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European Judaism Editorial

Vol. 1 No. 1 Summer 1966

European Judaism

Mercifully the destruction of the European Jewish communities was not total, and at the close of the conflict about 20 per cent of the original population remained to face the future. In some countries, such as France, a high proportion of the total population survived, while in Britain the community was totally spared. Russian Jewry, though continuing its prewar isolation and despite losses from the German occupation, still lives on as a numerically substantial part of the Jewish people. The troubles in North Africa and the Middle East have forced an immigration from those areas into the European continent.

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Stephen Berkowitz

Progressive Judaism became institutionalized in 1907 with the inauguration of the Union Libérale Israélite synagogue in Paris. During the nineteenth century, although Reform ideas were discussed and in some cases implemented (e.g. use of organ, reduction of piyutim), the Central Consistory prevented the creation of an independent Progressive synagogue. Today, the Progressive movement in France is relatively underdeveloped, with thirteen synagogues, full-time rabbis serving only Parisian congregations and no national movement structure. In recent years, however, there have been some positive developments such as the creation of a rabbinical body of French-speaking Progressive rabbis, an annual summer camp and the Moses Mendelssohn Foundation to promote Progressive Judaism. As French Jewry faces major challenges such as the persistence of a virulent form of anti-Semitism and the departure of thousands of active French Jews each year to Israel, the USA, Canada and elsewhere, Progressive Jews in France ask themselves what the future holds for them.

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Evelyn Adunka

The article describes the historical circumstances and context of the beginnings of Progressive Judaism in Central Europe in the nineteenth century, with the rabbis I.N. Mannheimer and A. Jellinek and the famous cantor Salomon Sulzer in the historic Viennese city temple (which still stands today) as the main protagonists. In the interwar period, the founding of the Verein für fortschrittliches Judentum in Vienna, its president Heinrich Haase (1864–1943) and its dissolution (in 1936) are discussed, and biographies of Liberal rabbis in Vienna and in some parts of the Austrian provinces are presented. After 1945 the focus is on the history of the Liberal Viennese community Or Chadasch, founded in May 1990, which is celebrating twenty-five years in November this year with a Festschrift and a Festakt with a keynote speech by Anat Hoffman.

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Jonathan Magonet and Lionel Blue

This interview was conducted in 1965 by Jonathan Magonet at the time when Lionel Blue was newly appointed European Director of the Youth Section and of the World Union for Progressive Judaism itself. It addresses his concern about rebuilding European Diaspora Jewish communities after the war, through helping them find meaning and purpose in their existence beyond survival as an end in itself. Progressive Judaism is well placed to take on such a task because of its openness to the outside world. Progressive Judaism is not a breakaway from Rabbinic Judaism but sifts it and transposes it into a new key. He outlines a variety of programmes he envisages to undertake this work.

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Jonathan Magonet

Already in 1946 Rabbi Dr Leo Baeck advocated that alongside the rebuilding of congregations in post-war Europe, what he termed ‘little Judaism’, there was a need for a ‘greater Judaism’ – Jewish engagement with the wider issues of society: ‘We are Jews also for the sake of humanity’. In 1949 he also expressed the need for a dialogue with Islam. A variety of events and activities represent early attempts to meet these dual concerns. In 1997 at the first post-war, full-scale conference of the European Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Germany, in Munich, Diana Pinto noted that despite long-standing fears that the European diaspora was doomed to disappear, changes in a European self-understanding had helped create an ‘ever more vibrant Jewish space’. Almost twenty years on from then, particularly with the rise of anti-Semitism and terrorist attacks, the mood amongst European Jews has become less optimistic.

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Presenting Judaism

Jewish Museums in Britain

Rickie Burman

All religions are practised within a larger social context, but different religions may relate to that context in different ways, posing particular issues for the way that religion is communicated through museum display. Christianity, for example, when displayed within a Christian country, will tend to focus upon the specific arena of religiosity. The Jewish minority within the same country is more likely to employ an integrated approach that sets religion within the context of history and social life. This is partly because Judaism is not only a set of beliefs and practices – it is also a way of life. The representation of Judaism therefore presents particular challenges and opportunities within a museum context. This article will provide a case study, focusing on Jewish museums within Britain.

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Jacqueline Senker

Memory is a traitor. Forty years is a short time in human history, but the attempt to remember exactly what happened in the past is fraught with problems. The clearest incidents are often the most trivial. What we really want to remember remains obscure. So my memories of the early days of European Judaism may not be entirely accurate. As the wife of the founding editor, Michael Goulston, I was fully occupied with running our household and caring for three small children. I did not participate in the meetings where Michael discussed his vision for the journal with colleagues. For this memoir I have had to rely on my memories of day-today conversations with Michael about his hopes and dreams, leafing through early issues of the journal, a chat with Lionel Blue, sadly one of the few survivors of the original Board of Editors, together with recollections of my own role.

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Jan Mühlstein

The German Jewish community established after World War Two was shaped by refugees from Eastern Europe, so the congregations they established were Orthodox. However, in 1995 independent Liberal Jewish initiatives started in half a dozen German cities. The story of Beth Shalom in Munich illustrates the stages of such a development beginning with the need for a Sunday school for Jewish families and experiments with monthly Shabbat services. The establishment of a congregation was helped by the support of the European Region of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and ongoing input from visiting rabbis. The twenty years since the founding of the congregation have also seen the creation of the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany, the successful political struggle for a share of the state funding for Jewish communities and the establishment of the first Jewish theological faculty in Germany.

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Lionel Blue

In the recent past all Jewish life has been so overshadowed by the tragedy of the holocaust and the hope of Israel that we could only cry or act. Now a new time has come. Israel has solved every problem except the Arab problem and that is the only important problem now worth solving. A dialogue with the Islamic world is long overdue. We were hounded out of Europe, and we were one of the factors which pushed or helped to push another people out of Palestine. This was a sin – whether knowingly or unknowingly. Israel and Arabs are political entities. Behind them stand two other and greater beings – Judaism and Islam. It is possible that the goodness inherent in them can achieve what the politicians cannot. Unfortunately, neither is spiritually efficient, as all religion has been perverted in our society. The Israel problem poses the crucial test for Judaism itself. As for Islam, it is almost an unknown religion to most Jews. It has also encountered the full onslaught of the West in a short time, and like us, many of its adherents also failed to see the moral wood for the halachic and legalist trees. We can help each other, for we have much in common; and, God willing, we may yet find even more common ground.

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John D. Rayner

In the history of Progressive Jewish liturgy, Britain’s Liberal movement has, in spite of its relatively small numbers, played a unique role. For one thing, it has taken cognisance of the liturgical traditions of both of the two main centres of Progressive Judaism: Germany and the United States of America. (Britain’s Reform movement, by contrast, has preferred to do ‘its own thing’, with little reference to what has been done elsewhere.) For another thing, its publication in 1967 of Service of the Heart marked the beginning of a new trend, which has since manifested itself throughout the Progressive Jewish world.