President Herzog honours Rabbi Sacks with Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award
Watch or read the speech delivered by Isaac Herzog, President of the State of Israel, at a special gala dinner evening hosted by The Genesis Prize Foundation in London on 22nd November 2021, to posthumously award Rabbi Sacks with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Ladies and Gentleman,
In 1991, prior to his installation as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks זכר צדיק לברכה and Lady Elaine תבדל לחיים ארוכים spent several months in Israel.
Rabbi Sacks had already been named the next Chief Rabbi, and began preparing for the distinguished role- in Jerusalem.
During their stay, in January of ‘91, the Gulf War with Iraq broke out.
Rather than escaping the scud missiles and immediately returning to the UK with his young children,
Rabbi Sacks decided to demonstrate solidarity by staying where he felt he was needed the most- in Israel.
In fact his solidarity went so far, that when the sirens began- he shaved off his beard, complying with the Homefront Command instructions, that in order for the gas masks to properly function, beards must be removed.
The next morning Rabbi Sacks discovered that, in his own words, “I was the only ‘shlemiel’ (שלומיאל) in the whole of Yerushalayim who listened to instructions”.
Remaining in Israel during the war was an act of courage and unity during great distress.
It was stepping up- it was true leadership.
Indeed, leadership was at the heart of Rabbi Sacks’s spiritual reflection.
“We are all called on”, he wrote, “to be leaders within our sphere of influence, be it the family or the community”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to join you in honoring the life and legacy of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who personified the spirit of proud Jewish identity and Jewish contribution to humanity, recognized this evening by the Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award.
Each Shabbat I read through Rabbi Sacks’ profound commentary on the weekly Torah portion, and draw great inspiration.
This morning, I was reminded of Rabbi Sacks’ extraordinary, universal impact, as I visited with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who spoke of the teacher and the friend he lost.
Rabbi Sacks wrote: “If we seek a better world, we must make it. We will only ever regain paradise if we accept responsibility and become a nation of leaders”.
But he also firmly believed that the requirement for leading- is knowing who you are.
After accepting the challenge presented to him by the Lubavitcher Rebbe- the challenge to act, to lead, Rabbi Sacks began soul searching- first his own soul, then the collective Jewish soul.
He taught us: Own your story and know our origins, as we read in אבות פרקי- The Ethics of our Fathers –
דע מאין באת.
Once we each understand our unique, individual identity- our strengths and faults, our history and our direction- then we can become good parents, inspirational teachers, loyal public servants, revered world leaders.
Rabbi Sacks became a master articulator of the Jewish foundation of universal values, while unapologetically verbalizing a proud, dignified Jewish identity.
His innate, God-given power of expression gave voice to the contribution of Judaism and the State of Israel to humanity at large.
“Influence helps change people – into people who can change the world”, he wrote,
adding that: “Not all of us have power, but we all have influence. That is why we can each be a leader.”
Two years ago, my wife Michal, and I took a long walk with Rabbi Sacks through the streets of Jerusalem, following a beautiful meal in the sukkah of his brother, my friend Alan Sacks and his wife Judith, who are with us here tonight.
Michal was struck by Rabbi Sacks’ humility, how he addressed everyone as his equal.
I realized in retrospect that one of the reasons I felt such deep affinity with him, was the resemblance in my mind’s eye between Rabbi Sacks- and my own grandfather- Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog ZT”L.
Like my grandfather, Rabbi Sacks was a traditional inclusivist- fearlessly loyal to Orthodox Judaism, while finding the Halachik strategy to include everyone.
Both were men of Torah and Science- ומדע תורה אנשי, brilliant Torah Scholars who mastered rabbinic literature while excelling in secular academia, balancing the theory of evolution with the seven days of creation.
Both identified as proud Jews, devoted Zionists, faithful protectors of Israel.
Their very being stemmed from the unique characteristics of British Judaism- moderate, receptive, inclusive, adaptive yiddishkeit.
And both prolific thinkers left a magnificent legacy of leadership.
Therefore to me, conversing and connecting with Rabbi Sacks, while inhaling the fresh, Jerusalem air in what turned out to be his final trip to Israel- it felt as though I was conversing with my late grandfather.
I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
The lesson Rabbi Sacks taught me will remain with me going forward: Responsibility necessitates identity, while identity is enhanced and enriched by responsibility.
Ladies and gentlemen, next week, the Jewish People all over the world will be lighting Hannuka candles, reflecting the inner most light each of us contains- and the ability of every individual to shine and make a difference in our world.
We will feel the glaring absence of Rabbi Sacks – who used his voice of reason and passionate intellect
to reveal the hidden light of Judaism to so many of us.
Over the course of his lifetime Rabbi Sacks represented the history, the moral code, and the spirit of Judaism with dignity and adoration;
He valiantly advocated for The State of Israel- ישראל מדינת;
He reached across the aisle and across different religions;
He brought the Torah down from the heavens- to the smartphone generation.
And- he succeeded in reaching the soul- נשמה of every individual in search of meaning.
“While others curse the darkness,” wrote Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks לברכה זכרו, “a leader lights a light”. That is what he did.
Responsibility is ours for the taking. This is Rabbi Sacks’ legacy.
Each of us can step up, light our own flame, and lead- בזמן הזה -בימים ההם – in ancient days and in our times.
I thank the Genesis Prize Foundation for spreading the light of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks לברכה צדיק זכר. In doing so, you bring us that much closer to fulfilling your vision for the future of the Jewish people- and his.
Thank you all.