Ethan Yakhin
Co-Host of Open Book with Eitan and Itai

Rabbi Sacks… The London Bridge?

What a whirlwind these months have been. I work in a bookstore, and the end of the fiscal year is always intense in retail, for a variety of reasons. But when that’s accompanied with all this virus craziness (Sorry… last time I’ll mention it, I promise), and the podcast I am working on with Jewish authors, it seems that I haven’t had the time to even exhale. It would appear that this is the same sort of sentiment echoed by all kinds of people I speak with in Jerusalem. Many of us are unsure of what is to come.

During all the insanity, I have been doing everything and anything to get our new show up and running. We are getting used to our set, to our research, to recording, and to the show itself. Having a (miraculous) moment to breathe, I thought it might be appropriate to take the opportunity to go deeper into a discussion that my co-host Itai and I had on our first show. After watching a video where Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks addresses the House of Lords, Itai and I had a discussion regarding its effectiveness. (To watch the House of Lords video or read a transcript of the video you can follow this link.)

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The video is worth watching in full, and maybe even more than once. The authentic mix of pain and passion expressed by the holy Rabbi in the video is truly mesmerizing and his words linger longer after they are heard. I found his intensity simultaneously captivating and disconcerting. One of the most conflicting things I find when reading or watching Rabbi Sacks is that even when I disagree with his point or with his style, I still find myself being swept up in his sea of determination. He is a thoughtful and nuanced speaker, a writer of extraordinary talent and literary ability, and most importantly, a man with the character and charismatic ability to connect with all kinds of people. My issues with this specific video, I’m sure, are based on my limited perspective. Nevertheless, I offer my thoughts in the hope that they can be of use, or alternatively, that I may be educated in regards to my own ignorance.

In the video, Rabbi Sacks addresses the House of Lords and notes the growing antisemitism in Britain, most notably the fact that it is becoming (once again) politically acceptable. I find the idea of asking non-jews for some sort of mercy to be not only distasteful but also an exercise in futility. Time and time again, the Jews have failed to elicit sympathy from the nations. It hasn’t mattered what we’ve contributed to a country’s economy, to its academia, or to its social structure. Ever since Yitzhak was pushed away by the Philistines for the terrible-evil-no-good crime of being Jewish While Successful, we’ve had to run into this problem time and time again.

In the video, Rabbi Sacks identifies three things that are signs of trouble brewing for the jews in a country. What was remarkable was that in his closing statement, he insinuated that by allowing hatred of Jews in a country to go unchecked, that country is foregoing its humanity.

Was there ever a country that didn’t, at one point, have an antisemitism problem? If we take at face value Rabbi Sacks’ definition of humanity, what does that say about humankind throughout history?

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There was something in the video that I found particularly unnerving. In fact, it was something I brought up on the show. Rabbi Sacks claims surprise at the rise of antisemitism in Britain. “I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” he claims. One has to wonder, why not? What evidence is there to suggest that antisemitism would ever be incompatible with western ideals? One is left to wonder if there was a Rabbi in Germany Pre-WWII who was also surprised and perhaps even bemused by the rise of German antisemitic sentiment.

Despite my misgivings, it would be foolish to discount the incredible steps taken by Rabbi Sacks and his contribution not only to world Jewry but also to the whole of humanity. His missions, as outlined both in his books and his speeches, are nothing short of admirable, and in many ways I like to think he succeeded.

Rabbi Sacks envisioned a world where people didn’t all have to believe the same thing. In his worldview, we had to share certain common core values, and beyond that, we could do as we choose. Rabbi Sacks had the foresight to envision a world where not only tolerance could, and should, thrive, but also a world where love itself could be our motivating factor, our guiding principle. In such a lofty goal, there is nothing short of kedusha.

I hope that Rabbi Sacks’ efforts to create not uniformity but also unity with the nations will bear fruit in the years to come.

May the Holy Soul of Rabbi Sacks Ztz”L have an Aliyah, may his memory be a blessing, and may those he left behind be comforted along with the mourners of Zion.

Thank you for reading. Every day I am learning. If there’s anything you think I should know, I would love to read your comments below.

Episodes of Open Book with Eitan and Itai air weekly on Saturday Nights, Jerusalem time. Our first Episode, On Rabbi Sacks, the London Bridge, is premiering the weekend of Jan. 2

Ethan Yakhin is the co-host of  Open Book with Eitan and Itai, a Podcast both with and about Jewish Authors. To stay updated on upcoming episodes, you can follow Open Book on Instagram. The show is available wherever you listen to podcasts. You can have a look here at their podcast page. 

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About the Author
Ethan works at a local bookstore in the heart of Jerusalem. When he's outside the store, he's probably researching for his podcast or doing other creative work.
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