Senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism, Rabbi Danny Rich, mourns Rabbi Lionel Blue, Britain’s first openly gay rabbi who died this week
Rabbi Lionel Blue OBE never held a formal post within Liberal Judaism but his death robs so many Liberal and Reform Jews, and indeed non-Jews too, of a personal spiritual anchor and guide.
However large his congregation – and on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, it was an impressive one – Lionel had the ability to persuade you, the listener, to think that he was talking to you alone in the privacy of his study or in your front room.
Lionel, by his own example, taught me three important lessons. Despite, being a teacher and mentor par excellence, he was humble enough to understand that the best of teachers learn most from their students and unplanned encounters.
Second, in spite of his disheveled appearance and general disorganization, Lionel was able to utilise a quick mind and a depth of spirituality to bring to every situation, whether joyous or tragic, the ideal balance of humor with sagacity.
Perhaps, most importantly, Lionel demonstrated to me that God’s presence is frequently found not in inspiring literature or charismatic leaders but rather in examples of genuine care where the actor expects no reward: the silent presence of a chaplain, the touch of a visitor, the wipe of the brow by a nurse.
As my rabbinic colleagues gathered for his funeral and shiva this week, each one had his or her own reason to appreciate their own encounter with Lionel. Each one had experienced something deep and genuinely meaningful. In his passing, it is unlikely that we will see another of his ilk again.
Although it is not a word Lionel would have used about himself many of us found him courageous, no more so than when he ‘outed’ himself as Britain’s first openly gay rabbi.