Baltimore congregants take part in global day of learning in honor of late rabbi

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More than 150 synagogues, communities and Jewish day schools across the world will be honoring the second anniversary (yahrzeit) of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. His death will be commemorated over two days, Nov. 13 and Nov. 14, with a global day of learning called “Communities in Conversation.” It aims to emulate the rabbi’s teachings, in addition to the importance of meaningful dialogue with others — an ideal he often stressed, talking outside one’s immediate circle, religious and otherwise.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (Courtesy of The Rabbi Sacks Legacy)

A philosopher, theologian and an award-winning author of dozens of books on religion and morality, Sacks also served as the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in Britain for more than 20 years — from 1991 to 2013. One of the most influential rabbis and Jewish scholars of the 20th century, he was knighted by the Queen of England in 2005 for his work in the field.

His beliefs emphasized the need for conversation and interpersonal connections, learning not just through research but through discussing religion and morals with other people who may hold different opinions and have different life experiences. This is the basis for the event, which is being observed in synagogues internationally, including in Baltimore.

The 2022 day of remembrance also incorporates the theme “From Optimism to Hope,” about the rabbi’s analysis of such emotions and human behavior, and how this can be applied to the Torah and to people’s lives.

“My father learned from books, from text, from laws, history and from world events,” said Gila Sacks, the rabbi’s youngest daughter. “But mainly, he learned from people. He would seek out people to learn from, from every possible path of life, and he would do this through conversation — through talking and listening. For him, conversation was a defining and spiritual act, a way of opening ourselves up to something beyond the individual. A training, perhaps, for opening ourselves up to God.”

‘It was something we jumped at’

Community organizations, synagogues and schools across the world have registered to host learning sessions for this event, as far away as Indonesia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Closer to home, Ner Tamid Synagogue in Baltimore, Kemp Mill Synagogue in Silver Spring and the Johns Hopkins University branch of OU-JLIC (the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) will be participating in the event, which takes on far more than a memorial.

“One of our longest-running programs is a weekly reading group where we read Jewish articles, and it started when a bunch of students got together and read ‘The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning,’ ” said Dan Cantor, co-director of the Johns Hopkins OU-JLIC. The book was published in 2011.

The student organization took part last year as well, on the occasion of his first yahrzeit. (Sacks died on Nov. 7, 2020 at the age of 72). This year, they plan to have a gathering to assess materials provided by the Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust and to discuss how they tie into this year’s theme.

“When the opportunity came up last year to honor his memory, it was something we jumped at,” said Cantor. “It was nice because Rabbi Sacks was really involved with OU-JLIC when he was teaching. There were a number of OU-JLIC campuses that participated, and we’re happy to be one of them. The students really love Rabbi Sacks, so any opportunity to learn his Torah is always appreciated.”

Ner Tamid Synagogue is hosting its event at the home of two of its congregants, Jonathan Groner and Rachel Geller Groner. In 2021, she took a course through Rabbi Sacks’ organization, which asked her if she would like to participate in the first yahrzeit as a host family. The event was a success, so they will be holding it again this year.

“I’ve found that Rabbi Sacks is a major influence in my development of Jewish observance and thought,” observed Geller Groner. “There’s so many people who have found him to be an important influence.”

Their event will be held on Nov. 6, a week before the international one. Groner said all are welcome to join.

For more information, email her at: brds619@gmail.com.

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