Rabbi Sacks Tidewater Community Book Club begins this month

by | Feb 8, 2024 | What’s Happening

Sunday, February 25, 10 am, Congregation Beth El

The last few months have been a difficult time for the Jewish people. Since the devastating attacks of October 7th, those living in the diaspora have had difficulty formulating an effective response to a changed world.Public displays of antisemitism on college campuses have forced us to reexamine the position of the Jewish people among the most elite academic circles, leaving us questioning how to respond. One trend is a spirit of achdus (unity) that has brought disparate elements of the Jewish people to stand together. This was most visible at the large DC rally. While gratifying to see, it was also noticeable that the only clergy on the stage was John Hagee, the pro-Israel Christian pastor. This was intentional. To unite the Jewish people, the organizers realized the difficulty of having a rabbi speak who would be well received by the diversity in thought and practice currently represented in the modern Jewish world.

It is times like this when the voice of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is missed. Raised in a traditional Jewish home in England, while studying philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Sacks travelled to New York City to discuss questions he had with philosophy and religion with two of the leading rabbis of the time, Rabbi Soloveitchik a scion of the Modern Orthodox movement and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneersohn. These conversations led him on the path to rabbinical ordainment while continuing his academic pursuits in philosophy. He was quickly recognized for his outstanding talents and was appointed Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom in 1991, serving until 2013. In addition to connecting with the Jewish community, he extended torah values to the wider world. In recognition of his efforts, he was knighted by the Queen of England in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking a seat in the House of Lords in 2009. After his retirement as Chief Rabbi, he continued a prolific schedule of teaching, public speaking, and writing until his death in 2020. His published works include more than 40 books of wide-ranging topics from in-depth biblical commentary to writings on morality in the public sphere.

One remarkable characteristic of Rabbi Sacks’ writings is his ability to offer a perspective that is both timely and timeless, keeping even his earliest teachings relevant. Another unique attribute was his ability to connect to Jews across denominations and even non-Jews across the globe. Recognizing that Jews composed roughly 0.5% of the United Kingdom’s population, he knew that to strengthen the moral fabric of British society he would have to communicate ideas to a diverse audience. His success led him to becoming a household name in the United Kingdom, a close confidant of prime ministers, and a frequent guest on the BBC.

There are many ways to respond to the explosion of antisemitism and the unfair global isolation of Israel. In my mind, one of the most productive is to turn inward and double down on our own Jewishness… take a deeper dive at the ideas that have formed the ethical foundation of Western Civilization and take this moment to learn with and from each other.

This was the impetus for the formation of the Rabbi Sacks Tidewater Community Book Club, supported in part by the Konikoff Center for Learning of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Throughout 2024, the club will study six books from Rabbi Sacks involving a broad range of the big Jewish ideas that can unite us. From our relationship to the land of Israel, Jewish peoplehood, the relevance of the biblical narrative to our understanding of the modern world – it will be a year of profound fellowship. A guided discussion on a different book will take place every two months at various synagogues. Choose to read along in advance or simply show up.

The first book club event on Feb. 25 will discuss Future Tense: Jews, Judaism and Israel in the 21st Century, which is available on Amazon. It explores the origins of antisemitism and its many mutations, the need for a Judaism engaged in the world, and the future of the Jewish people.

For more information or to register for this year-long exploration of the big Jewish ideas that form the foundation of 3500 years of Jewish history, visit JewishVA.org/KCL or contact Sierra Lautman at SLautman@UJFT.org.

Craig Schranz is a physician and Norfolk resident with a personal interest in sharing the teachings of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.