‘I got down on one knee in Oxford Circus within a month of meeting Elaine’

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‘I got down on one knee in Oxford Circus within a month of meeting Elaine’

From proposing with a Woolworths ring to the 'existential sadness I can’t eliminate', Lord Sacks and wife Elaine reflect on life as they approach their golden wedding anniversary.

Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks with his wife Elaine 

© Blake-Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013
Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks with his wife Elaine © Blake-Ezra Photography Ltd. 2013

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has revealed how he proposed to his wife Elaine within three weeks – while she has told how he cleans her muddy boots to help him think.

The couple, who married almost 50 years ago after meeting at Cambridge University, exposed the softer side of their relationship in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine this week.

Sacks, who served as Chief Rabbi from 1991 to 2013, said he “bought a ring from Woolworths” and got down on one knee in Oxford Circus within a month of meeting Elaine, who was there training to be a radiographer.

In their ‘Relative Values’ interview, Sacks said his own father was “impossible to satisfy” and that he had not been “the world’s greatest father” himself. “I was a little distant,” he said. “I travelled a lot as Chief Rabbi and I was always thinking about my next speech.”

They haven’t aged a day: The happy couple on their wedding day in 1970.

He also described “a persistent lack of belief in myself,” adding: “There’s some kind of pain, which is perhaps an inherited thing. There is a sadness in Jewish music, a kind of minor key, that I heard when I was two or three years old.

“It’s an existential sadness that I can’t eliminate, however hard I try. That’s probably what allows me to communicate with people who are unhappy.”

Elaine, who said she was seen as “a little old” when she first became a mother at 25, describes giving up her career to raise the couple’s children and the “intrusive” security measures put in-place once Sacks became Chief Rabbi.

A middle-class girl from Willesden, who was initially shy and reticent at official functions, Elaine recalled how a breakthrough moment came when a friend told her: “They’re terrified of you.” This led to her opening up publicly.

She also described how a good boot-cleaning can leave her husband happy. “If we go for a muddy walk, the next day I will find my shoes sparkling clean,” she said. “Jonathan likes cleaning them. If everything is tidy, then his mind is clear to think.”

Read more: Lord Sacks among great minds tasked with uniting Jewish world  

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