By Ruth Thomas…
An 11-day visit to New Zealand left Melbourne’s Rabbi, Jonathan Keren-Black [pictured above], very impressed with the way the Progressive congregations in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin cope without a rabbi.
“It is very moving to see how self-sufficient these congregations are,” he said. “They are also very welcoming and warm, and appreciative of any support I can give.”
Rabbi Jonathan is the consulting rabbi for the Union of Progressive Judaism and visits once a year to provide support on religious practice, lead services, study sessions and talk to conversion candidates.
This year he was in Wellington for the Shabbat service where 12 new members were welcomed.
Temple Sinai mashpiah JoEllen Duckor said that in Pirke Avot we are told to “sit at the feet of the wise”. “Our weekend with Rabbi Jonathan was an opportunity to do just that,” she said.
“He welcomed our new members and blessed them under a tallit held by past chair, Kevin Ratnam, new chair Matthew Smith, myself and Rabbi Jonathan.
“He met the conversion committee and our conversion candidates and our board. On Sunday he delighted the Beit Midrash students with wonderful stories.”
He also visited the Beth Shalom Congregation in Auckland, at present involved in a search for a new rabbi and the small Hamilton community where the Waikato Jewish Association hold services in a private home.
He described the Dunedin community as a small, very friendly group. “Dunedin is unique – it’s the oldest congregation in the union,” he said.
“It was established in a very large building now historic 90 years ago in the goldrush days. Fifty-three years ago, the congregation moved to its third much smaller shul and changed from being Orthodox to Progressive.”
Born in London in 1958, Rabbi Jonathan grew up in a committed Progressive Jewish family and always wanted to be a rabbi.
He attended a large Orthodox Jewish day school because there was no Progressive Jewish day school. There he experienced Orthodox Judaism which reinforced for him the values of the Progressive tradition.
He did his five-year rabbinic training course in North London including 9 months in Jerusalem and six months in Sydney.
His Australian experience led to him taking up his present position in 2003 at the Leo Baeck Centre, named for a founder of Progressive Judaism in East Kew serving Melbourne’s eastern and northern suburbs.
Rabbi Jonathan was the editorial team leader for the Progressive Movement’s Siddur prayer book, published 9 years ago and used in all the New Zealand congregations, and concluded the work on the matching High Holyday Machzor just before departing for his New Zealand visit. This will be used from Rosh Hashanah 2019.
He has been involved in interfaith activities for many years and was a founder member of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia and is also passionate about caring for the environment.
He and his wife Sue built an environmental house in Britain, and another in Melbourne. He drives a Mitsubishi Outlander which he can plug in at shul as well as at home, to drive on renewable electricity.
He is glad to see the growing number of electric cars in New Zealand.
“Our tradition teaches us that we are caretakers of God’s world and have a responsibility to pass it on in good condition to those who come after us. We have not done a great job of that in recent generation,” he said.