Just occasionally someone brings so much light to others. Fitting to consider this as we gear up for Chanukah. Just occasionally someone dies who has changed the world around them.
Rabbi Lionel Blue did that. He did that through modelling the struggles of his own life. But he also did that by reaching for the simple and strong ways of talking about life, and making meaning from the mundane. The first openly gay rabbi, he opened so much for so many. I was with Rabbi Danny Freelander in New York on Monday and he asked why the British obituaries were talking so much about him being gay. He was surprised even shocked why that was of interest and why it was not intrusive. He changed everything I explained. And he was open about it.
Lionel was my teacher. He taught us pastoral theology, God and being a rabbi. Every session was full. Some were in his home in Cornwall Avenue off Ballards Lane. We would sit on his chintz chairs and eat copious biscuits while Jim, his long term partner, sometimes cooked.
Lionel loved talking about becoming a rabbi and his mother’s dismay, I worked hard to leave the ghetto and you have gone right back into it ..”
He found ways to make one feel better about life; If a dish doesn't turn out right, change the name and don't bat an eyelid. A fallen soufflé is only a risen omelette. It depends on the self-confidence with which you present it.
Rabbi Margaret Jacobi captured the profundity Lionel often touched in his simple and clear way. She questioned the obituary by Stephen Bates in The Guardian who wrote that ‘…[H]is thoughts were seldom profound…(20th December 2016) but ( wrote Rabbi Jacobi) he makes the sadly common mistake of thinking that simple thoughts cannot be profound. In fact, one of Lionel Blue’s great gifts was to express profound truths in simple and accessible ways. Generations of rabbis … saw Lionel Blue as a great teacher who opened up a world of deep spirituality with a light touch, and without taking himself seriously.
His legacy is that simplicity can be the deepest form of spirituality. And joy brings so much. He is deeply mourned, the rabbi’s rabbi and voice of encouragement for so many on so many mornings for so many years.
To be so loved and to enable and empower so many by the struggles one has in one's own life is a true gift.
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom for this unusual weekend of Christmas and Chanukah colliding.