Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black was born in London 1958. He grew up in a committed Progressive Jewish family and always wanted to be a rabbi. He attended a large orthodox Jewish day school, The Jewish Free School, because there was then no Progressive Jewish day school, and it had excellent engineering facilities! There he experienced orthodox Judaism, which reinforced for him the values of his own Progressive tradition.
His parents encouraged him to be an engineer, and he spent two years at Brunel University studying Production Technology before working as a stores and systems manager and buyer, first in plastics, then furniture. He was accepted into a five-year course for rabbinic training at the Leo Baeck College in London, which included nine months study in Jerusalem and six months working at North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney, Australia. Apart from his time in Israel, one of his most significant influences was attending the annual Jewish Christian Muslim conference held in Germany.
On being ordained in 1988, Rabbi Jonathan took up a position at the Hertsmere Progressive Synagogue, in Elstree near London, where he remained for 15 years. He was involved in establishing a unique pluralist Jewish primary school, the Clore Shalom School, which opened in 1995. His attention then turned to assist with a secondary school, JCoSS, established along the same unique lines, which opened in 2009. These schools have contributed to changing the face of Jewish schooling in the UK. (The first principal of JCoSS was later appointed to Bialik College in Melbourne, extending the impact of this pluralist approach to Jewish education to Melbourne).
Rabbi Jonathan married Sue in 1980, and they have two children, Mia and Ada. He and his family moved to Melbourne, Australia in 2003 where he took up his position at the Leo Baeck Centre.
Rabbi Jonathan was instrumental in establishing the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia, a thriving organisation which runs residential conferences, schools’ programs and other events. In June 2007, Rabbi Jonathan spoke at an interfaith seminar in Canberra with the Dalai Lama on ‘Paths to Peace’. Jonathan received the “Premier’s Award for Community Harmony’ on behalf of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia from then Victorian Premier John Brumby. In August 2007 and again in 2019 Jonathan gave a keynote lecture for the Common Dreams conference on Progressive Religions in Sydney.
Rabbi Jonathan has been very involved in environmental work including building an environmentally sustainable underground home in London and the trialling of a car run on compressed natural gas, charged nightly from the gas main. Here in Australia he built a ‘Seven Star Energy-and Water-Efficient show home’ after establishing JECO, the Jewish Ecological Coalition. In 2010, he was instrumental in establishing GreenFaith Australia, now a part of the ARRCC, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, bringing his environmental and interfaith passions together. Rabbi Jonathan remains active in the attempts to stop coal mining in Australia and particularly the ‘Stop Adani’ campaign.
In 2011 Rabbi Jonathan was involved in the establishment of J-CAM – Jewish Community Arts and Media Australia, and in 2012 assisted in the setting up of J-AIR, Jewish Internet Radio. This helped lay the seeds for the new Jewish precinct being constructed in Elsternwick.
As the team leader on the Mishkan T’filah World Union Edition Prayer book launched in 2010, Rabbi Jonathan has been a key player in the production of all the current liturgy used by LBC. and throughout the Progressive communities of Australasia and South Africa, and subsequently worked on the Netzer Siddur and the Weekday Evening Prayer book versions. Following this, he led the development of the Mishkan T’shuvah High Holy Day Machzor Prayer Books introduced across our region in 2019. He plays guitar and sometimes accompanies the services.
Rabbi Jonathan has made and edited films for many years, and after ordination, he was the part-time Media Consultant for the Centre for Jewish education in London. With the advent of the Coronavirus, he has updated his media skills and has developing systems to produce services and other materials to help support and educate not only the LBC but the wider community.
If he ever has any leisure time, Rabbi Jonathan enjoys reading (with a reading group he has been part of since 1986) and musical theatre, or demonstrating in support of the environment, aboriginal rights or refugees.