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Warm words from across religious spectrum as Reform's senior rabbi announces departure

Laura Janner-Klausner will be stepping down after nine years in October

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Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said it was two weeks ago that she finally decided it was time to quit as the senior rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism.

“It’s been in the back of my mind for a while but there’s nothing like lockdown and Covid to make you reassess what’s really important and what you want,” she said this week after the announcement of her October exit.

A senior colleague told the JC Rabbi Janner-Klausner had always “envisaged doing it for a while and then moving onto something else”. But another rabbi was “shocked” at the news. “We tend to know what’s going on but this was a surprise.”

When she bows out, it will be almost nine years since her appointment to the newly created role as the national voice of the movement.

While she felt it was “good to replenish every decade” and find a fresh challenge, she admitted it was “scary”.

In autumn, Rabbi Janner-Klausner will begin studying for a doctorate at Durham University on how the online experience of young Jews affects their perception of, and participation in communities. It follows a growing interest in the impact of the digital world — “I was at Data Science Africa for my last holiday”.

Increasingly, she has been preoccupied with questions such as “where are our members going to come from? What will our communities need to look like?”

She also plans to set up a business in leadership training, which will draw on her extensive experience of speaking in public and in the media to coach others.

Rabbi Janner-Klausner discounts any suggestion her departure from her Reform role has anything to do with her involvement in the defence of her father, Lord Janner — the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is due to begin examining the police handling of the allegations against him in October. She, her brother and sister “just do our best to look after dad, alive and dead”.

She was always careful what she said in her public platforms and her recently published book on resilience — where she spoke of the impact on the family of the accusations against him — was written in “a personal capacity”.

Her highlights as senior rabbi include work with the Muslim community and refugees, while more generally consolidating Reform’s place in cross-communal endeavours.

“No one is going to marginalise us, no one is looking over their right shoulder,” she said.

And among her most inspiring moments have been watching how rabbis from across the board “managed to reinvent Judaism” by taking it online during the coronavirus crisis.

This week, she was shedding “happy tears” in response to the many warm words she had received following her announcement from across the religious spectrum, from “the Archbishop of Canterbury to the chairman of Southport Synagogue. I feel chuffed and blessed and appreciative.”

Reform chairman Geoffrey Marx said Rabbi Janner-Klausner had “transformed Reform Judaism”, which had become acknowledged as a major player “in debates of national importance, standing up for our values on issues that matter — refugees, antisemitism, LGBT+, progressive Zionism.

“From our leading efforts on the campaign for equal marriage and our front-line role standing up for refugees, I know that her work has made Britain better.”

Rabbi Fabian Sborovsky, chair of the Assembly of Reform Cantors and Rabbis, praised her “wise and inspirational leadership” adding that she had been “a wonderful colleague and mentor to many of us”.

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