Lord Sacks, one-liners and the future of the Rabbinate

I’m off topic.

This morning I had the considerable privilege and pleasure to be entertained, because it was a performance when all is said and done, by Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks at the plenary of the Jewish Representative Council of  Manchester and Region.

Lord Sacks was accompanied by Lady Sacks.

So entertained was I that I am moved to write a little something about Lord Sacks’ address.

Without notes and with disarming and engaging charm the Chief Rabbi took us through his achievements of 20 years in office. Indeed, with the very greatest respect to his predecessor, Lord Jacobowitz, it’s hard to remember a time when Jonathan Sacks was not Chief Rabbi. Indeed, the younger generation has grown up knowing only this one Chief Rabbi.

It is a little ironic that the proceeding began with Lord Sacks reading the opening prayer followed by the prayer for the Royal Famoly, a somewhat unusual event outside of a synagogue on Shabbat. Yet, this year and this month marks a milestone in the Queen’s reign and it was thought appropriate to read it. So who more apt than the Chief Rabbi whose reign, as it were, is also long and distinguished?

Unlike Her Majesty, Lord Sacks does not wish to carry on past retirement age. An amazingly youthful and trim Lord Sacks belies his years. However, when asked what he will do in his retirement he seemed a little non-plussed. He may be retiring from office but it’s not pipe and slippers for Dr Sacks.

In former times 65 seemed already pretty much old-age. Not now. Dr Sacks told us he had written 24 books and feels there are another 24 in him. His ‘retirement’ will be no such thing. In fact, he will work much harder teaching, writing, lecturing like an elder statesman.

When asked if he had any say in his successor the Chief Rabbi was adamant that not only does he not want anything to do with that choice but he believes it is wrong for him to have that choice. The next Chief should reinvent the role, not have to don the very large shoes left behind by the present incumbent.

Dr Sacks told us that at one time no-one really understood the role of the Chef Rabbi and there is in the office of the Chief Rabbinate a Victorian newspaper clip (I think it was if I recall accurately) which described the then Chief Rabbi as the ‘High Priest of the Jews’. Of course, he is no such thing, and the writer showed considerable ignorance of that role in Jewish history. Dr Sacks quipped that far from being the High Priest, he was more often the scapegoat that the High Priest would send into the desert in biblical times.

His best one-liner came as he was asked about his successor. He began his answer by referring to ‘he’ then said ‘I assume it will be a “he”‘, to much laughter from the audience.

The whole performance bespoke a man at the height of his powers, at ease with himself, grateful to the community and even, in a very unexpected and moving moment, grateful to his wife without whom, he said, ‘not a single day would have been possible’.

It all made me wonder why he is retiring, but then I realised that for a man like Jonathan Sacks, and he should live to 120, reaching 65 as he will shortly, must make him even more determined to fill his life with service and mitzvot, but just as importantly, to ensure to the best of his ability that the next generation of religious leaders are properly equipped to deal with the challenges of this century and not look back on or regress to the habits of the last.

Dr Sacks has been a Chief Rabbi covering the opening and closing decades of two centuries. I cannot imagine anyone remotely equalling his achievements and popularity, despite controversy and criticism.

I wish him and his wife, Elaine, well when they begin a new phase in their life next year.

Kol HaKovod, Yesher Koach vHatzlacha rabah.

Post Scriptum

Chief Rabbis featured in my early life; when I was about six I had a plastic canoe and inside were three Red Indians, one with a large headdress. When my mother asked me what the names of these three were I answered thus: “Chief Sitting  Bull, Chief Geronimo..”, then coming to the third wearing the headdress, after a little pause “… Chief Rabbi”.

I was barmitzvah at St John’s Wood synagogue in London. As I rose to read my portion, facing me, either side of the Oren Kodesh were the Emeritus Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie and the incumbent Immanuel Jacobowitz.

You try doing your barmitzvah piece with two Chief Rabbis looking on!

 

 

 

Aya’s story

How often do we hear or read about how terrible Israel is preventing Palestinians in dire need of medical treatment getting through checkpoints and borders quickly enough?

How many reports have you read which characterise the massive humanitarian efforts of the Israeli medical community as somehow being part of the ‘occupation’?

I have written before about the extraordinary Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa.

I have no problem reproducing in full this story I received today which is just one example of hundreds, thousands, which are simply overlooked by the likes of the Guardian because it is a positive story which undermines all the negativity and false spin some of the media puts on anything positive which comes out of Israel.

So here is the report from the Rambam by David Ratner, Director:

Haifa, 5 February 2012

Just a Heartbeat Away…

Aya and Prof. Avraham Lorber : Photo by Pioter Filter-RHCC

When Aya Almasal, 12, left her Gaza home approximately one month ago and headed for Rambam, she didn’t know that this trip would save her life. For several years Aya had suffered from sudden bouts of unconsciousness, and her doctors couldn’t find the cause. About a month ago, Aya set out for Rambam to treat this problem, which had accompanied her since birth. Upon leaving Gaza, she felt ill and the situation steadily deteriorated. As the girl neared Rambam, in Haifa, her heart stopped working and she was, in effect, dead. After repeated attempts at resuscitation, the girl’s heart began to pump and she arrived at Rambam, artificially respirated and in serious danger. At the hospital, Aya was diagnosed as suffering from Long QT Syndrome, a disorder of the heart’s electrical system that causes irregular and rapid heart rate, and had prevented blood from reaching her brain. This had caused Aya to lose consciousness suddenly, and could have killed her.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Aya was hospitalized in Rambam’s Department of Pediatric Intensive Care, where she remained for a week. Doctors there stabilized her condition, and Dr Munder Bolus, director of the Unit of Electrophysiology implanted her with a defibrillator pacemaker. Accompanying drug treatment, the pacemaker supplies an electrical shock which ‘jump starts’ the heart during irregularities. After almost a month of hospitalization, Aya felt better, was discharged last Thursday, 2.2.12, and returned to her home in Gaza, standing on her own two feet.

According to Aya’s treating physician, Prof Avraham Lorber, who is head of Rambam’s Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Adult Congenital Heart Defects, Long QT Sydrome is a widespread heart defect that can be controlled with appropriate treatment. “Aya will need a pacemaker all her life,” said Prof Lorber. “She will be monitored to be sure the pacemaker and battery are working correctly.”

Fortunately, Aya had arrived at Rambam in time to receive life-saving treatment. But the girl did not have to die in order to live. Aya’s congenital defect should have been detected earlier. “Every year we treat a number of children with these types of problems,” says Prof Lorber. “Some patients are diagnosed when they seek treatment for their irregular heart rates, and others in regular check-ups. This early detection of life-threatening problems illustrates the far-ranging implications of preventive medicine.”

Rambam’s Department of Pediatric Cardiology and Congenital Heart Defects treats a wide range of disorders, like Aya’s. A large number of patients, some 650 children and youth, arrive from neighboring countries and are treated on a humanitarian basis. A number of Palestinian patients are currently at the department, among them a three-week old infant scheduled for heart surgery, and a 40-day old baby who needs a stent procedure. “Other Palestinian patients are now receiving treatment here or will soon be transferred to Rambam,” states Prof Lorber. Our experience in general medicine, and in cardiology, specifically, allows us to help most of these patients.”

I doubt we will see Guardian reporter Harriet Sherwood and all the others mentioning this any time soon. Unless they can find a way of making it an anti-Israel story.