DINA SACKS: I hope we make you proud, my mentor, my father

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DINA SACKS: I hope we make you proud, my mentor, my father

'He recognised the beauty and the pain of life and knitted them together in a compulsion to build, to renew, to hope'

Rabbi Sacks, with his children Josh, Dina and Gila (on his lap lap)
Rabbi Sacks, with his children Josh, Dina and Gila (on his lap lap)

My earliest memories of my father are in the depths of his study at the bottom of the garden, keyboard clacking, surrounded by book-lined shelves; page after page he laboured over, focused, sometimes pacing, only coming up for air when we called him in for dinner, or occasionally, if it was important, a phone call.

Sometimes, on an inspired and magical evening, Beethoven or the Beatles played at full volume, and we were swept up in the tide of music and the embrace of his energy.

People came and went for meetings, gathered in our living room, eager to hear his words. There was a fervour, a purpose. When he walked, he walked fast. We had to run to catch up, physically and figuratively.

A couple of years ago I took my parents to see Hamilton, the musical, in which I had recognised my father in the laser-focused, driven, titular role.

He always knew he was running out of time, not believing that he would live past the age of 40, having had more than one previous brush with death. In fact, death was seemingly always in the back of his mind.

He encouraged me as a teenager to write my own obituary, in order to forge my path in life, so that I should be suitably remembered after it. He encouraged that in all of us – to ask, what do we live for? For what will we be remembered?

A few days before my father died my mother and I, walking in the park one Saturday, saw four men holding sheet music, singing in another language and then in English, of a time “when we will not be alone, for we have each other”.

Their voices transcended time and space.

Gila Sacks giving a heart-rending tribute to her much-loved father, Rabbi Lord Sacks

On telling my father that evening, he recalled the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where, in an act of rebellion, the wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne plays a duet from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro – music “so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it”.

My father’s mind was like that.

He recognised the beauty and the pain of life and knitted them together in a compulsion to build, to renew, to hope.

He loved the word hope.

It embodied the art of possibility; it empowered each of us to change our collective situation when the need required; it challenged us never to accept what should not be accepted.

There is a famous story of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, who, when his community was faced with misfortune, would go to a certain place in the forest to meditate.

There he would light a fire, say a prayer, and the misfortune would be averted.

Rabbi Lord Sacks during the barmitzvah of Dina’s son Elisha

His successor, the Maggid of Mezrich, when facing similar difficulties, would go to the same place in the forest, and pray, though he did not know how to light the fire.

Still, the misfortune would be averted.

His successor knew the place in the forest, but did not know how to light the fire and did not know the prayer.  However, the place was sufficient.

Then it fell to his successor to overcome misfortune.

He could not light the fire, did not know the prayer, and could not find the place in the forest.  All he could do was to tell the story, and that was sufficient.

But, for my father, this wasn’t enough.

He didn’t want us just to tell the story of those that came before us.

He challenged us to rebuild, to fix that which had become broken, to renew that which had become old, to restore that which had been forgotten.

I hope we make you proud, my mentor, my father.


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