The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) held a virtual memorial event Sunday evening in honor of Rabbi Lord Dr Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and Associate President of the CER.
Entitled “Between Israel and the Nations”, several of the world’s eminent religious scholars and politicians gathered to commemorate the life of Rabbi Lord Sacks and the significant impact that he had on the spiritual, sociological, political and intellectual spheres. In addition to moving eulogies and tributes, attendees discussed the topics of universalism and particularity through the thought of Rabbi Lord Dr Sacks, one of the world’s most revered Jewish leaders.
Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, introduced the event saying: “Lord Rabbi Sacks was able to communicate the changing challenges to Jewish communities globally. No longer did other faiths pose the greatest challenge and danger to Jewish continuity, instead it was, and still is, a growing secularism. It is because of increased secularism that thousands of Jews lose their faith and their commitment to their Jewish identity each year. As a result of his unique world view, Lord Rabbi Sacks became not only a defender of the Jewish faith, but a defender of faiths, in the plural. His work brought religious cultures closer together, improving interfaith relations and co-operation.”
Katharina Von Schnurbein, the European Commission co-ordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, said: “He was a bridge-builder between cultures and faiths, focusing on commonalities rather than differences, emphasising responsibility of the individual to contribute to society. […] A philosopher and theologian, he enriched the debate in European institutions, for example, by participating at the European Union’s high-level dialogue with religious leaders. In an unforgettable speech at the European Parliament some four years ago, he warned that the appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease; the early warning sign of a collective breakdown. A Cassandra of modern times and a powerful orator, he urged the European Union to address the rise of antisemitism for the sake of Jews, but above all, Europe. May his words continue to be a driver to our action and his legacy of reconciliation be an inspiration to all.”
Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said: “He gave me a feeling of why it was important to have faith and how faith was central to human progress. We know he’s been taken from us far, far too young. But when I think of all the things that he taught me, and when I think of the difference that he made to my life and to the lives of so, so many others, it’s an extraordinary legacy and a wonderful example to those of us who remain. And I know that the things that he gave me as a teacher, as a true rabbi, they will remain with me until the day I die. And in some small way, I try to then pass on some of those lessons to those who come after me. This is the greatest testament to a human life there can possibly be.”
Amongst other speakers were Rabbi Pini Dunner, senior rabbi at YINBH-Beverly Hills Synagogue, Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman, head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diapora, World Zionist Organization (WZO), Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Rabbi Joshua Spinner, executive VP and CEO of The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Dayan Ivan Binstock of the London Beth Din and Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO).