How Liberal Judaism book changed artist Caroline’s life

By Doreen Wachmann

ARTIST Caroline Kaye, who is currently exploring the effect of Christian institutionalised antisemitism upon 19th century art, was not born Jewish.

Although she converted to Liberal Judaism 30 years ago, Caroline is still puzzled as to why “people should be drawn to a religion that others seem to hate”.

She said: “Becoming Jewish has not brought me any material advantages. I lost friends through it.

“For everybody who chooses Judaism, sometimes that choice can be hard, certainly at the moment with the huge Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which I have seen on campus.

“Antisemitism is not a biological or racial thing. It’s cultural. Anybody associated with or sympathetic to Judaism is going to be targeted.

“I certainly have experienced antisemitism with the use of the State of Israel as a reason.”

So why did Caroline convert to Judaism? She is not absolutely sure.

She said: “It was something I felt I had to do. I felt that it was right. I didn’t do it for marriage although I had a Jewish boyfriend at the time.”

Although she was not brought up in a particularly Christian home, Caroline did choose to go to church as a child.

She said: “I was interested in the ideas. I used to enjoy Sunday school. I enjoyed discussion and debate.

“But I decided when I was about 16 that I didn’t really believe in Christianity any more and I certainly didn’t believe that Jesus was God.

“I had a very questioning mind. It didn’t feel right. I started to investigate other religions.”

That was when her Jewish friend at Liverpool Polytechnic, where Caroline was studying fine art, gave her the book, The Path of Life — A Study of the Background, Faith and Practice of Liberal Judaism by Vivian Simmons, which changed her life.

She said: “It was a wonderful book, uplifting and very positive. I was very drawn to it.

“That was one of the pushes on me to make the decision to become Jewish.”

When she went to London for her Liberal conversions, one of the rabbis told her that the author’s wife was a member of his congregation and that she was delighted to hear about the effect of her husband’s book.

Caroline said: “That was a wonderful coincidence. It shows how God connects us up.

“I constantly get these little affirmations. We are all connected in so many interesting ways.”

More recently, Caroline had her DNA tested and discovered she did have Jewish blood in her veins, through a male relative of her mother.

She said: “Now I know there is a Jewish connection, it has settled something for me, answered a number of questions.

“I have found many people who have chosen Judaism and later found out that they are descended in some way from Jews.”

Six years ago, Caroline took early retirement from her career as an artist and head of art at Southport’s King George V College to take an MA at Manchester University’s Centre for Jewish Studies.

She said: “I am on a new journey. I left the teaching world and became a student again. It is very, very interesting. I hope to be able to offer something fresh to the academic community and also to the Jewish community.”

At the Centre for Jewish Studies, she met a Polish scholar from mixed Christian and Jewish parentage, who was writing a thesis on the current rate of conversions from Christianity to Judaism in Poland.

Many of these converts also have Jewish blood in their veins.

At the Manchester Centre for Jewish Studies, Caroline also found herself studying alongside Orthodox rabbis Daniel Walker, of Manchester’s Heaton Park Hebrew Congregation, and Manchester-born Aaron Lipsey, of Newcastle United Hebrew Congregation.

Caroline said: “It’s lovely to work alongside Orthodox rabbonim.

“It’s really good to hear other people’s thoughts. We are all aware of all the technical difficulties between the Orthodox and the Progressives.

“But, in practice I find that Orthodox ministers and rabbis have very good hearts. They can see sincerity when it’s placed in front of them.

“They treat people as they wish to be treated. I have not experienced anything negative. I feel quite comfortable with Orthodox rabbis.”

In Southport, Caroline loves attending Rev Yigal Wachmann’s fortnightly Chumash Rashi shiur.

She said: “I am absolutely fascinated with the Bible, in particular with the book of Genesis which we are doing at Yigal’s shiur at the Southport Rest Home. It is fascinating. I am asking and answering new questions.”

She added: “Certainly in Southport, where it’s a small community the two synagogues, Orthodox and Reform, co-operate quite a lot for social events and shared notices.

“Yigal’s shiur is open to everybody. People love it. He is so open and so welcoming. I look forward to it. I have lots of Orthodox friends. I am surrounded by Orthodox Jews. I am comfortable with them.”

For her PhD, Caroline is focusing on the effect of Christian institutionalised antisemitism on 19th century art, concentrating on the painting, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt.

Hunt went to then-Palestine to depict Jews for his painting of the New Testament scene in which the young Jesus was debating with the Temple elders.

Caroline said: “It is a worthwhile scene from a Jewish perspective because everybody in the painting, including the so-called Holy Family, are all Jews. Hunt sought out Jews as models to paint from.”

The model for Mary was the wife of prominent London Jew Frederick Moccatta.

Holt was also advised on how to depict Jewish items by Jewish pre-Raphaelite Simeon Solomon, who painted “beautiful pictures of rabbis,” according to Caroline.

Caroline, who received the Bernard Jackson Prize for her MA studies, has talked about antisemitism and art in Southport and has other similar talks planned.

© 2017 Jewish Telegraph