Rabbi Soetendorp’s letter to climate strikers

February 16, 2019

Dear young allies,

With admiration I watched your actions. Your moral uprising comes at a crucial moment.

The growing awareness that environmental disasters threaten the future of life on earth through our irresponsible actions has led to the Paris agreement. Governments have made binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve other sustainable targets by 2030.

We already knew at the time that the obligations were far from sufficient, but hoped against better knowledge that in the course of doing so they would realize that more drastic measures could not [then] be taken.

We are now faced with the harsh reality – more than three years later: even these minimal, insufficient targets will not be met. Because the urgency is still not felt. Because national governments are still not aware of the fact that measures have to be taken that seem to be in the short term against national self-interest, but in the long term are literally vital to the general interest of a healthy planet for secure future generations.

Your authentic voice gives us all hope. Everyone, even the biggest skeptic, must recognize that you have the first right to speak. You and your children and grandchildren, the still unborn, will have to pay our bitter, irresponsibly high bill.

Let us therefore conclude an alliance of generations. We elderly people who have often come to action slowly and late, and you who have taken the lead.

I am convinced that your vision of the righteous future and our hard lessons from the past will be united, the tide will turn. Let us continue to derive strength from each other.

Stay strong and courageous!

In solidarity,


How we can contribute to #ExtinctionRebellion

November 17, 2018

Dear friends,

In the Exodus story, the night before the children of Israel set off on their immense journey is one of wakefulness. Tomorrow is Nov 17th and I am unable to sleep.

At the Brazilian Embassy demo, roads all around were blocked and traffic diverted yet there was no attempt to communicate with all those inconvenienced, who had not the slightest idea what was happening. They knew nothing about the Rain Forest, the election of a Brazilian Fascist dictator, or even #ExtinctionRebellion.

Surely, we must do better.

Tomorrow, there will be disruption on a wide scale. Our first objective must be to make the Three Demands https://rebellion.earth/demands/ widely known.

But even this is certainly not enough. Each of us must do all we can to bring about the aims we ardently desire for the sake of humanity, life and future generations. Should we therefore ensure that we are arrested?

For many of us, this – at this time – is certainly not the best possible use of ourselves -our bodies, our minds, our hearts or our spirits.

We may even echo doubts about the whole campaign, well expressed here: https://peacenews.info/blog/9197/why-im-sceptical-about-extinction-rebellion-initiative-and-why-i-hope-im-wrong

But #ExtinctionRebellion is very clear that the purpose of the campaign is NOT that we should be arrested. Rather we should use our talents – our knowledge, experience, gifts – in the best possible way, collaborating to achieve the results we desire.

I am writing as a rabbi and my best contribution may be in writing and speaking, especially perhaps to the Jewish community, perhaps also as one representative of it. On Shabbat there will be an InterFaith gathering at the doors of Westminster Abbey at 4.00 pm, which I hope to join.

At this time I do not wish to be arrested, partly because I am sure it will not enable me to be ‘heard’ by the Jewish community, partly because ExtinctionRebellion, like Occupy before it and the Climate Camps before that, is heading for deliberate and inevitable confrontation with the State which the State will win and unless we counter-balance this in some way and most of all, prepare for it, there will be widespread disillusionment and disappointment.

There is much to do and little time to do it. We must act and think fast. Holacracy http://www.holacracy.org

the guiding principle of the campaign makes clear that there are no leaders but devolved responsibility.

It is up to us, as individuals and even more as self-organising groups, contributing to the success of the whole.

We agree about the urgent needs.

We need to develop many ways and opportunities to meet and work together, to clarify our ideas and achieve our urgent objectives. As Rob Hopkins of Transition writes:



What am I reading?

August 24, 2018

I’m hoping I can post a link here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2472202396. Maybe it will work!

Jews, Climate Change and the SDGs

July 4, 2017

I have recently come across www.mapting.org and am sufficiently excited by it that I keep returning. Please, someone, somewhere, come and help me! It is an app which links both Earth Charter and SDGs and enables photos and text to be developed. But I do not yet see how to research it, to make contact with others involved, to see what contributions have been added.

It is, however, particularly exciting to me at this moment because I am looking to work with others on Jews, Climate Change and the SDGs and this seems an ideal tool. Help!





June 20, 2017

Jewish Action on Climate Change
Job Description: Project Coordinator


Job outline:
A unique opportunity to help support and develop the UK Jewish Community response to climate change, environmental issues and social and economic justice.

