Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has said people’s efforts to help others during the coronavirus pandemic are “a little like the wartime spirit”.
In an interview with BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis on Wednesday, Sacks struck a somewhat hopeful note, saying that although bad events “can bring the worst out in us, they also bring out the best”.
Speaking about an emergent sense of collective responsibility, he said: “We are going to see more and more of this as time goes on. We are going to see a renewal of the ‘we,’ of the country.”
The peer said the world’s focus on a common problem may have a positive effect. “I do think this split attention, with everyone looking at something different – that has so disaggregated us as a culture – is going to change,” he said.
“We’re all watching the same news, reacting in pretty much the same way. So although we’re not physically together, mentally and emotionally, we will be. Physical isolation will go hand-in-hand with an emotional and even moral sense of solidarity.”
"I think we're going to be tried, as the nation was tried during WWII."
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) March 19, 2020
Asked about the urge to meet family physically, the former Chief Rabbi said it was important not to expose them to potential risk. “We’re going to come through this, whether it takes three months, or six months, or more, we’re going to come through it safe and alive. That is the most important thing.”
On the subject of conducting funerals during the pandemic, Sacks said: “I did one just two days ago. It was heart-breaking. We had a very, very small attendance, everyone keeping their distance. This was somebody who died who would have had many, many hundreds [of people attending].
“The family was heart-broken, not just at the grief but with the inability of others to join in that grief, but they know perfectly well that they had to restrict it, and say ‘when all this is over we will remember, we will come together. This is not something that is going to last forever.”
He added: “We will be tried just we were tried during the war, but thank heavens not through war, not through terror. I mean this is awful but it could have been so much more awful. We’re coming to come through this feeling a much stronger sense of identification with others, a much stronger commitment to helping others. This, in a tragic way, is probably the lesson we needed as a nation and as a world.”
Sacks said he felt the degree of globalisation that had been seen before the pandemic would be unlikely to return, with nations weening themselves off foreign dependence, which he said would benefit those “left behind by globalisation”.
Watch the interview in full here: