One year during Purim, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman visited the London synagogue of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.
“He told me, ‘You have no Purim costume. I have to find something for you,’” Lieberman said in an interview last week. “He went back to his office, and he came out with a baseball hat which said ‘Chief Rabbi,’” Lieberman said. “His brother gave it to him, but he didn’t feel right wearing it. I told him I’d wear it with pride every Purim, and I have.”
It’s been two years since Sacks — a philosopher, theologian and writer — died at age 72. To mark his yahrzeit, the Rabbi Sacks Legacy organization invited Jewish communities around the world to hold events in memory of Sacks.
Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring and Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown were among the 250 communities and schools spanning six continents that took part in a global day of learning this month.
Lieberman was the featured speaker at Kemp Mill Synagogue, where 300 people gathered on Nov. 12.
In his interview with WJW, Lieberman said that Sacks was not only a great contributor to Jewish thought but also put his ideas into action. He brought his ideology of acceptance and understanding to real-life situations by spurring intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
“He lived what he thought, which is to say that he brought learning and studying in the beit midrash out into the world,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman noted how Sacks’ theological notions often made their way into the political realm. He described the way in which Sacks’ ideas helped him shape his own career as an observant Jew in the Senate.
“The Declaration of Independence tells us we are each endowed with unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Lieberman said. “But this doesn’t come from the great founders of our country — it’s from Hashem.”
Lieberman described Sacks as a “far-reaching” intellect who was not only a learner of the Torah and Talmud but also interested in secular knowledge, such as science, history and human development.
In Georgetown, Kesher Israel synagogue hosted a dinner and learning session commemorating Rabbi Sacks on Nov. 13. Some 25 people participated.
Congregant Winston Ashley helped lead the chevruta-style learning event. “Unfortunately, I only discovered Sacks about a year before his untimely death,” Ashley said, “His teachings resonated with me and inspired me a great deal through my Jewish journey. He was an amazing and inspiring speaker. He took classic teachings and old concepts and made them relevant to 21st century life. I took it upon myself to do this event and see who else wanted to join.”
Ashley, who led a similar event last year, found the participation to be higher this time around.
“Last year, we had COVID and we couldn’t bring any food,” Ashley said. “But this year, hardly anybody that attended didn’t speak. Everybody had something to contribute. Everybody had an idea they wanted to share.”
Ashley used materials provided by the Rabbi Sacks Legacy organization, that was established after his death to help promote and perpetuate his teachings, according to the group’s website.
“I miss him enormously,” Lieberman said. But Rabbi Sacks left us so much of his teaching and writings.”