At a time when America remained fixated on the results of the presidential election and the resurgence of coronavirus around the world, one news story may have escaped the headlines, but not our hearts. On November 7, 2020 we lost a philosopher, leader and a great Jewish scholar, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. Thousands across the world, including all of us at Hillel Day School, mourned the loss of a teacher, mentor and perhaps the greatest Rabbi of our time. This blog post is dedicated to the memory and legacy of Rabbi Sacks and his unparalleled influence in the field of Jewish day school education.
In my professional journey as a Jewish educator, I have been fortunate enough to have been influenced so greatly by Rabbi Sacks’ teachings and profound wisdom. He truly believed in the power of Jewish day schools and maintained the conviction that teachers are the builders of the Jewish future. According to my colleague Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools, “Rabbi Sacks placed Jewish education and Jewish day schools in particular at the heart of the legacy he would create. Great educators were central to his vision. He believed that teachers are the most important people there are.”
When Jewish day schools pivoted to remote learning in March, Rabbi David Fain, our Rav Beit Hasefer, and I, had the privilege of attending a webinar with Rabbi Sacks for Jewish day school leaders. We were inspired by his passion, wisdom, and confidence and even amid the worst health crisis to face our world in 100 years, Jewish day school educators and leaders would continue providing a rich education in Hebrew, Torah, and rabbinic texts. He inspired us to remember that Jewish day schools were the communal anchor that many families held onto during this global pandemic.
Rabbi Sacks’ reach was far and wide. As a prolific writer, he authored many books and released a weekly summary of the parashah (weekly Torah portion) - 52 weeks a year, without fail. His summaries often put into words what many of us felt in our hearts, but simply could not bring to our lips. He drew connections among Judaism, philosophy and applications to real life. His writings were brilliant, inclusive, comprehensive, and helped many of us to better understand the power and meaning of each word in the Tanach.
Many across the world, including myself, believe that Rabbi Sacks was the preeminent scholar and greatest Rabbi of our modern times. On December 8, the end of the shloshim period (the 30 days following one’s burial), Hillel will dedicate learning in General and Judaic studies to the memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l. There is a Jewish belief that the study of Torah provides merit and benefits for the soul of the deceased. Although I did not know him personally, I believe that he would view this as the greatest honor that we could bestow upon him.
May the memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l and his wisdom inspire our sacred work at Hillel Day School today, tomorrow and for generations to come.
ברוך דיין האמת / Baruch Dayan Ha’emet, (Blessed be the true judge.)
Dr. Darin S. Katz
Dr. Darin S. Katz is Head of School at Hillel Day School.