On Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Dunstan Road Shul and a missed conversation

On my first Shabbat in London, 8 years ago I was looking for a synagogue to pray. I was not familiar with the area but knew that Golders Green is a Jewish neighbourhood and finding a synagogue should be an easy task.


I saw an Orthodox man walking on the street and decided to follow him as it was clear that he was on his way to the Shul. Suddenly he turned to me and asked if I needed anything. I replied to him that I was new in town and that I was looking for a synagogue. He looked at me carefully and said that his Shul was not for me but directed me to another Shul on Dunstan Road. He was certain that this was the Shul I should attend.


I followed his instructions and reached the old nice building of Golders Green Synagogue, which was full of people mainly older than me but there was something trustable and solid there, so I decided to stay. And while pursuing my master degree in theatre, every Shabbat I attended that Shul. People used to tell me that I should find a younger Shul where I could find a nice Jewish boy… but I didn’t want to. This Shul with its character and very interesting intelligent and super nice community attracted me. I found friends there that became family and surprisingly or not, I also found my husband there. Or more precisely, the people there found my husband for me. So, Dunstan Road Shul has a special place in my heart.


One Shabbat in 2013 Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks came to the Shul. The community was very happy and excited and in his Drasha he spoke about returning home. Rabbi Sacks had just terminated his long service as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and returned to his Shul. Since then, whenever I attended the Dunstan Road Shul, I had the great pleasure and privilege to observe Rabbi Sacks sitting on the first row with his noble presence.


It is very sad to speak about Rabbi Sacks in the past tense. A lot has been and will be said about this great man, one of a kind and a really “Gdol HaDor”. There is not much I can add, but I can tell who was Rabbi Sacks for me. An exemplary living figure, a great Rabbi and a philosopher who I had the great honour to see with my own eyes. Not only to read his text but to read and learn his presence, his Halichot – filled with wisdom, majesty and modesty.


When you observed Rabbi Sacks, heard him or read his words, you had this inner feeling and strong recognition that you are encountering a great man, a great thinker, a great soul. This was clear and beautiful.


Later, when we moved to another area, we went to another Shul and used to visit Dunstan Road from time to time. Whenever we attended the Dunstan Road Shul, we always looked to see if Rabbi Sacks was there. Ari used to seat not far from him on the first row and this always caused me a little embarrassment. I remember that one Shabbat my little son Eliya played with Rabbi Sacks’ Siddur and act as if he was praying from it. Rabbi Sacks was very kind and collaborated with him. Today I am so grateful for those little moments and the Zchut to be physically close to him.


A couple of years ago whilst I was working on a stage adaptation of the book “My Mother My Grave” by Yair Neorai, I came across Rabbi Sacks’ book “Not in God’s Name”. I found this book very important and extremely powerful, speaking of the crucial problem I believed the world was facing. I decided to try and combine this text and adapt it to stage as part of the play I was writing. I had been facing Rabbi Sacks  Several times at the Shul and wanted to ask him about his book, to get his advice, to get his permission to adapt it. I wanted to share with him how close I was to his book, reading in it back and forth and wanted to thank him for writing it. But as it often happens when you stand in front of a great man, you (or at least I) stayed speechless. I could not find the courage to speak to him, therefore the play never got finished.


When I heard on Motzaey Shabbat last week that Rabbi Sacks had passed away, I was shocked and very sad for this great loss. Sad for the world, sad for the Jewish Community, sad for his family and friends in Dunsten Road Shul and sad for myself.


I will continue looking for Rabbi Sacks when we will come to the Dunstan Road Shul, I will continue looking for the right moment to speak to him and prepare for our meeting. His legacy is still alive, the learnings are still alive and so that the inner conversation with him. Sometimes, the things that never happen are those who continue to stay alive.


Thank you, Rabbi Sacks, for our missed conversation and for the honour I had to observe you sitting on the first row.