COMMUNITIES across Australia are set to roll out the red carpet for Lord Jonathan Sacks over the coming week, on his last official visit to the country as Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth.
After two decades, the peer is stepping down in September, but not before a whistlestop farewell tour of Western Australia, NSW and Victoria, where he’ll be celebrating a number of key anniversaries.
In an in-depth interview ahead of his visit, covering everything from the GFC to the role of women in Orthodoxy and relations with Progressive Judaism, Rabbi Sacks told The AJN what he was looking forward to most about his trip was catching up with the communal leadership.
“Australian Jewry is blessed with wonderful rabbis and exceptional lay leaders, and it’s just connecting and reconnecting with people that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Rabbi Sacks arrives in Perth on Sunday for a host of events, including a gala dinner at Government House marking the 120th anniversary of the Perth Hebrew Congregation, a civic reception with the Lord Mayor at Council House and a lecture at the Town Hall hosted by the Anglican Archbishop of Perth.
He will also meet with younger members of the community and take part in an interview and Q&A at the synagogue.
Perth Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Dovid Freilich said, “As one of the few congregations in Australia still under the authority of the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, we are extremely proud he is visiting, and also proud of the way he has portrayed the teachings and ethics of Judaism to the wider world during his years in office.”
From Perth, Rabbi Sacks flies to Sydney where he’ll take part in a discussion with ABC journalist Dr Norman Swan at The Great Synagogue, focusing on his book, The Great Partnership. Following the discussion, a book signing will precede a special dinner, attended by NSW Governor Marie Bashir. Rabbi Sacks is also set to attend a Shacharit service at Central Synagogue, tying in with the shul’s centenary.
Hailing Rabbi Sacks as “one of the great philosopher rabbis of our era”, The Great Synagogue’s Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence said, “It is a great pleasure to welcome my teacher and mentor Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, with Lady Elaine Sacks, back to The Great Synagogue.
“It was Rabbi Sacks who transformed my appreciation of my Jewish heritage from a historical and cultural affiliation into a love for an ancient wisdom which is also a guide to contemporary living.”
From Sydney, Rabbi Sacks heads to Victoria as a guest of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (EMHC), this year celebrating its 155th anniversary.
As well as spending Shabbat at the shul, the chief will take part in a double Torah dedication and procession next Sunday, starting at Parliament House and ending at the synagogue, and address a gala dinner at Palladium at Crown. Sunday morning will also see Rabbi Sacks davvening at Caulfield Hebrew Congregation.
EMHC’s Rabbi Dovid Gutnick said the shul was “beside itself with excitement in anticipation of the Chief Rabbi’s visit”.
“The sight of Lord Sacks walking down the steps of Parliament House with our new Torahs and addressing a full house at Palladium at Crown fills us and the community with immense pride,” he said.
The Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, makes a new friend during a visit in 2006.