Rabbi Sacks: Top Educators Reflect On Their First Yahrzeit

“Benjy, we must realize that the key to a successful Jewish education is nurturing and maintaining positive and meaningful relationships with our students. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks told me these words when I interviewed him in his office more than 25 years ago when doing research for my master’s thesis, and how true they are. Whether we know him personally or not, Sacks had an influence on many of us. One year after his death, we are all in mourning for that special relationship we had with him.

Whether through his radio shows and newspaper articles or his lectures and books, when Sacks spoke, the world listened and took notice. Whether fighting anti-Semitism in the House of Lords or defending Israel on social media, Sacks elegantly and articulatedly presented Jewish opinion or Israeli perspective. We have lost the clear and powerful voice of Sacks that gave us so much pride, clarity and confidence.

Sacks was not only the chief rabbi of Anglo-Saxon Jews and the British Commonwealth, but he became the chief rabbi of Judaism in the international arena; like our ancestor Abraham, he spread the message of faith and monotheism to all mankind. Sacks was the ambassador of Judaism to the world. In that role, he is incomparable and irreplaceable.

As we commemorate the first anniversary of his death, The Jerusalem Report He spoke with four leading international Jewish educators to hear about their personal memories of Sacks.

Rabbi Dr. Raphael Zarum is the dean of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS, formerly Jewish College), where Rabbi Sacks was president and taught for more than 40 years. It says that “Rabbi Sacks wanted to make the Torah accessible and Judaism meaningful to fully modern people. It was a rav for our time. He understood the challenges of living as a committed Jew and spoke the language of the people.

    Rabbi Sacks on LSJS graduation day (credit: LSJS) Rabbi Sacks on LSJS graduation day (credit: LSJS)

“Rabbi Sacks was a master at encouraging others and helping them progress,” says Zarum. “I remember one Sunday morning she took the time to call me and tell me how much her mother had enjoyed a shiur that I had given her on Shabbat in her community. I thought to myself, if I got this call from him, how many more is he calling to thank them for what they have done? And this was the chief rabbi! He always made us challenge ourselves, asking ourselves: what will you do now? What is your next project?

“In one of his latest books, Morality, he writes about the influence his early experiences as a young community rabbi had on him. He said he learned more about morality by conducting funerals than in his studies at Oxford and Cambridge. When mourners described the deceased, they never did so in terms of fame, wealth, and work. Instead, they talked about their love for family and community, giving charity and helping others. This, he said, is what really matters.

“Rabbi Sacks was a genius in speaking of the moment. He was a master speaker, which made the Torah relevant and engaging. But he was not looking for blind followers, he wanted us to engage with his ideas, think about them and discuss them. He wanted us to discover our own ways.

“When I had personal leadership challenges, I would talk to Rabbi Sacks. If he was stuck or hurt, I would turn to him to reflect and analyze how to respond. He always inspired me and gave me chizuk (strength). It taught me that despite all the difficulties of being a leader, you must learn from the past, get up, and move on. ‘Never give up!’ would say. I think he believed in us, his students, more than we believed in ourselves.

“In 2004, Rabbi Sacks was very involved in the rebirth of LSJS. Together with Marc Weinberg, myself, and a group of young leaders, Rabbi Sacks gave us the trust and unwavering support we needed to make LSJS the success it is now, as a recognized center for teacher training and adult education. . He guided us on what to teach, how to teach it, and how to continually improve.

“I will never forget the bustle in the room before his annual pre-Rosh Hashanah conference at LSJS. What was I going to say this year? He brought the Torah to life, made ideas matter. Who else could do that on a rainy Tuesday afternoon?

    Rabbi Sacks with Gila Fine (credit: Courtesy) Rabbi Sacks with Gila Fine (credit: Courtesy)

Zarum concludes: “Rabbi Sacks taught us the power of ideas and that Judaism meant living meaningfully and thoughtfully. That the Torah still has much more to teach us about life, the universe and everything. He inspired us to make a difference, for us, our community, Am Yisrael and the world. “

Gila Fine, a popular lecturer and writer, who edited 16 of Rabbi Sacks’ books and helped launch it in Israel, recalls her first encounter with him. “What impressed me the most was their kindness, perhaps because I least expected it. I expected to meet an intellectual giant. I did not expect to meet a true tzaddik. In fact, until that day, he didn’t believe that people could be both. No one, I thought, could be such a great saint and such a brilliant scholar. And then I met Rabbi Sacks.

“Behind the majesty and the greatness, the deep philosophy and the inspiring Torah, the booming voice and the yellow ribbons, there was a man. A man who, to paraphrase a quote that Rabbi Sacks loved, might have been born great, might have had greatness imposed on him, but whose greatness was ultimately something he accomplished. A man who worked harder, who tried harder than anyone I’d ever met. A man who had struggled and, having known vulnerability himself, was extremely sensitive to the vulnerability of others.

“For each of his lectures by thousands of people and appearances in the media, there was a private conversation in which, unreported or acknowledged, Rabbi Sacks gave himself to others in need. He comforted the afflicted, he led the lost, he supported the desolate, and he comforted the lonely.

“I remember, in one of our conversations, I lamented how we Jews have downplayed love, how we let Christianity strip us of this fundamental religious value. Always upbeat Rabbi Sacks said, ‘Don’t worry, Gila; we will return the love. ‘ That was Rabbi Sacks. A caring and compassionate leader. Much has been written, much will still be written, about Rabbi Sacks, the towering philosopher, the influential chief rabbi, the ultimate Jewish spokesman. But for me, Rabbi Sacks will always be the man who returned love, ”Fine concludes.

Rabbi Alex Israel, author and popular educator says: “I never met Rabbi Sacks without him challenging me to do more, to be more for the Jewish world. Rabbi Sacks had a deep belief that Judaism could raise all of us as individuals, as Jews, as a society, and as a global community. His legacy is beautifully expressed in his writings.

“His messages are multiple and it is impossible to reduce them to a single sound fragment. But I would certainly want us to study Torah, live our Judaism more deeply, while feeling the presence of God that prompts us to greater action, greater mutual understanding and kindness, ”Israel believes.

Tanya White, Professor of Tanach and Jewish Thought, ”when asked about the impact Rabbi Sacks had on me as an educator, the answer is simple:“ He taught me that education is not a profession or a career choice. Education is the whole framework on which not only Judaism is found, but the world ”.

White continues: “Rabbi Sacks not only educated, he turned us all into educators. Not only did he lead, he made us all leaders. He was not just a man of unbridled faith, he transformed that faith into a moral imperative that inspires others to act. “

White says that as an educator, Sacks’ last written words are his eternal legacy:

“We will not complete the journey; therefore, it inspires others to continue what we started ”. (Ideas that change the life of Judaism)

White concludes: “There is no question that this ‘life-changing idea’ is something he accomplished on an incalculable scale. I, for one, can no longer determine where Rabbis Sacks ideas end and where my ideas begin. I have absorbed his teachings to such an extent that they are an intrinsic part of who I am. To this end, my prayer is that I, along with so many others, may humbly continue to walk on the path that this great giant traveled ”.

“Leaders create followers; great leaders create leaders, ”said Rabbi Sacks. In that way, Rabbi Sacks was one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history, who through the attractive and attractive way in which he presented Judaism has produced hundreds, if not thousands, of rabbis and teachers throughout the Jewish world. , who continue to transmit their ideas and values.

Sacks’ death has left us all with a challenge: learn and then share our ideas and thoughts with others. In that process of obtaining and transmitting knowledge, we become an integral part of the Jewish tradition and live for eternity, like Rabbi Sacks.


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