Many of you will be aware of the vital work of the Beit Din, Reform Judaism’s religious court, in welcoming people to Judaism and supporting others through sensitive matters such as questions of Jewish status, adoption and divorce. Welcoming, compassionate and inclusive, the Beit Din, with the professional support of Odelia Silver, is based at the Sternberg Centre and combines modernity with Jewish tradition.
But did you know that Reform Judaism also runs a European Beit Din, supporting member communities of the European Union for Progressive Judaism? This is a way that Mosaic Reform members, through membership of the wider Reform Movement make a direct contribution to the vibrancy and continuity of Jewish life in the rest of Europe.
In the last year alone, we welcomed people to Jewish life from Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain. Some of the candidates come to the Beit Din in London but we have also facilitated conversions at courts in Barcelona, Bratislava, Florence, Kraków and Warsaw. Many of them have Jewish roots and are now finding their way back and embracing their Jewish heritage.
As a snapshot of this work, last year the Beit Din spent two days in Florence welcoming 33 candidates from Italy and Spain. On this occasion, the candidates, who had all undertaken a demanding course of study, came from communities in Calabria, Florence, Milan, Sardinia and Rome with one coming all the way from the Reform community in Valencia.
The standard of knowledge and commitment was extremely high. We heard stories of grandmothers lighting candles every Friday night in the basement and a mother-in-law beckoning the young couple into the garden on the day of their wedding so she could put a canopy over them and bless them. And of course, none of that generation understood where these family customs had originated. The group from Rome were so excited that at the end of the day, they spilled out onto the street singing and dancing.
It is always a privilege to be part of this enormously important and moving time in the lives of candidates and it is an honour to be able to contribute in a wider sense to the wellbeing of Progressive Jewish life in Europe