Chief Rabbi Sacks royal tribute dinner – Lord Sacks’ speech

Chief Rabbi Sacks royal tribute dinner – Lord Sacks’ speech

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in conversation with Prince Charles at Monday night's tribute dinner
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in conversation with Prince Charles at Monday night's tribute dinner
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks

“Friends, this has been a very humbling evening. And I am touched by everything that has been said. But in truth, it wasn’t me, it was you. When a leader has such friends, leadership itself becomes not a challenge but a privilege, and I want to say thank you.

I want to thank, first and foremost, your Royal Highness for the gift of your presence here tonight and for so much else. Many of us are aware of the exceptional work you have done for our community, visiting our institutions, sharing our celebrations and supporting our organisations.

But let me, if I may, mention just one of many private acts of kindness.

One of the saddest moments of my life was when my late father of blessed memory, died. I received more than 1000 letters of condolence, but only one was six pages long and handwritten. That was from you, Your Royal Highness. And it brought me comfort I will never forget.

Thank you also for your sense of humour which we all sometimes need in dealing with our community. I remember the occasion when you came to open a new wing of Jewish Care’s Lady Sarah Cohen house. You went up to meet some of the residents and came down looking somewhat shell-shocked. I ask you what had happened, and you replied, one of the residents was a tailor from the East End who summoned you over and said, “Tell me, your Highness, who makes your suits? I can get ‘em done cheaper.” And you took it in such good spirits.

You have been such a blessing to us and to the nation. May God continue to bless all you do.

My heart goes out tonight in thanks to all of you, and to all the members of the British Jewish community. What you’ve done these past 22 years is almost beyond belief.

You’ve built more Jewish day schools than ever before in Anglo Jewish history. You have built finer welfare institutions than we’ve ever had before. You have made Jewish cultural activities more lively and creative than ever before. Anglo Jewry is just less stuffy than it used to be. There’s less “oy,” more joy, and that’s how it ought to be.

Our community has long had a great past, but now it has a great future. That is your achievement and I salute it.

I want to say thank you to the lay leaders with whom I’ve worked, presidents and trustees of the United Synagogue and the Chief Rabbinate Trust, and our other advisors. You have been unfailingly supportive, endlessly helpful and very wise, and it’s made all the difference.

I want to thank the lay leaders and professionals of all our organisations. It is your dedication way, way beyond the call of duty that has made our community the great community it is.

I want to thank, from the depths of my heart, all who have worked in our office over the years. No-one could have asked for a more loyal and hard-working team. We went through tough times together and good times together and you were always there, day and night, giving of your best. And to all the team, it’s been a humbling privilege working with you.

I want to thank the five protection officers have looked after my safety all these years, and the CST as a whole: the finest communal security organisation in the Jewish world.

Because of you we’ve been able as a community to go about our business without fear. And yes, there were amusing moments. One of my protection officers used always to go ahead of me and announce to the receptionist, Chief Rabbi. On one occasion the receptionist said to him, “Hi there, Chief Rabbi. Tell me, who is that bloke with a beard who seems to be following you.”

You’ve all been great. And it would be invidious to name names. But I have to make four exceptions. The first is for Elaine, without whom I couldn’t have survived for a single day. She has always been there even in the most difficult times, always cheerful, always supportive, always completely and utterly modest, never – until this evening – seeking the limelight. And I even suspect this evening it was forced upon her. And if sometimes I do a reasonable job as speaker, it’s only because Elaine is the world’s greatest listener. For our children and for me, Elaine is the sunshine of our lives.

And lastly to our children, Josh, Dina and Gila and their families. However hard it is sometimes to be a Chief Rabbi, it isn’t remotely as difficult as being the child of the Chief Rabbi, and all our children have had the courage to be themselves with a strength of character I find deeply moving. I want to say to you, Josh, Dina and Gila, we are so proud of you. May Hashem bless you and thank you for being you.

And now for a few moments I want to turn to the future.

Firstly, that of British and Commonwealth Jewry. Here I am absolutely confident. I was blessed to have a distinguished predecessor, Lord Jakobovits z”l, and I’m equally blessed to have a distinguished successor, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Under his and Rebbetsin Valerie’s leadership Anglo Jewry will do outstanding things. May you and this great community inspire one another, and may God bless you in the years to come.

There is, though a global danger, and it is this.

Today two phenomena dominate the Jewish world. The first is continuing assimilation and out- marriage. Throughout the Diaspora, on average one young Jew in two is deciding not to have a Jewish marriage, create a Jewish home and build the Jewish future. A chain of continuity that has lasted for 100 generations will end with them, and that is a tragedy.

The second, in the opposite direction, is the growth of what in Israel is called the Edah Haredit or what some people call ultra-orthodoxy, the orthodoxy that segregates itself from the world and from its fellow Jews.

So the two fastest growing elements in the Jewish world are those who embrace the world and reject Judaism, and those who embrace Judaism and reject the world.

This is very dangerous, because if there is anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism in the future, who is going to fight it? The Jews who abandon Judaism? Or the Jews who abandon the world?

Neither. And those in the centre become fewer every year.

I have to tell you this is worse than dangerous. It is an abdication of the role of Jews and Judaism in the world. We are here to engage with the world, to be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That is the Judaism you and I believe in.

And we have shown it works. We have shown in Anglo Jewry that you can bring the voice of Judaism into the public arena, you can be involved in the world, and at the same time intensify Jewish life, build Jewish schools, raise children who know more about Judaism than we did and grandchildren who will know yet more. All it needs is vision and courage, and since when have Jews ever lacked vision and courage?

My work, for as long as God (and Elaine) give me the strength will be to try and inspire a new generation of leaders for the Jewish world, rabbinical, educational and lay, who will have the courage to face the world and all its challenges without fear, will have the responsibility to lead and the spirit to be a source of light in a sometimes dark and difficult world.

I want to inspire young Jews throughout the world to believe in and live a Judaism that is tolerant, inclusive, embracing, non-judgmental; that is intellectually open and ethically uplifting; that is neither defensive nor arrogant, but that lives the life of faith in such a way as to enhance the life of others within and beyond the Jewish community.

I see this as the biggest Jewish challenge of our time, and I’ve set it out in a little pamphlet, which I’ve signed personally for each of you and which you’ll get as you leave tonight. If it speaks to you, I hope you’ll join Elaine and me on the next stage of our journey.

But let me thank you again… for seeing us off, and for making these 22 years the most exciting and fulfilling of our lives, Elaine and mine, thank you and bless you.”



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