Rabbi David Goldberg obituary

Other lives: Respected congregational rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, in St John’s Wood, London

David Goldberg, who has died aged 80, was a respected congregational rabbi at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, in St John’s Wood, London, for more than three decades. He had a great love for his heritage. His prodigious knowledge of Tanakh – scripture – was flawless and his innovative study sessions after Friday night synagogue services were akin to university courses. At the same time, he was a maverick who was not afraid to express trenchant views on the conduct of successive Israeli governments.

He was the first Anglo-Jewish commentator to call for recognition of legitimate Palestinian rights, in an article in the Times in 1978, and was the first rabbi to initiate gatherings of Jews, Christians and Muslims at Regent’s Park mosque. He was the first Jew to recite Kaddish (the mourners’ prayer) in Westminster Abbey – at the memorial gathering for Lord (Yehudi) Menuhin in 1999. In the same year he was awarded the gold medal of the International Council of Christians and Jews and in 2004 he was appointed OBE for services to interfaith work.

Born in the East End of London and raised in Manchester, David was the eldest of three children of Rabbi Percy Goldberg, who led a large Reform congregation in Manchester, and his wife, Frimette (nee Yudt).

David was educated at Manchester grammar school, Oxford University, Trinity College, Dublin and Leo Baeck College, a rabbinical seminary in London. He was ordained in 1971 and in 1975 he joined the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, where he was senior rabbi from 1986 until his retirement in 2004. I became a member of his congregation there in 1991.

The journalist Martin Woollacott, who knew David from their school days, observes that he was “far from starry-eyed about Palestinian people – I have heard him let rip sharp condemnations of both their moral and practical failings, but that didn’t alter the broader judgment on the rights and wrongs of the situation”.

David’s many passions included cricket; he was the first rabbi to have had an article published in Wisden and to have been interviewed on BBC Radio’s Test Match Special. His love of Chekhov inspired him to write a screenplay, A Twig from the Cherry Orchard, about his trip to Russia in 1990 to visit emerging Jewish communities, and to see Chekhov’s birthplace.

He wrote five books: The Jewish People: Their History and Their Religion (1989, with Rabbi John Rayner); To the Promised Land: A History of Zionist Thought (1996); The Divided Self: Israel and the Jewish Psyche Today (2005); This is Not the Way: Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel (2012); and The Story of the Jews (2014).

Despite his decades of criticism of Israeli policy, he rejected BDS - Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – against Israel. His favourite quote came from Theodor Herzl: “Things never work out as well as we hope or as badly as we fear.”

David is survived by his wife, Carole (nee Marks), whom he married in 1969, their son, Rupert, and daughter, Emily, a grandson, Oscar, and his brother, Jonathan, and sister, Sandra.

Carol Gould

The GuardianTramp

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