Friday 6 February 2015

Rabbi of Kindness

We spent much of the late 1980s living in a red-brick terraced house in Newcastle Upon Tyne in the North of England.We didn't have a television, there was no WWW yet, let alone youtube, netflix and 500 other sorts of media fix.  But we did have the wireless which we used to flick restlessly back and forth between BBC Radio 4 (current affairs) and Radio 3 (classical music) and BBC Off (go and read a book or ferment another gallon of hooch from some unlikely source). For a couple of minutes every weekday morning at around breakfast time, BBC-R4 broadcast Thought for the Day which was a smaller sound-bytier version of Alistair Cooke's Letter From America. T4tD's brief was "Reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news" which was shared out among a regular stable people who thought they had something to say about such weighty matter.  The BBC wouldn't allow directly religious rants because they knew that their listeners were muslims, methodists, sikhs, hindus, jews and non-believers and nobody wanted a post-bag full of complaints from Offended of Bradford or Outraged, Tunbridge Wells. The majority of contributors were clerics of various denominations. So long as they stayed off preaching, the contributors seemed to be able to talk about whatever was rattling their chain that day - so long as their piece could be edited down to less than  200 seconds.  It was a bit anodyne really; what's the point if you're never tempted to roar across the kitchen to switch . . . that  . . . bugger  . . . off!  Indeed I'd forgotten I ever listened to the programme as I got ready for work in my first proper job.

But it turns out that today is Rabbi Lionel Blue's 85th birthday [L laughing with the vicar].  He was a regular contributor to the programme back then and he was quietly funny, modest and compassionate.  His anecdotes hinged on simple things: kindness, the dissipation of anger, honesty, grief.  Hearing him often made me feel a little less ashamed to be human. You can catch him on youtube: 1) talking about finding compassion among quakers which led him from being a young, angry, confused and self-absorbed gay man to become a rabbi - indeed the first openly gay rabbi in Britain. The sound isn't great but the heart is big - make this your must-hear for the weekend. 2) about fluffing one of his T4tDs.  Here's one of his jokes: "Be warned by this minister who had to sit in a train next to a drunk reading a newspaper. ‘What’s gout?’ the drunk ­suddenly shouted. The minister saw his chance for a quick ­conversion. ‘Gout’, he said, ‘is a disease brought on by booze, gluttony and sex.’ ‘Well,’ said the drunk, ‘it says here that the bishop’s got it.’ "
Yarmulkes off!

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