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Rabbi Lionel Blue
Interview: Rabbi Lionel Blue
Rabbi Lionel Blue has attracted a wealth of fans over the 25 years he has been contributing to BBC Radio 4's Thought For The Day, with his compassionate and humorous offerings. He spoke to Louise Priest ahead of an appearance in Holt.
Rabbi Lionel Blue has been inspiring listeners to BBC Radio 4 for the past quarter of the century on the station's popular Thought For The Day slot.
He says his aim has always been to help people get out of bed in the morning with his gently humorous and thought-provoking observations.
The 67-year-old Oxford graduate has written a number of books on faith and spirituality, but didn't turn to God until he attended a Quaker meeting while at university.
On Wednesday, 31 October, 2007 he appeared at Holt's Auden Theatre to talk about his life, religion and broadcasting career. Ahead of the Audience With-style evening, he spoke to Louise Priest.
Were you brought up in a religious family?
I was brought up by my pious Jewish grandmother who came to England at the end of the 19th century and taught me kindness and the commandments and how to cook!
Did you always know your career would be religious?
Granny said if you pray for something with all your might then God would grant it. I prayed for the speedy demise of Herr Hitler and Oswald Mosley and then saw in the paper a picture of both flourishing like a bay tree. So I went to march with the Reds with my uncle instead!
I got back religion when I was 20 and at Oxford. I felt down as things with my girlfriend didn't seem right. I sheltered from a storm in a doorway of a house. I was invited in to find it was a Quaker meeting house.
I was invited to stay for the evening with the farmers who always met on a Thursday as they were busy with their cattle on Sundays! Gradually the Quaker message got through to me. Something seemed to change in me.
It's as if my problems turned inside out - I realised the worldly minuses could be my spiritual pluses. Through my problems I leant how to be compassionate and kind.
Was it a natural thing to assume you would become a rabbi?
When I told my mother I was becoming a rabbi she was silent at the end of the phone. I thought it was because she was speechless with happiness.
Then she said, "Lionel, you're doing this to spite us! All our life, your father and I have worked our fingers to the bone to get you out of the ghetto. What do you do? You go off to Oxford then jump right back into it again, you should be ashamed of yourself!".
I think she got used to it in the end.
How did the broadcasting begin?
I was working in Belgium when I got a call from a former congregation who had been chosen as part of a Down Your Way type of feature and they needed a rabbi for the recording.
I came back from Belgium, being sick all the way back on the ferry and although the BBC interview went ok I thought that would be it.
I was very surprised a few weeks later to get a letter asking me to do one of the God slots.
I found that the secret of radio religion is if you're prepared to be really honest and say what is really in your mind and not what ought to be or what other people think ought to be in your mind, it's ok.
In praying God said to me, "Lionel, don't get high ideas above yourself. Your job is very simple... to help people get out of bed in those horrid winter months and give them enough spiritual sympathy that they don't want to dive back under their duvets again".
last updated: 01/11/07