Be­ing gay helped him get close to God

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

THERE ARE not many rab­bis whose trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence oc­curred at a gay sauna in Am­s­ter­dam. How­ever, there are very few rab­bis like Lionel Blue. Blue, known as the gen­tly avun­cu­lar voice of Ra­dio 4’s Thought For the Day, was the first Bri­tish rabbi to come out pub­licly as gay. His gay­ness has pre­sented him with re­li­gious and emo­tional chal­lenges but also has en­abled him to es­tab­lish his own re­li­gious phi­los­o­phy, which he has shared with Ra­dio 4 lis­ten­ers and now with read­ers in the form of a new book, The God­seeker’s Guide.

In it, he re­lates how as a young man he trav­elled to Am­s­ter­dam where he was free to fol­low his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. How­ever, even in Europe’s most lib­eral city he still felt shack­led. Blue, who now lives with his part­ner of 25 years in more se­date Finch­ley, re­calls: “What fi­nally per­suaded me to come out with the whole busi­ness was when the lady who man­aged the sauna that I used to go to con­tracted can­cer. She died and I found out that the fu­neral was the next day. Be­cause of who she was I felt I daren’t go. I later dis­cov­ered that hardly any­one turned up — they all had the same prob­lem I did. My in­ner voice told me I couldn’t use re­li­gion as a get out. I knew that if I car­ried on this way I would be liv­ing a false life. So I came out in the open with it.”

Blue feels that his gay­ness helped him to get in touch with this in­ner voice — his per­sonal con­nec­tion with God. “If the an­swers to your prob­lems lie out­side the Jewish tra­di­tion, then you have to lis­ten to your own in­ner voice,” he says. This res­onates well with his ra­dio “con­gre­ga­tion” — a dis­parate group of peo­ple who want, claims Blue, “not re­li­gion, but God”.

This dif­fer­ence of em­pha­sis is what Blue, now 80, feels marks him out from many in the main­stream Jewish world. “Ju­daism in Europe has re­built it­self so far as things like syn­a­gogues, in­sti­tu­tions, rab­bis, classes etc, but God is a kind of un­touched area at the cen­tre which is too hot to han­dle — per­haps as a re­sult of the Holo­caust, we have been forced to ask ques­tions about where God was when this was hap­pen­ing.”

Blue first con­fronted his faith as a child. His grand­mother told him that were he to pray for some­thing which was for the gen­eral good, the prayer would be an­swered. So he prayed for the speedy demise of both Adolf Hitler and Bri­tish fas­cist Oswald Mosley, only to open a copy of the Daily Her­ald sev­eral weeks later to see them both “flour­ish­ing like the bay tree”.

His faith shaken, he took on the Com­mu­nist al­le­giance of his un­cle only to ditch that too. “Their an­swer was that ev­ery­thing would be solved come the revo­lu­tion. I didn’t re­ally be­lieve that ei­ther,” he says.

But still he searched for the an­swer. The stark dis­cov­ery of his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity while he was a stu­dent at Ox­ford led him to at­tempt sui­cide. Dur­ing that time he searched for the an­swer in Chris­tian­ity but pulled back, partly be­cause he had prob­lems with Chris­tian scrip­tures, and partly be­cause his mother threat­ened to take her own life if he em­braced the re­li­gion.

In­stead he found his “in­ner voice” — which told him that his prob­lems might ac­tu­ally be op­por­tu­ni­ties — and un­der­went a form of ex­treme Freudian psy­cho­anal­y­sis.Thatal­lowed him to go on to be­come a Re­form Rabbi and later a broad­caster. How­ever, when the call came from the BBC, he thought they may have con­tacted the wrong per­son. “At the time there was a Rabbi Green who was much bet­ter known than me so I won­dered if they had the right colour. But they said, no, they wanted Blue, so I said OK.”

It was on the way to that first broad­cast that his in­ner voice again spoke to him. He had in­tended to speak about “the Jewish prob­lem” but changed his mind on the way to the stu­dio. “This was at a time when the pound was go­ing down and peo­ple were ex­pect­ing re­dun­dancy notices ev­ery day. My in­ner voice told me: ‘Lionel, your job is very sim­ple. On a cold win­ter’s morn­ing in a de­pres­sion your job is to help peo­ple get out of bed and give them enough strength that they don’t dive straight back un­der the cov­ers’. It was that sim­ple. Hu­mour is the un­of­fi­cial scrip­ture of Jewish life. It takes away the anger and bit­ter­ness and re­places it with kind­ness and char­ity. That was the scrip­ture my au­di­ence could ac­cept.

‘The God­seeker’s Guide’ is pub­lished by Con­tin­uum at £9.99

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Lionel Blue at­tempted sui­cide when he dis­cov­ered he was gay

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