Lionel Blue’s Backdoor to Heaven

An Obituary

Portrait of an elderly man with glasses, kippah and tallit.

Lionel Blue, rabbi, writer and broadcaster, was born on 6 February 1930 and died on 19 December 2016 in London.

Rabbi Lionel Blue was one of the last of a generation of liberal rabbis in Britain that included Rabbis John Rayner, Hugo Gryn and Albert H. Friedlander. They were all children of the Second World War who carried stories of loss and displacement with them. Each of them was singularly brilliant and charismatic in his own way, helping loosely affiliated Jews to find a way back to a liberal, inclusive form of Judaism. Unlike the others, Lionel Blue was not a refugee, but grew up as the son of a tailor and secretary in London’s then predominantly Jewish East End, experiencing the Blitz and the local violence of Oswald Mosley’s anti-Semitic blackshirts.

Born in 1930, Blue documented his struggles with his homosexuality as well as his path to the rabbinate in his book “Godly and Gay,” published in 1981. Blue was private, but non-secretive about his long-term partnerships and as the first rabbi in Britain to publicly declare his homosexuality, he became an important role model for gay Jews.  continue reading

“If I were a rich mouse …”

— the Hanukkah Message?

The hanukkah candelarium described in the text on a table together with presents, a lamp and a dreidel

Mice with a vice
Photo: CC-BY Michal Friedlander

I have been using the same Hanukkah lamp for nearly 20 years. I find it aesthetically-challenging and totally impractical: it is difficult to clean and the candles fall out. Yet I persist in using it because it provokes me to think. When I put the illuminated, figurative lamp on the windowsill to publicly “proclaim the Hanukkah miracle of light,” the same three questions always resurface in my mind: “Who designed this lamp?,” “What were they thinking?,” and, “Are Mickey and Minnie Mouse actually Jewish?”  continue reading

“I see a land bright and clear,
and the time’s comin’ near
When we’ll live in this land, you and me…”

Pessach is approaching – the festival of exodus and freedom. This year, there is less talk of having the festive meal at large community gatherings. It is obvious, although unspoken, that smaller gatherings in the home make more sense. We are becoming alienated from our community centers through fear. Keep a low profile. Don’t speak Hebrew on the streets. Some people are removing the mezuzah from their front doorposts, a traditional object that visibly identifies a Jewish household. There is a mood of caution and nervous apprehension.

How did it get to this point?

Advertisement for the "Cycling Unites"-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015: Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter are cycling together

Advertisement with Imam Ferid Heider and Rabbi Daniel Alter for the “Cycling Unites”-Critical-Mass-Tour in Berlin on 22 March 2015, photo: Michal Friedlander

June, 2014
A drunken man rolls slowly off the train platform and plops onto the tracks at Friedrichstrasse station. Around sixty people witness the moment and look away, hoping that someone else will solve the stinky, awkward problem. And so it was. An Italian and an Israeli jumped down to haul the semi-conscious man to safety. The passengers walked around the startled little group, pressing forward to make the oncoming train.

July 2014
Dinner party small talk. The discussions nearest me are taking a more political turn and I am just not in the mood to talk about Israel. Too late. The young man next to me asks if I saw the recent pro-Palestinian demonstration on the Kurfürstendamm? He becomes very still and lowers his voice.  continue reading