On June 29th there will be a key meeting in Central London. This flexible short term post (with the possibility of an extension for flexible pro rata working over the following six months) will need good social media knowledge and IT skills (especially Excel), combined with concern for and perhaps prior involvement in the issues. Would suit graduate.

Start date: Immediate start until 7th July 2017, potential for extension up to six months
Hours: 8-10 hours per week, flexible, must be available 29th June 2017
Project fee: £500.00
Location: Homeworking, meetings in North & Central London

To apply:
Send your CV to Rabbi Jeffrey Newman at jeffrey@jnewman.org.uk
For further details, phone 07866 546 673

Hillel, Buber – and Debbie Friedman!

August 24, 2015

Hillel said:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

Buber said:
To begin with oneself but not to end with oneself.

One question, one statement: each of great importance to me. Reflecting, comparing them, it’s clear Buber (early 20th century) goes further, yet Hillel (around 100 BCE to 10 BCE) is more challenging. Is not the question form, in itself, preferable in teaching and learning?

Hillel insists that charity – caritas – begins at home; Buber assumes it and moves forward.

But this is only the first of three aphorisms from each of them.

Hillel asks another question: If I am only for myself, what am I? 

Here he moves definitively in the same direction as Buber (and, surely, it is hard to imagine that Buber was not influenced by him?)

Again, here also Hillel asks a question causing us to pause and think. As Eugene Heimler suggested, Judaism’s genius resides in posing questions: is not the Talmud essentially based upon them? Though is that not also the Socratic method?

So, where does Buber now go?
To start from oneself but not aim at oneself

Another statement with a nod to Socrates’ “Know thyself!” And here again: the move towards the Other.

Might it be that Hillel’s initial emphasis on the self also presupposes self-awareness, self-knowledge? Are the two men, at this point, though differently, suggesting very similar ways of living? They are not done, however: where next?

Hillel said: And if not now, when?

Another question, with emphasis on the immediate present but what is asked of us: reflection? Action? Whatever it might be: today is the day. Nietzsche’s eternally recurring present: Live as if the present moment were to repeat itself for ever. I Am That I Am.

So what is Buber’s third aphorism? I forgot, I could not remember. I waited with baited breath till I could check. I was so excited. Buber has been my hero for so long. I have never compared Hillel and Buber in this way before. What was Buber’s ‘clincher’ to be? What was he going to add? To comprehend oneself but not be preoccupied with oneself.

I was so disappointed. Where Hillel progresses, stage by stage, from Self, to Other to Now, Buber merely repeats himself in different words. Further, the brilliance of Hillel’s questioning is replaced with the traditional teacher’s statement by Buber.

The only compensation is my added respect for Hillel – not, to be accurate, ‘Rabbi’ Hillel, since Hillel though a teacher (together with his contemporary adversary, Shammai) predates the period of such titles (the first use of the term being about 200 CE – that is ‘Christian Era’: a terminology used by Jews who find it a bit difficult to term the current era “AD”, i.e. the year of our Lord).

That’s it for today. Except, do take the time to listen to Debbie Friedman, the gifted American artist who died so young a couple of years ago. Her setting and exposition of Hillel’s words, her ability to inspire all of us, to make us think and question and act, illuminate the text. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mT_5xoAQUUE While listening or better, even, afterwards, do take a further look at a good article on Hillel: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_the_Elder.

Oh: and you might look here also https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debbie_Friedman. I cried as I read it: I remember Debbie so well and value her contribution to Jewish life so highly…


August 22, 2015

I have been thinking about conversations between two or more people and what it is that goes on in them.

This interest has been partly stimulated by Irvin Yalom’s novel, When Nietzsche Wept, which I have just finished reading while holidaying with friends.

Sociability, of course, feeds a human need. Excluding clearly purposive interchanges such as between doctor and patient or teaching, or exchange of recipe information (though even that may in fact fulfil wider conversational needs) conversation occurs in an almost infinite variety of potential ways.

Wikipedia [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversation] helpfully groups them in four categories:

  • Conversations about subjective ideas, which often serve to extend understanding and awareness
  • Conversations about objective facts, which may serve to consolidate a widely held view.
  • Conversations about other people (usually absent), which may be either critical, competitive, or supportive. This includes gossip.
  • Conversations about oneself, which may be attention-seeking or can provide relevant information to participants in the conversation.

