Showing posts from April, 2014

BBC 'The Big Questions'

On Sunday the 27th of April, I was honoured to be a guest on the BBC's 'The Big Questions'. All I knew is that it would be my UK television debut and my television debut in rabbinic capacity... and addressing a controversial topic ('Is Islam a threat to the West?') to boot. 
The discussion was spirited with a broad panel of disparate opinions ranging from Muslim activists to a member of a Sharia watchdog organisation. My role, as far as I was concerned, was to be a reasonable voice for Progressive religion. 
I wanted to show that the majority of people of all faiths (and no faith) in the world desire peace and that moderate religion should fulfil a crucial role in building those roads to peace. If religion is a force for evil in the world, than surely it can be a force for good. I also set myself the goal of trying to speak on the importance of gender equality and gay rights in religious traditions, citing Progressive Judaism as a real-life model of acceptance. 

'Lifnei Iver' - A Life with Visual Impairment

Sermon Parashat Kedoshim  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
'Lifnei Iver' - A Life with Visual Impairment
“V’lifnei iver lo titen michshal…” – “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Lev. 19:14). This is, of course, one of the famous ethical commands that lies embedded in the middle of the ritual heart of Vayikra (Leviticus). Wedged in between chapters 18 and 20 that deal with ritual, sexual and cultic prohibitions (the so-called ‘arayot’, ‘nakedness’), chapter 19 of parashat Kedoshim brims with compelling ethical instruction. We are taught to love the stranger, not curse the deaf, pay a worker’s wages on time, not favour the rich or the poor, use equal weights and measures, to not hate our fellow in our heart. 
It would be easy then to explore the ethical commandments of Kedoshim in this sermon. It would be easy to tie it in with a particularly relevant or timely theme: after all, there are plenty of moral quandaries in today’s world that need addressing. But I’m not going t…

12 Years a Slave, An Eternity of Freedom

A few months ago, I went to see the film '12 Years a Slave', directed by Steve McQueen.
It's an incredibly important, compelling and shocking film and a must-see for all people, especially those interested in both the historical and contemporary reality of slavery. 
The film is based on the book, '12 Years a Slave', written by Solomon Northup. Northup was a free black man living in New York State in the 19th century. A father of three, talented musician and an educated carpenter, he was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841 and taken South. After 12 years, he managed to secure his freedom and eventually wrote his memoirs. 
In his memoirs, he recounts how his father - once a slave himself - acquires his freedom and builds a life for himself a generation earlier. Solomon's father raises him to love education and live a life of integrity. Still in the Pesach spirit, I was reading the book and found the following quote to be particularly poignant and meaningful:

Love is in the Air

Sermon Shabbat Chol haMoed Pesach  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
Love is in the Air 
When I wrote this sermon on Friday, the sunlight was streaming through my open window, bringing in the sounds, sights and smell of Spring. Roundhay Park looks resplendent in green and gold as does our own synagogue’s cherry tree in our beautifully-maintained garden (thank you, Ken Ellis!) I went to Harewood House on my day off with a friend and saw sheep and lamb cavorting in the lush grass. It’s an idyllic and supremely romantic season. In short, ‘love is in the air’. 
There’s always that wonderful feeling to energised freshness that comes with Spring. That delightful feeling of leaving the house without your coat on and feeling the sun on your skin. It’s a time for love, for appreciating the bounty of our good Earth and the beauty of life. Of course, there is great darkness and difficulty in our world and we certainly shouldn’t close our eyes to that, but Pesach can be such a happy time. Judaism honours…

The Pesach Perspective

First Day Pesach  Sermon Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
The Pesach Perspective  
A number of years ago, the diagnosis of a curious disease was formulated. The symptoms can be defined as follows, and I quote: "[Affluenza is] a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." 
Now, we can be inoculated by the winter influenza bouts but getting immunised against Affluenza is considerably more difficult. A lethal manifestation of Affluenza took the lives of four innocent pedestrians when a Texan ‘rich kid’, Ethan Couch, high on beer and valium, drove into them in last June. As devastating as this accident would be in any case, it was made all the more so by the law’s initially callous response: the millionaire teen’s psychologists and lawyers were quick to plead mercy, claiming that what the young man needed was not prison, but therapy in a 400,000$ a year rehabilitation centre and a much lighter sente…

Pesach Resources + Six Seder Questions

I've collected some Pesach resources to share. Some of these are (British) Reform Movement resources and some of them are Conservative/Masorti Movement resources. I hope you will find them useful!
- Spice up your Haggadah with an insert discussing social justice and modern slavery. Published by Tzedek and Jhub, this colourful source sheet is perfect for printing off and using on Seder night. Slavery is not just a metaphor but a painful reality of our world. 
- Want the know-how on Pesach and Seder from a (British) Reform perspective? The Movement for Reform Judaism has brought together these resources. 
- To eat kitniyot (legumes) or not to eat... that is the question! My esteemed colleague Rabbi Michael Hilton has written a responsum from a Reform perspective on the matter.
- Need a contemporary and reasonable Halakhic guide to keeping Passover and kashering your kitchen? See the Conservative Movement's 'Passover Guide'. 
- For those interested in Mechirat Chametz (t…

#pesachunplugged - Passover social media fast!

For the third year running, I'll go on a 'social media fast' this Pesach.
It started when I read an article about Christians going on a social media fast during Lent. This inspired me: couldn't we in the Jewish community try a similar idea during Passover?
The Haggadah encourages us to experience the Exodus for ourselves: what things are we slave to and what experiences of personal liberation would we want to go through? The answer is complex, of course, but a small and easy step we could take is to disconnect from the 'slavery' of the Internet for a week. 
So, without further ado, join me in my Pesach Social Media Fast from Monday April 14th (evening) till Monday April 21st.
No Facebook, Twitter or whatever your platform of choice is. Unplug, unwind, reconnect with the things that matter. Build community in the flesh, reflect on the message of freedom and re-engage renewed.
Who's joining me? Wishing you all a liberating and meaningful Passover. Find us on…

Chag Pesach Sameach / Happy Easter!

Wishing our family, friends, congregants, colleagues and readers of this blog
A very happy Passover and/or Easter
where we encounter liberation in our lives and work to bring redemption to our world
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The Middleton-Hugenholtz Family