberal and Reform Judaism as “the most significant development of Anglo-Jewry for a generation”.

Dr Ed Kessler, a leading thinker and academic in the Jewish community, has been appointed as chair of Progressive Judaism’s advisory board, whose role is to oversee the unification of the two movements.

Dr Kessler, who is founder president of interfaith centre the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, told the JC: “Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism have been two separate movements for a very long time, but they share the same rabbinical college [Leo Baeck], and the rabbis jump between Reform and Liberal shuls.

“Coming together will give the two movements even more energy and momentum, enabling them to reach parts of Anglo-Jewry that haven’t been reached and generate greater interest in Judaism among young people. It is the most significant development of Anglo-Jewry for a generation.”

Reform synagogues make up 18 per cent of the UK’s synagogues and Liberal Synagogues account for 12 per cent, so together, the organisation encompasses almost one-third of all shuls.

Kessler noted that there was “huge diversity” among the congregations, saying: “We mustn’t attempt to make [congregations] fall into line. It’s really important that we create sufficient autonomy so that synagogues don’t feel suffocated or constrained.”

He and his family have been closely linked to both Reform and Liberal Judaism for many years.

He is a member of Beth Shalom Reform Synagogue in Cambridge, where he lives, and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St John’s Wood sponsored his mother to come over from Vienna on the Kindertransport and was where his parents married.

He said: “I feel genuinely at home in both the movements and feel that I understand the strengths and weaknesses of both.”

His appointment has been welcomed by heads of both organisations. Ruth Seager, Liberal Judaism chair said she was “looking forward to working with Ed in the creation of the new movement.

He has been active within Progressive Judaism for a very long time and is a leading thinker in interfaith relations.”

Paul Langsford, chair of the Movement for Reform Judaism, said: “Ed and his family are passionate advocates for Progressive Judaism, believing in the unique offering of each movement, and that is fulfilled to its best when working in partnership.”

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