Kent Liberal Jewish Community - Ohel Rachel - is a Progressive Jewish community welcoming all Jews, including those with non-Jewish partners and Jews by choice. Formed in 1991, we have around 50 members living in all parts of Kent. We are a registered charity and are affiliated to Liberal Judaism, a national organisation with 10,000 members in 35 constituent congregations.
Services are held monthly in Maidstone on Shabbat mornings as well as for Jewish festivals followed by a generous kiddush. Occasional Erev Shabbat services are held in members' homes on Friday nights followed by a bring and share meal. A portable Library with a wide collection of books and CDs is available. A bi-monthly Newsletter is circulated to members.
In our services, everyone sits together, men, women and children. Men and women participate as equals in all aspects of the service. Services are usually conducted by a Ba’al/Ba’alat Tefillah (lay leader) or by a visiting Rabbi or student Rabbi. Part of the service is read in English and part in Hebrew so that everyone can follow. Transliterations of the Hebrew are available. We use the Liberal Judaism prayer book Siddur Lev Chadash, which has parallel texts of Hebrew and modern gender-inclusive English, together with original English passages.
Mitzvot - lighting the candles, opening the ark, reading and so on - are carried out by members and are arranged in advance.
KLJC is an egalitarian community, men and women may, if they wish, wear a kippah (skull cap) and tallit (prayer shawl), but these are not compulsory. Otherwise, there is no dress code.
One snowy weekend in 1990, a group of interested Jews from all parts of Kent, all strangers to one another, met in Rochester to listen to speakers from the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (now known as Liberal Judaism) talking about their Outreach Programme and the possibility of starting a congregation in Kent.
On 17th November 1991 a resolution was passed formally setting up the Community. Since then we have developed steadily.
We hold most of our services at a regular venue in central Maidstone, chosen because it is easily accessible from all parts of the county. Our Torah scroll is kept in a portable Ark, all made or donated by members. We are very much a ‘hands on’ Community.
Sadly, we lost our inspirational Chairman and founder member, Hazel Bishop, in February 2011. In her honour and memory, we have renamed our Community: Kent Liberal Jewish Community – Ohel Rachel. Ohel Rachel (Rachel’s tent), Rachel being Hazel's Hebrew name. It is our aim that the Community should continue to flourish as her memorial.
We hold celebrations and ceremonies for all steps in the Jewish life cycle, including:
Bnei Mitzvot for adults as well as youngsters.
Marriage and Golden Wedding blessings.
Members are entitled to join the Liberal Judaism Burial Scheme which covers the right to be buried in one of the Liberal Judaism cemeteries at Edgwarebury or Cheshunt. It does not cover the cost of a funeral. For those wishing to be buried locally, there is a specifically Jewish area in Chatham municipal cemetery. Most other municipal cemeteries in Kent have unconsecrated areas which bereaved families may find appropriate for a Jewish burial. Alternatively, Liberal Judaism, unlike the Orthodox, has no objection to cremation. Woodland burials are also available.
Cheder is a monthly religion school for children led by a qualified Cheder teacher, and is held at the same time as Shabbat morning services. Our Cheder meets on average once a month whilst the community Shabbat morning service takes place. We have a “one class Cheder” - children ranging in ages 5 - 12 years of age. We learn about the festivals, Jewish life and we do try to use biblical Hebrew wherever practical. It is an unusual Cheder in many ways - one class, one teacher, but those involved are enthusiastic about Jewish education. The aim of the Cheder is to provide our children with a flavour of Jewish life and hopefully a life-long commitment. We seek to encourage engagement with other Jewish children and to experience Judaism in a positive and enjoyable way. We believe that even with the limited time available we provide opportunities for a positive Jewish experience.
Full membership is open to men and women of the Jewish faith (as defined by Liberal Judaism) over 18 who subscribe to the principles and objects of Liberal Judaism and of the Community. To learn more about Liberal Jewish principles and values, please visit liberaljudaism.org.
Associate Membership is open to men and women over 18 who have a significant personal connection to Judaism (such as a close family connection to the applicant for full membership, or enrolment on a course of study leading to conversion to Judaism) and who subscribe to the principles and objects of Liberal Judaism and of the Community.
The only difference between Full and Associate membership is that the offices of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer, and three of the six further Committee places, are reserved to Full Members.
Each membership application must be approved by the Committee, and a subscription must be paid, before the applicant is admitted to membership.
The annual subscription for Full or Associate members in 2015/16 is £235 for a family and £125 for an individual (£200 and £105 respectively for those aged 65 or over).
The Family subscription rate is open to two Full or Associate members forming a single household and may include children under the age of 18.
It is our policy that no-one shall be prevented from joining solely for financial reasons. In appropriate cases, subscriptions may be paid by instalments or reduced if necessary.
If you are Jewish and thinking about joining and want to find out if we are right for you, then come and meet us. We welcome guests for services, but please contact us in advance so that we can make sure we are on hand to answer any questions you might have.
Thinking about conversion? People choose to become Jewish for many different reasons. Some came to Judaism after a long spiritual search. Many people who eventually convert had their interest sparked because of a romantic relationship with someone Jewish. Among the reasons most given by people who do convert are:
Judaism has sensible religious beliefs.
Becoming Jewish allows the convert to share the faith of the partner.
Becoming Jewish makes the family religiously united.
Becoming Jewish will make it easier for children by giving them a clear religious identity.
Think about your own reasons. Remember, conversion must be your own free choice, not done because of pressure, but out of a genuine desire to embrace Judaism. You may find this helpful.
If and when you feel ready to take the next step, we will put you in touch with a Liberal Rabbi who will discuss the issues with you before you decide whether to enrol for a course of study leading to conversion. Part of the conversion process involves regular attendance at services.
We are one of the five Jewish communities in the county which come under the umbrella of Jewish Kent. See jewishkent.org.uk for more details about the Jewish communities around Kent. Jewish Kent aims to hold two intercommunity events annually.