JEWISH OPEN MINDS -
I started Jewish Open Minds in July 2009 after we had resigned from Bournemouth Reform Synagogue. We started with a small meeting of 10 people and now have 40 members. We have monthly discussions, always very well attended, regular Brunches, A book club, Bridge, special outings. We are Jewish in origin, secular in operation.
A brief talk given at the start of the second JOM meeting held on 13th September 2009
A VISION FOR JOM
JOM has set off on the first steps of a journey. It could be a long or short one, a small or large one, a circuitous and repetitive one or a challenging and inspiring one.
We choose. My choice as the person for thought it up, would be for a long, challenging, inspiring one, which encompasses, not just Bournemouth, not just this country but via the internet, the world!!
I appreciate it may not be yours and if the group sees it in a far more limited local light, so be it. I don’t see world expansion happening in weeks or months, and it might, if it happens at all, take a good few years, but to me that exploration and interaction with open minded Jews across the world, represents an exciting prospect for the future.
I have belonged to other specialist groups on the internet and had fascinating and challenging discussions with many who saw the world very differently to me.
However that is for the future, for now, we are essentially small and local. I have given much thought to this over recent weeks and whilst I am keen to manage our growth, I feel we are being a little limited in our thinking for open minded people.
What is it that typifies who we are and what we stand for. We have already signed up to one statement about JOM at the outset, which we modified and agreed to. I would like to add some ideas to this for everyone’s consideration.
Having an Open Mind, also suggests being a Free Spirit, not being confined by dogma, willing to think about and try new things, new ideas, go to new places. It also suggests to me – because this is how I am, definitely NOT being P.C. As far as I am concerned today Jeff is our host, Janet our hostess. I can still distinguish between actors and actresses, a word you never hear any more. I can distinguish between a wooden piece of furniture you sit on and a female Chairwoman. I am to all intents and purposes broadly anti-p.c.
JOM could easily become an adjunct to a religious view or a new religious group which may form locally. However personally I don’t want that. I want independence from outside authority. I want us to be our own authorities.
Being an authority brings responsibility and there are various views about the best way to run groups, the primarily accepted form being democracy. I have personally never cared much for democracy as it has always seemed to me to be a flawed system, much open to abuse as we know only too well. I have always thought benevolent autocracy had much to recommend it. However democracy has been described regardless of it’s flaws as the best we have.
This year I came up with an alternative form of governance, based on a tried and tested system which has operated for hundreds of years. I have called it what it is – Rotational Responsibility. It is based essentially on the idea of the Jury system, where any citizen can be called to do Jury duty provided they fulfil a few basic requirements. In essence it places that responsibility on every citizen in the country, bar a small number for fail to qualify for whatever reasons.
Having served on various committees and Councils, having started several other groups of one kind of another, you find two phenomena which dominate the running of them.
Either those that like being in charge, take over and hog the responsibilities being very unwilling to give up power. Our local U3A was once such organisation for many years, where two people dominated it because they had made it their life. They contributed much but in the end both had to be forced out, because they just wouldn’t give anyone else a chance, and in the end it weakened the organisation. Now they have departed it works even better.
Or the opposite where no one wants to take responsibility, and those that start things, find they are eternally condemned to run them, because no one else will take on any responsibility.
In both cases it creates big problems. RR, rotational responsibility does away with this, because those that belong accept they have to take a turn sometime in organising and being responsible. I agree that sometimes a little continuity helps, but I want to see this organisation run on the basis of RR, so that if you join you accept at some point you will have to take your turn to organise one of the groups or activities or something.
Equally we don’t want a committee, but we do want teams. Teams work at teamwork, committees merely discuss and argue and achieve little.
I would welcome a discussion on what I have described, doubts, objections, new ideas, additions, widening, anything that you care to say. One final word. Jews are in my experience exceptionally good at talking but often equally bad at listening. I want JOM people to be brilliant at both, but especially at listening. So please when one talks, everyone else please listen until they have finished, however inspired you might feel by what they say.
Laurie Phillips 13th September 2009
Why do we need a new version of Judaism?
This introduction to this article (in heavy type) was written on 21.10.98 for the Limmud Conference. The article was originally written in 1992 and updated in 1994 and 1996. At this very moment peace talks are once again in the balance between Israel and the Palestinians and the Jewish state is trying to find a peaceful and secure way of living in an ever changing and threatening world. For individual Jews this is also the challenge - to find peace, both inner and outer in world full of change and uncertainty. This article proposes that even within the Jewish religion there is restless and very troubled state, almost amounting to war on occasions. Most recently we have had Orthodoxy attempting to decide through laws enacted in Israel that Reform Jews are not 'proper' Jews. There have also been various wars of words between Orthodox and Reform in this country where the idea of peaceful coexistence and understanding seems the farthest thing from anyone's mind. It seems ironic that Religion and Prayer lead to disagreement and War, rather than understanding and Peace. It may be as well to remember the the Golden Rule of every religion variously expressed is 'Love thy neighbour as thyself".
Judaism has two essential movements, broken into many subsections. Orthodoxy and Reform each have their own inner divisions. Once the Hassidic movement, now regarded as on the extreme right of the Orthodox movement, was a breakaway sect, involved in mysticism and a strong awareness of God in nature. Over three hundred and fifty years or so, it has changed from extreme left to become viewed as the epitome of right wing Orthodoxy! Thus the religion has been in constant flux and each new generation brings with it it's own view of what is needed for the time in which they live.
