For Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt"l, the much-revered former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, conversation was a form of prayer. In that vein, Rabbi Proops of Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center and Rabbi Klibanoff of Congregation Etz Chaim, both in Livingston, co-hosted an event on Monday night in honor of the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Lord Sacks, zt”l. The event was part of a world-wide initiative established by The Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust (RabbiSacks.org) called Communities in Conversation. In an opening pre-recorded message from Rabbi Sacks’ daughter, Gila Sacks, she said that her father “continued to learn every single day until his last” and that “for him, conversation was a spiritual act.”
The Livingston Orthodox rabbis both spoke about the important role Rabbi Sacks played in their lives as members and leaders of the Jewish community. Rabbi Proops, who began his pulpit in Livingston just before Rosh Hashanah, was raised in London. He explained that he had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Rabbi Sacks on a number of occasions. To a room of 60 people, Rabbi Proops relayed one such encounter. Within a short time period, Rabbi Proops and two of his brothers-in-law all got engaged to be married. At the time, Rabbi Proops’ father-in-law-to-be worked with Rabbi Sacks at the United Synagogue in England. Naturally unable to attend three different engagement parties for just one family all within a few weeks, but perhaps also unwilling to play favorites, Rabbi Sacks instead hosted his own private engagement party at his home for the three couples (picture attached). This was the kind of man Rabbi Sacks was, Rabbi Proops said. He made time for people.
This was the first community event that Rabbi Proops hosted since moving to New Jersey. The rabbis had an engaging dynamic, as though they had been longtime friends. In a typical joke for the evening, Rabbi Klibanoff gave his colleague “proops” (instead of the slang “props”) for hosting and said he looked forward to working together for many years to come. “At the end of the day, we both serve the same boss,” Rabbi Klibanoff said. “And her name is Sara,” Rabbi Proops quipped, as both rabbis are married to women named Sara.
With some witty banter and deep emotion, Rabbis Proops and Klibanoff discussed several of Rabbi Sacks’ teachings. A lengthy discussion was sparked by a video clip shown of Rabbi Sacks discussing how social media cannot be a replacement for community. Online social networks can support community, he argued, but they cannot create community. While the clip was a decade old, the message was particularly relevant today, in an age of Zoom webinars and Facebook groups.
Another conversation about the importance of children and supporting future generations followed anecdotes about how Rabbi Sacks always made time for younger people, meeting them where they were, both physically and religiously.
Ending the conversation, Rabbi Klibanoff asked Rabbi Proops how he would use Rabbi Sacks’ teachings to inspire his community. Quoting Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Proops said, “ ‘Leaders create followers, but great leaders create leaders’… Whatever you’ve got, you have to share it. You have to engage others. We all have a role to play in the Jewish community.”
Indeed, Rabbi Klibanoff agreed, “Judaism is about people. We need to invest in people.”
By Talia Liben Yarmush