Might this blog be a form of conversation? Certainly any number of topics are possible and though one person starts, there is hope for response!

A 2006 article from The Economist [http://www.economist.com/node/8345491] quotes Cicero’s “On Duties” (44BC). He states that no-one has set down the rules for conversation as they have for Public Speaking and therefore is determined to do so. He is pretty comprehensive in what he covers:

“Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper”

Yalom’s novel delves into the subject rather more deeply. Based upon imaginary meetings between Lou Andreas Salomé, Josef Breuer (Freud’s mentor) and Nietzsche, it emerges from Yallom’s own vast psychotherapeutic knowledge and experience. The plot is well conceived. Nietzsche, at this time in 1882, entirely unknown, wracked by migraines and multiple symptoms is tricked by Lou into consulting with Breuer, Vienna’s leading physician.
The two men are each entrapped in their unrealised sexual fantasies – in Nietzsche’s case to Lou Andreas Salomé and in Breuer’s to Berthe Pappenheim, better known as Anna O.  Nietzsche, however, far from seeking sociability, flees from it. Why

The novel is excellently conceived both as an introduction to the early practice and theory of psychoanalysis and to the developing philosophical ideas and output of Nietzsche. It could be that Yalom’s ability as a story teller is less well developed and the novel seems to drag in places.

On the other hand, it may simply be that I wanted to return to conversation with my friends. In any case, following Cicero, I will not speak too much in case you want your turn…?

“O Word, you word that I lack”

August 21, 2015

Schoenberg’s Moses voices the agony of formulation, expression and communication. What needs or can be said – and to, or for, whom? Can God be expressed – or only addressed, as Buber suggested?

Usually once a day, normally before sleeping, for thirty years or so, I kept a handwritten diary, very often noting – and mainly ignoring – any dreams, which I’d enter on waking. Bizarrely, perhaps, I stopped when word-processing replaced writing.

The entries forced me to reflect on the day: what had happened, what was important or difficult, what was left-over and, very occasionally, how did the dreams connect. I wrote largely for me.

Sermon writing, of course, was different. Here I needed to formulate thoughts on what I believed to be important but, though beginning with myself, essentially for others. A theme might be suggested by the week’s Torah or prophetic reading or by something happening in Jewish life or global events. Rabbi Lionel Blue, when I was a student, had told me that I would not have time to write my sermon, so I had better learn how to speak from notes.

I usually began to think about a sermon around Wednesday: what would its theme be? Sometimes, little was in place even when I woke on Shabbat morning and then it was a time of terror and agony, of reading and prayer while I struggled in these last hours to pull something together. I could face the community still with uncertainties and these were not always the worst sermons.

To formulate a thought, to publish it and, if I am very fortunate, for it to be read, to receive a response – such is the opportunity of a blog. 

Two are lost in a forest and fortuitously meet one another. Now at least they know, according to the story, the false path along which they each have travelled and together can search for a new one. 

Spending the time in this way, in comparison to tweeting, seems immensely satisfying but what do I really want, or need, to say? 

Given the power of the internet, I am not really alone. Many of us journey together and provide knowledge and understanding which can be immensely valuable. What, for example, is symbolised by this forest? I ask the universe and http://www.Symbolreader.net answers richly and generously: http://bit.ly/1UWxriA

I can continue the struggle (which, after all, is the meaning of the word ‘Israel’: s/he who struggles with God) to become clearer and stronger on my own particular path – with your help. Hopefully, together we might find a new way.



Time is given into our keeping.

August 20, 2015

Paradoxically it seems that the fuller and richer the experience of a day or hour, the more intensively it is lived inasmuch as every moment is precious and special, the faster it passes. 

Surely it should be the opposite? We might expect that the emptier, the least satisfying our day, the faster it would go, rather like a deflated balloon without substance. But in such a case, time drags. 

If ‘time is given into our keeping’, we are conflicted. It might appear that the more fully and deeply we live, the more quickly therefore death hurtles towards us. But is an endless, miserable, emotionally poverty-stricken life preferable? 

What, then, is our responsibility or, as Holt (Http://www.davidholtonline.com) would have it – responsability, (distinguishing through this spelling judgement from capacity). We are responsible when we take and accept our responsability for our choices and decisions – for how we choose to live. 