In 1994 (this was an update to the original written on April 28th/29th 1992)
we are approaching the end of the second millennium A.D. and the dawning of the 'Age of Aquarius'. There are many signs of this in the world which we can see very clearly. The break up of the Soviet system, the downfall of dictatorships, the rise of nationalism and individualism around the globe.
The planet is in a state of flux. It is threatened environmentally and through over-population. It is increasingly becoming polarised into the have's and have not's. Global communication and instant access to news means hourly we become aware of unfolding events. Almost everything that happens is instantly available to huge populations world-wide.
Technology continues to speed up the process of change. Whether we look at the amazingly sophisticated development of computers, video, lasers and genetic engineering, drugs or our understanding of the universe and how it started. In every direction there is an exponential growth and knowledge and power to humanity. The difficulty is who controls that power and to what ends it becomes used.
Within all this, the religious and spiritual state of the world is in chaos. On the one hand we have the rise of fundamentalism in all forms of religion, Islamic, Jewish and Christian in response to an increasingly uncertain world, whilst on the other atheism and scientific rationalism increasingly attempts to widen its justification and reasoning. Amidst the traditional theologies thrive many new 'religions' and ways of looking at the world. From cults such as the Moonies and Scientologists, through Eastern approaches coming west such as Transcendental Meditation, to a whole variety of "New Age' religions which have been 'demanded' by the times in which we live.
Judaism moves much more slowly and is becoming increasingly out of touch, with the present world and the speed of change within it. The greatest threat to continuity is the marrying out of the young, the disaffection of modern youth with traditional views which cannot adequately deal with the explosion of the present. Prayer and meditation and 'Sound bites' are mutually exclusive! In an 'instant' world, our religion is not keeping up.
The Reform movement is now almost 200 years old. In Britain it began in 1840. It is not therefore unreasonable to suggest what once was truly 'Reform' is now orthodox in its own way. It's ability to move and change with the times is now limited by its sheer size, complexity, administration and hierarchy. It's growth since its inception means it has catered for a need, but not all needs, particularly the young.
So what has Judaism to offer the dawning 'Age of Aquarius', within a chaotic and changing world? Does it offer as it always has 'Tradition'? And if so what traditions make sense? Not opening the fridge door on a Sabbath because the electric light inside comes on? Resting our automobiles on Sabbath? I don't think so. But understanding the principles on which Judaism is based? Perhaps.
Yet for me, Judaism in its tradition, uniqueness and isolation has somehow lost (or strangely never found) one key essential principle, that of the idea of 'Acceptance'. Judaism has a restless quality. The 'Children of God' were given special responsibilities, they were the 'Chosen' people and as such somehow have to be and do more than everyone else. Certainly if one were to judge by results Jews in Israel and the Diaspora have achieved in so many ways a vastly disproportionate range of outstanding successes compared to their very limited numbers. For a world wide population of 14 million, their power and influence is probably a hundred times as great. Only the very religious, the scholars have perhaps any sense of peace, but even they fight and rebel to insist that everyone should be like them. Israel's religious fanatics who stone cars driving through their districts on the Sabbath (and since this was originally written have assassinated their Prime Minister), seem to demonstrate only too clearly that Acceptance is not an idea that sits easily with Jews or Judaism.
Yet it is the fundamental idea of Taoism and Buddhism, two of the great Eastern religions whose adherents outnumber Jews by a hundred fold or more. How can it be that the East has an idea which is fundamental to life's very existence, which does not even seem to exist within the Judaic code? I have searched for years to find it and have asked many learned men and Rabbis along the way without success. It does not seem to exist within Judaism. Yet 'Love thy neighbour as theyself" does exist. Perhaps it would be better translated as "Accept your neighbour as you accept yourself!!"
I am therefore left like this. I like our traditions - at least some of them - the essential sense of continuity with the past. But I feel there is some essential principle missing and for me it is not only essential but it is the highest principle of all. Additionally I find it frustrating that our leaders seem unable to reach and appeal in the right way to sufficient of the youth, to maintain the essential life blood of this oldest of spiritual paths.
The 'Way' for 'New Age' Jews? Zen Judaism
Thus the concept I propose it that of Zen Judaism. A modern approach for the 'Age of Aquarius'. This involves within it the essentially missing concept of 'Acceptance'. It offers a counterpoint to Jewish restlessness, a peaceful centre of acceptance, without damning those about us as not 'being proper Jews'. It is perhaps harking back to the mystical, to nature, to the communion with God open to us all and within us all that was the spirit of the original Hassidim.
Yet it is not attempting to recreate Hassidism, nor is it trying to produce a new religion. It simply attempts to address today's issues using the spirit of our traditions, yet in a way suited to a 'New Age'. To capture the quintessential relationship to God without or the 'Gods' within with the beauty and simplicity represented and refined through thousands of years of ancient Eastern thought - the concept of 'Acceptance' added to thousands of years of Judaic principles in simple and poetic ways, which meet and are able to adapt to contemporary needs, communication and understanding.
Perhaps the Messiah will come when we stop seeking him (or her). Perhaps that salvation and peace is within us all if we have the wit to cease striving and appreciate it. The Jewish people have followed God's will for over five and a half thousand years. Perhaps it is time to sit a little and contemplate his will on a wider scale. Recognise that others too have a point of view and theirs is not necessarily contradictory to our own, but perhaps complementary and has a simple beauty and additional principles we can accept and learn from. Then finally maybe the Jewish people will be able to live in peace with themselves and all the other religions of the world.
(Created originally 28/29. 4. 92) (Updated 27.3.94) (Minor additions 23.9.96) (New introduction 21.10.98) Copyright Laurie Phillips. E-mail.