Page 8 LJ Today
Facing the future with confidence Owen Power writes about the growth of Manchester Liberal Jewish Community
Owen Power with Student Rabbi Lev Taylor
I AM a member of Manchester Liberal Jewish Community (MLJC), a small emerging shul with a strong ethos on inclusivity and accessibility. I am D/deaf, queer, an active campaigner on diversity and equality issues and a member of the Labour Party… factors which don’t always make for a good fit into a traditional Jewish community. But since I joined MLJC about seven years ago, it has been all I could have hoped for and more.
I was drawn to MLJC by what I read about the community’s spiritual leader at the time - Rabbi Mark Solomon. By all accounts he was a superb singer, strong on liturgy, strong on learning and he was gay, out and proud. What’s not to like! Mark certainly lived up to the hype and I soon settled into the community. It was marvellous to be part of a shul in which LGBTQI+ people were fully welcomed and played key roles. I made new friends and, before long, I was encouraged to get actively involved myself. Phyllis and Len Alden, the backbone of MLJC, suggested I took on the role of social action coordinator, which is very much in my DNA as well as an important part of being a Liberal Jew. I now share information about campaigns, projects and educational events I think other members might be interested in on the MLJC’s Facebook page. The page also serves as an opportunity for us all to engage with each other. Not everyone likes social media though so there also members, like Arlene and Ronnie de Vries, who will come to me for coffee and a chat instead. Over the years MLJC has had its ups and downs and, with a fluctuating membership, for a time it survived on a month to month basis. But a group of members were determined to hang in there and we were rewarded by the arrival of Student Rabbi Lev Taylor about two years ago. Lev lives in London, where he is a student at Leo
Baeck College, and travels to Manchester to lead services and study sessions. Since his arrival, MLJC has been undergoing a period of regeneration and renaissance. Lev has a passion to make MLJC a thriving congregation for everyone including making the community fully accessible to people with disabilities, whatever they might be. Our venue is wheelchair friendly and the loos are gender neutral. Lev’s services and classes are informal so everyone is chilled and free to sit, stand, move seat, pop to the loo or simply have a break in a quiet spot outside. Likewise our bring and share suppers and communal seders are very laid back affairs, providing an opportunity to relax in good company and share culinary skills if one is so inclined. Lev happily makes himself available to members electronically, by phone and indeed in person. He came to me for dinner during the summer and it was great to chat about communications in the context of D/deaf people. One of the many positive outcomes of our dinner was that he inspired me to write about Jewish views on disability. My drosha (sermon expanding on the meaning of a piece of Torah) was later published by the Times of Israel. The path ahead for MLJC is looking good as we attract more members through social media and word of mouth. There is much to look forward to as we face the future with confidence.
Meeting vital needs in the community Joe Seager on the helping hand provided by Birmingham Progressive Synagogue FROM a perpetual supply of items to feed the hungry to generous support for refugees facing severe setbacks in their lives, members of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue (BPS) have reached out to provide care and compassion in considerable measure. The full level of such thoughtful acts of goodwill sets a glowing example of volunteers stepping up to the front line to meet an urgent need to counter poverty and hunger in the local community. BPS has reached a high bench mark in keeping its Food Bank well stocked to guarantee a square meal for those who would otherwise go hungry.
Benita Wishart, one of the key members serving the shul’s ‘Must Help’ cause, is actively engaged in easing the plight of women refugees caught up in a hostile environment. Essential household items and other vital needs are made available at a centre that was set up for them in Birmingham. Benita said: “They are already on very low levels of benefit and if their claims are turned down they can easily become destitute. We are there to answer their desperate calls for help.” Refugees also derive enormous benefit from the welcome they receive at open meetings held at BPS. They enjoy
teas they are given and gain much from sharing time with members. They find this does much to improve their English. BPS member Isobel Gregory received a heart-warming response to her appeal to make Chanukah a time for serving another worthy cause. She received hundreds of pairs of socks and boxes of chocolates to give to refugees and the homeless as Christmas presents. Isobel said: “Our members really took this appeal to their hearts and made it a phenomenal success.” • Joe Seager is a member of Birmingham Progressive Synagogue