Rabbi Sacks posthumously given lifetime achievement award at London dinner

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Rabbi Sacks posthumously given lifetime achievement award at London dinner

Genesis Prize Foundation event held in honour of one of the most respected rabbinic figures in recent history and attended by Isaac Herzog, Theresa May and Pfizer's Albert Bourla.

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Elaine Sacks with her late husband's award, together with the Israeli president.
Elaine Sacks with her late husband's award, together with the Israeli president.

Rabbi Lord Sacks has been honoured with The Genesis Prize Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award at a glittering London dinner attended by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Theresa May and Pfizer chief Albert Bourla – on the night a powerful new tribute film premiered.

The former Chief Rabbi, who becomes the first person to be recognised posthumously by the prestigious body, passed away last November after a short battle with cancer, prompting tributes from leading royal, religious and political leaders.

Perhaps the best-known and most globally respected rabbinic figure in the world in recent decades, Rabbi Sacks’ writings, speeches and broadcasts inspired Jews and non-Jews alike, with Tony Blair describing him as “my rabbi”.

The Genesis Prize Foundation said the lifetime achievement award “recognises Lord Sacks for his extraordinary role in inspiring the next generation of Jews, and his illustrious life-long work as a teacher of Jewish values and an advocate of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue”.

After presenting the award to Rabbi Sacks’ wife, Lady Elaine Sacks, Herzog suggested his “deep sense of affinity” with Sacks emanated from his resemblance to his own grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland. “Like my grandfather, Rabbi Sacks was a traditional inclusivist, fearlessly loyal to Orthodox Judaism, while finding the halachic strategy to include everyone.

Watch the film here

“Both were men of Torah and Science, brilliant Torah scholars who mastered rabbinic literature while excelling in secular academia, balancing the theory of evolution with the seven days of creation. Both identified as proud Jews, devoted Zionists, faithful protectors of Israel. Their very being stemmed from the unique characteristics of British Judaism: moderate, receptive, inclusive, adaptive yiddishkeit.”

Joined on stage by May and Genesis Prize co-founder Stan Polovets, he presented a specially-created sculpture of a shofar and blue Torah scroll – a reflection of his love of Israel.

He recalled his decision to remain in Israel in the days after the Gulf War began despite the threat of scud attacks. Such was his commitment, the president went on to joke, that the former chief rabbi cut off his beard in response to instructions from the home front command designed to ensure people could use face masks comfortably – only he later describe himself as a “shlimiel” when he realised he was the only one to do so.

Elaine Sacks with her late husband’s award, together with the Israeli president.

In a pre-recorded message for the event at banqueting House in Whitehall, Prince Charles, who had been a personal friend, said: Rabbi Sacks “combined the sacred and the secular, rooted to his particular faith yet remaining open to the universal wisdom of humankind. He was a global ambassador par excellence for the Jewish people and moral values. He personified and lived, as he described, “a Judaism engaged with the world.”

Paying his own tribute, former Genesis laureate Natan Sharasky stressed how Rabbi Sacks had engaged fully with the outside world without compromising on his Judaism in any way.

The Genesis Prize has been awarded annually for the last seven years to leading lights in the Jewish world from a variety of sectors including Sharansky, Robert Kraft, Michael Douglas and most recently Steven Spielberg. Each laureate selects good causes to support with the full $1m prize. Sacks, who was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at Jewish News’ Night of Heroes in 2018, was shortlisted for the 2021 prize but passed away in November 2020, three weeks before the conclusion of the voting campaign, during which tens of thousands of Jews cast their votes for him.

Lady Elaine told the 150 strong audience of community luminaries she felt “overwhelmed” by the evening and the tributes she’d heard. “It means a lot to me to know the high regard you had for my husband’s teachings and writings. I’ve been blown away by the anecdotes I’ve heard tonight and hope many more will be inspired in years to come.”

Polovets said: “For decades, Rabbi Sacks and his teachings, remarkable in their wisdom and moral clarity, served as a guiding light to millions. The Genesis Lifetime Achievement Award is a declaration of profound gratitude from the global Jewish community, and an expression of our common desire to keep this light shining for future generations.”

A 10-minute film about the life and legacy of Lord Sacks was also played for the first time, featuring tributes from Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Archbishop John Sentamu and Genesis Prize co-founder Mikhail Fridman. It also included Lord Sacks’ long-time communications director Dan Sacker, who spoke of his boss and hero’s “timely and timeless” lessons which will guarantee they live on, in part through the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust headed by Joanna Benarroch.

The evening was kicked off by Genesis committee member Jill Smith, who was one of the event’s key organisers. Among the other guests were Rabbi Sacks successor Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Nazi hunter and Genesis Prize nominee Serge Klarsfeld and Ambassadors Neil Wigan and Tzipi Hotovely.

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