Baruch Dayan Ha’emet. With the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks זצ"ל, the Jewish world and indeed the entire world, has lost an educational giant – a great rabbi, leader, thinker, prolific writer and philosopher. Through his celebration of the essence of belief as well as the beauty of faith and practice, Rabbi Sacks expanded the reach of Jewish thought and its learning to individuals and society at large. He was deeply humble, warm and kind, a family man whose adored wife Elaine was his soulmate and life-long inspiration.
As Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 until 2013, Rabbi Sacks continued the tradition of erudition and leadership, also bringing to the role an exceptional ability to communicate - through both the spoken and written word - across faith communities within Judaism and beyond, forging extraordinarily strong connections with royalty, politicians, religious leaders, philosophers, as well as with the common man.
During this period Rabbi Sacks was connected to the Hong Kong Jewish community and to Carmel School through the link between the Hong Kong Ohel Leah Synagogue Trustees and the British Chief Rabbinate and United Synagogue. He and Lady Elaine visited Hong Kong annually and he was always greeted like a rock star. His appeal spanned the generations: he drew in young children with his unique way of bringing Torah characters to life and making them relatable; teenage students at Elsa were enthralled by the ethical and spiritual messages he conveyed to them; and our community would eagerly engage in his animated Q&A sessions, always urging him to expand and expound further.
Rabbi Sacks’ first visit to the Elsa High School campus in our inaugural year coincided with Parshat Mishpatim. As we walked towards the assembly hall he turned to me and asked what he should speak about. Somewhat flustered, I replied “They need to be inspired, Chief Rabbi”. He nodded, his eyes twinkled, and he smiled knowingly. Rabbi Sacks then delivered a hugely powerful comparative analysis of Biblical justice and rehabilitation in practice as opposed to modern judicial systems. He explored the Biblical model of the Eved Ivri, describing how an individual who has committed a crime is rehabilitated. In this model, the individual (as well as his family) is allocated to an upright and respected family, and as time passes, his first-hand exposure to the examples of integrity, honesty, kindness and consideration for others become his own blueprint for rehabilitation and re-entry into society. When the time comes for him to be released, the host family even provides him with enough to be able to start life afresh, now fully equipped to do so. Rabbi Sacks followed with questions from the floor, drawing the students in with passion and humour that empowered them to probe, challenge and analyse, and to draw their own conclusions through interactive engagement. The students were mesmerised: some have since identified that discussion as an awakening within them of an appreciation of Jewish law and of our heritage. I have been privileged to have known Rabbi Sacks and Lady Elaine for nearly 40 years in both a personal and professional capacity, and the look on Rabbi Sacks’ face at the students’ response is one of my strongest memories.
As our hearts go out to Elaine and to Josh, Dina and Gila, now is a time when we all mourn the loss of a Jew whose passion was his faith, and whose desire to share his understanding of his faith was his mission. But it is also a time to celebrate his life and his legacy, which will continue to enrich us, our children and grandchildren and all generations to come in such a wonderful way. His memory will most certainly be a blessing.
Mrs. Rachel Friedmann, Principal