Rabbinic pals to lead Reform assembly

Kathleen Middleton and James Baaden say changes resulting from the pandemic 'may push us into unanticipated new directions'


Rabbis Kathleen Middleton and James Baaden have been elected co-chairs of the Reform Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors. They replace Rabbi Celia Surget, who held the position solely but is moving to America to take up a senior role with a New Mexico congregation.

Dutch-born Rabbi Middleton has been minister of Mosaic Reform (formerly Middlesex New) since 2008 and is active in interfaith work. She was taking on her new role “at this exciting time when we are looking as a country to come out of the pandemic”.

Despite all the hardships of the past year, the community had adapted to new ways of working and staying connected, she said. The lasting impact on the movement “may push us into unanticipated new directions”.

Raised in America and Canada, Rabbi Baaden came to the UK as a student, latterly pursuing a career in journalism. He has since served South London Liberal Synagogue, the Jewish community in Düsseldorf, the Liberal synagogue in Utrecht and for more than a decade, Sha’arei Tsedek (North London Reform Synagogue).

He lives with “significant disabilities, brought about by a neurological disorder which impairs my mobility and causes me severe pain. I owe my life, and my excellent quality of life, to the NHS — something I never forget.

“The present online era has in fact opened up new possibilities for me as a disabled person.” However, lockdown meant “I could not be at my mother’s side when she died last year”.

There are long-time links between the co-chairs. When Rabbi Baaden was working in Utrecht, Rabbi Middleton’s family were among his congregants.

And Rabbi Baaden describes Rabbi Middleton as one of his “best friends” from his time studying at Leo Baeck.

“We have been looking forward to working on something jointly for 20 years — and now we have a project. I hope we can make an ongoing contribution to our rabbinic colleagues and the wider Jewish community.”

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