Thousands tune in to virtual launch of Rabbi Sacks’ final book
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Thousands tune in to virtual launch of Rabbi Sacks’ final book

Late former Chief Rabbi heralded as 'the grand ambassador of Judaism', as 13 contributors each explored a chapter of his book and reflected on personal memories of him

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Rabbi Lord Sacks
Rabbi Lord Sacks

Lord Sacks was described as “the grand ambassador of Judaism” during a moving online event to mark the launch of his last book, Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas.

More than 3,000 people from around the world watched the event on Sunday night, which was organised by London School of Jewish Studies and introduced by chief exeurtive Joanne Greenaway. As Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, dean of LSJS, recalled, Rabbi Sacks had been respectively student, lecturer, principal, president and then honorary president of the institution.

The line-up of scholars and former mentees of Rabbi Sacks emphasised the legacy of the late chief rabbi, who died in November. Each of the 13 contributors explored a chapter of Rabbi Sacks’s book and expanded on one of the life-changing ideas he had highlighted, through the prism of his teachings and their own interpretation — and their personal memories of him.

Gila Fine, now editor-in-chief of Maggid-Koren Publishers – which published this latest book – spoke emotionally about the “ethical will” left by Rabbi Sacks, reminding viewers the former chief rabbi’s family that “Rabbi Sacks wasn’t born Rabbi Sacks, he became Rabbi Sacks”.

 

Rabbi Joseph Dweck appearing on the live streamed video with Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum

Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, the United Synagogue’s representative in Israel, described Rabbi Sacks as “the brilliant older brother I never had”. He revealed that among those who had written to the family to pay tribute were “two high-profile murderers in a high-security prison in England. They hand-wrote letters to Lady Sacks and said what a wonderful inspiration Rabbi Sacks’s Torah had been to them when it was taught to them by their chaplain in prison”. For him, Rabbi Sylvester said, that illustrated Rabbi Sacks’ ability to reach out to people “way beyond the scholars and the saints”.

Rabbi Professor Joshua Berman of Bar-Ilan University remembered a Shabbat in Boca Raton, Florida, in which he had been able to take “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to introduce his father to Rabbi Sacks. His father had Parkinson’s and was unable to go up to the rabbi himself: so Rabbi Berman pointed his father out. “Rabbi Sacks walked over to my father and said, ‘I know you are a very special man’”, a sentiment which touched the family very deeply.

Tanya White and Joshua Berman appearing with Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum

It was Professor Daniel Rynhold of Yeshiva University in New York, who cited the last line of Casablanca, in which Humphrey Bogart’s Rick tells Claude Rains: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. He spoke about Rabbi Sacks’ impassioned defence of free speech in the face of “cancel culture”, and his adherence to the idea of “arguments for the sake of heaven.”

The evening, media partnered by Jewish News, concluded with a heartfelt tribute from Rabbi Joseph Dweck, head of the Sephardi community in London, who described Rabbi Sacks as “the grand ambassador of Judaism. There was no-one like him”.

You can re-watch the full event through Facebook by clicking here, or on YouTube:

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