‘Time is given into our keeping’, then, means that time is not something that happens to us but something in which we also play our part, every moment of every day. Here we distinguish between the circle of the natural cycle of seasons, where plants and animals live in timelessness and man’s entry into and making of history, especially through stories, the telling of deeds. 

Language, perhaps preceded by music, rhythm and etchings becomes necessary to extend our memory which of itself only stretches back at most three or four generations. Language, like time (the two of course are interwoven) is equally something which is given to us and which we also make. In doing so we both uncover and create our world. We live, therefore, in a world which we both inherit and make.

These days, though my appearance is incontrovertibly ‘Jewish’ (mainly Ashkenazi with Sephardi skin tones), there is little, it seems to me, to suggest that I am a rabbi. Neither my daily life, rituals and practice, nor my choice of language – expressions, quotations – would lead anyone to guess that, someway below the surface, Bible, Talmud, midrash, Jewish thought and practice deeply inform my thinking and action.

Over the past twenty years, the profound issues which face us all, the secular humanism which appears dominant in British society together with the shortsightedness of multiple Israeli governments have led me superficially to loosen the hold of Jewish particularism and plunge myself into the maelstrom of the present, that present in which alone can we meet “I am That I Am”, that eternal Being, the present in which (whom?) we all live. 

Of course, such a plunge carries with it both loss of the past, of ‘tradition’ and therefore the very real possibility of drowning, of losing oneself. To maintain perspective, as Hannah Arendt beautifully observes in her reflection upon Kafka’s parable “He” (see, for example, http://bit.ly/1Jkk8EJ) it is necessary to step out of time and think, which, in itself deepens our observations and enriches our experience. But death? 

Present Tense

August 17, 2015

I need to be engaged in something I consider worthwhile, preferably with others. The question is, what might that be? 

This time of the year has always been critical – endings and beginnings. As a school child and then at University, it was the hiatus, the moment the year (rather than in December) really turned. But then, as a community rabbi, the annual cycle of readings closed at the end of Deuteronomy and began again just after the New Year in, usually, September and the Day of Atonement, the great annual Fast of Reflection.

So I have been accustomed to rethinking at this time just what I am about. What am I doing here, on this earth and what do I want to do? 

Officially, I am ‘retired’, which means that I have the great good fortune to be able to make choices. Family can be priority but also an excuse, an easy option to avoid having to make those choices. So? 

Clearly, as everyone else, I am ageing. Again, this existential fact may act as a point of inspiration and exploration or another evasion but undoubtedly I now experience time very differently. Without the daily pressure – these days ‘too little’ is more usual than ‘too much’ – each moment provides immense opportunities in which the multiplicity of possibilities can be paralysing and filled by anxiety or my iPad, as now.

But here I want to open my personal dilemmas. Perhaps the universe will respond. 

I am available and need to be needed but it seems, (I write knowing how limiting is this egoism) that though there is so much that I, anyone, could usefully do – visiting, gardening, exercise, reading to young or old – each of these raises within me such a strong antipathy that surely they are not what is asked of me at this time.

Over these past few years – perhaps since the sixties but occasionally it seems the roots go back very much further – I have been deeply concerned in what we are doing to our Earth and to one another. As I write this, immediately I know I’m on the right track: this is where my heart lies. Is there a possibility of my making a practical contribution?

The www.EarthCharter.org appeared for some years, and still does, as the best summation of values and principles that exists. It provides a present version of classical teachings. It is insufficiently known and I would, for sure, go anywhere if asked to teach it. To do so would be a joy.

Through it, I was lucky enough to meet with Peter Head http://ecosequestrust.org/our-people/executive-team/ who is Founder and CEO of www.EcoSequestrust.org (TEST for short). If there were an opportunity to work alongside or within this visionary project which wishes to help transform city-regions, I would gladly do so.

Recently, http://www.chilternsociety.org.uk asked me to help establish a new Heritage Group, certainly a worthwhile and exciting project and we are beginning to make progress.

Finally, I write articles, when I can, especially when asked. I tweet and perhaps now I may even ‘blog’. Could this provide the link which holds the strands together? At this point, there is also the possibility of a talk emerging out of the work of http://davidholtonline.com for the http://www.jungclub-london.org. This, if it should take place, may be in two parts: “Encountering David Holt” and “Holt and the Future”.

Surely, that is enough and provided the balance works out, it sure is. But it can’t be all writing. If anyone looks at this….