Britain’s former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, 72, died Saturday morning about a month after being diagnosed with cancer, a spokesman for his office has confirmed.
Rabbi Sacks served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 and awarded a Life Peerage in the British House of Lords in 2009.
A statement from the chief rabbi’s office said on Saturday that Lord Sacks’ “remarkable legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the countless people he inspired.”
Sacks is survived by his wife Elaine, three children and several grandchildren.
A Tribute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of Blessed Memory
By Eli Ovits
Recently I was asked by a professional panel – Who is your Rabbi, and why? My response: Jonathan Sacks. When Rabbi Sacks spoke, the world listened. His message transcended our faith and touched humanity. Through Rabbi Sacks I learnt the art of public speaking: His ability to make everyone feel he is talking to them on a personal level. We were all “friends” while he presented complex, timely ideas – applying a vast variety of sources with skill, humour and compassion. As Mazkir of Bnei Akiva I was fortunate to sit with Rabbi Sacks and discuss our common future. He loved Israel and was envious of those who could simply emigrate. And he was incredibly proud of our youth and their promise. He would fondly retell the story of our Shabbat lunch with hundreds of Bnei Akiva families in northern Wales. When the late Arieh Handler joined him in song – standing and singing on the chairs – while the Welsh Police protection officers looked on, bewildered by the sight before them. An annual highlight was joining him and the Shabbaton Choir for their Israel tour – visiting victims of terror and other vulnerable population groups. As a newly-recruited soldier I met him in Jerusalem on one trip. As we greeted each-other my rifle magazine clip broke and the bullets scattered across the room! Later in life, Rabbi Sacks hosted Limmud leaders in his home, describing their efforts as ‘pikuach nefesh’ – literately “saving lives.” Throughout the pandemic – until very recently – Rabbi Sacks opened up his home to share wisdom and inspiration to so many. He would lighten the mood by telling the virtual audiences why he chose a certain coloured tie. And on one spring morning this year – as I was stuck in transit for 65 days – I heard Rabbi Sacks talk about altruism: Despite all the hardships of the pandemic, he had witnessed great acts of giving, and the endurance of the human spirit. Through these remarks, I formed Altruists – helping connect people with meaningful causes. Today, I dedicate our efforts in his memory. I could share many more encounters with this unique leader. I know he touched so many lives and his teachings will continue to inspire generations to come. Behind the scenes Rabbi Sacks had a remarkable family and leadership team. My thoughts are with them all today. In the words of Rabbi Sacks: “Good leaders create followers. Great leaders create leaders.”He was one of the greatest.
Eli Ovits is the founder of Altruists – connecting philanthropists with meaningful causes. He has served as Global Chief Executive of Limmud and was recognized as one of Israel’s most influential immigrants.