Since his untimely and tragic death, thousands of tributes have been written remembering Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, a leader of unparalleled stature and influence in today’s Jewish community and beyond. Each tribute speaks to the special relationship and impact he had on individuals, organizations, and communities. Such was his greatness that anyone who interacted with him felt the specialness of that relationship; his attention and support seemed tailored for each in that moment. We, at Hillel, were blessed to be beneficiaries of his esteem, warmth, and support.
This past spring, Hillel International invited Rabbi Sacks to join Hillel@Home to provide a message of inspiration for students as they entered into a Passover holiday that would look different than any they had known. Without hesitation, Rabbi Sacks joined us to share a message to students of hope in a time of fear, connection in a time of dislocation, and responsibility in a time of need.
His genius was the ability to mine our tradition for texts and ideas that spoke to the modern condition. He combined that unique mastery of the Jewish canon with his knowledge of philosophy and contemporary sociology, and always a warm sense of humor. With his singularly poetic voice he taught a message of universal values, human dignity, and moral virtue. All are on display in the words he shared with us in his Hillel@Home conversation.
In those early days of COVID, when the sting of isolation was just setting in, he shared two messages which remain as relevant today:
Share in our suffering, just as we offer the bread of affliction to all who need it in the opening act of the Passover Haggadah as the first act of freedom. Reach out, share, give to others especially when we’re in need ourselves.
- Jews are the world’s first virtual people, not confined by time, place, or language. The Torah connects us, despite our dispersion. We’re not alone and never will be if we know and tell our unique story.
Rabbi Sacks often shared a lesson that we deeply emulate in Hillel, “Good leaders create followers, great leaders create other leaders.” We will continue to do the work inspired by his vision of a world defined by our dedication to the “we” above the “I”, the “us” as opposed to the “me.” We share in his dedication to the future, a people moved by the story of our people to act to better the world in holy partnership. While he has left the world far too soon, we are all blessed that he had many exceptionally prolific years and his profound words are accessible to us all.
Yehi Zichro Baruch - may his memory be a blessing and may we continue to learn from his example and his wisdom.