The ORT network was deeply saddened to hear the news of the untimely passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth.
Rabbi Sacks z”l was a true friend of ORT. He was a great believer in the vital importance of education in our lives and he always encouraged us to greater heights. He was hugely supportive of our work and we were fortunate to welcome him as our guest speaker and contributor at a number of ORT events and projects over the years.
Back in 1999 when the internet was becoming a mainstream phenomenon, the then Chief Rabbi visited ORT House and voiced his belief that the Jewish community needed to use the new innovations in IT to enhance education. He saw the ORT network as a key player to lead this digital transition and championed our game-changing ‘Navigating the Bible’ computer program in schools.
The program was one of the world’s first to make digital versions of the Jewish Bible freely accessible on the internet. Users could study portions, hear melodies and learn from scholars who had recorded audio commentaries and written divrei Torah.
Rabbi Sacks championed the project in a forerunner of his support for the subsequent online Yizkor site which followed in 2002. He helped launch that provision at ORT House that September alongside Chaim Adler, then Chief Cantor of Tel Aviv, and ORT stalwart Sir Maurice Hatter, who was then Vice-President of World ORT and a leading sponsor of the project.
The site allowed users to hear Cantor Adler perform Kaddish and other memorial prayers, including Yizkor. Rabbi Sacks told the gathering that the Jewish people were the world’s first “virtual community” – connected throughout time – and praised ORT’s work for creating a site which allowed Jews the world over to “remain connected”.
He said: “If ORT’s latest project encourages just one more person to fulfil the mitzvah of honoring the memory of their parents it will have been worthwhile; if tens, hundreds or even thousands of people are able to make use of it, the benefits will be immeasurable.”
On a trip to Kosovo, Rabbi Sacks saw our work to rebuild shattered lives in the region and returned to Britain to assist with the creation of an ‘ORT Shabbat’. In June 2000, rabbonim across the South-East used their sermons to inform their congregations about our impact through education. It was an incredibly successful initiative that helped us to garner more support for ORT’s beneficiaries and drive the organization forward.
A regular speaker at British ORT events, Rabbi Sacks appeared alongside Tony Blair at the 1996 annual dinner, and then again in 2011 as guest of honor ahead of his retirement. That was an inspirational speech – although he faced some competition from a wayward fire alarm…
More recently, ORT UK was thrilled to feature Rabbi Sacks as a guest speaker at its new NXT Lay Leadership Program. His presentation on the Seven Principles of Jewish leadership will become a key resource for program participants now and in the future. His wisdom will continue to stimulate minds and influence leadership for generations to come.
Across the global ORT network we are incredibly grateful for Rabbi Sacks’s many years of support and we feel his loss immensely. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to his family and we extend our deepest condolences at this difficult time. May his memory be a blessing.
(Picture: Rabbi Sacks with Dr Ellen Isler, former Director General of the World ORT Union, and Ivor Connick, former Chair of British ORT, in 1995)