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June 19, 2009

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 19, 2009 Can Britain's Chief rabbi sell in America? PAGE 17A J By Ben Harris NEW YORK (JTA)--Most of what you need to know about Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British commonwealth, is appar- ent from the story he tells of how his latest book, "The Home We Build Together," came to be. It begins in the prime min- ister's study at 10 Downing St., where Sacks would go "'regularly" to study the Bible -with former British leader Tony Blair. During one of their meetings, Blair--who Sacks describes as a "'very religious man" who reads the Bible daily asked why only 34 verses are needed to describe the ~reation of the world, but more than 10 times as many to account for the building of the mishkan. the tabernacle the Israelites built in the desert after the Exodus. Caught off guard, Sacks offered an answer he con- sidered insufficient. Only later, when Britain and other Western European democ- racies found themselves enduring spasms of social tension brought on by the alienation of young Muslim immigrants, did he arrive ata more thorough understand- ing. The problem Europeans were facing, Sacks says now. is precisely the problem the Jews faced in the desert: how to unite a diverse people into a nation. "God does the most unex- pected thing of all," Sacks explained in a recent lecture something together. Get them to build a house for me.'" In a manner that is fast be- coming his signature, Sacks took that biblical insight and used it to fashion a book- length assessment of the failure of British multicul- turalism. One of the book's chapters, titled"Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side," went on to became the title of a British government report aimed at promoting better relations between the country's reli- gious communities. "The government had enormous problems think- ing the problem through," Sacks told JTA in a recent interview. "I realized that I had solved a problem that they were struggling with." The man London's Jewish Chronicle refers to as "The Chief" occupies a peculiar perch in the rabbinic uni- verse. He is a religious figure who has the ear of the most powerful leaders of a largely secular country. Though his flock comprises the 300.000 Jews of the commonwealth. he is best known for com- menting on wider social and cultural issues. And m an era when chief rabbis are often viewed as either inglorious or irrelevant-- or both, in the case of the scandal-plagued rabbinate in Israel Sacks has man- aged to retain a far-ranging influence through his pro- lific writings and frequent appearances on television and radio. "Dr. Sacks is one of the in~-New ~York. "He-says to- ,handf-a4 of religious figures Moses ~in 'effect, 'You want ,~ in Britain today who is as to turn a fractious group of well known outside his individuals into a nation, own faith community as a responsible nation, that within it," the Independent coheres? Get them to build wrote in a profile. "Among Adam Lambert (1) and Kris Idol" finale. By Danielle Berrin Entertainment Op-Ed The opening moment of the "American Idol'finale was drip- ping with irony. Considering that this was the most cultur- ally polarized competition FOX Broadcasting Allen during the "American in the show's history, it was amusing that finalists Adam Lambert and Kris Alien were both dressed regally in white. This, of course, underscored the greatest irony of all: that Adam Lambert, whose devastatin~ talent all but guaranteed his non-Jews he is a figure of some considerable stature, a staunch defender of the interests of his own people, but one whose stance makes a significant contribution to society's debate on the big social issues of the day." Sacks has been in the news lately for his work on the new Koren siddur, the first, new American Orthodox transla- tion of the prayer book in a generation. Its publisher hopes the siddur will become thee predominant prayer text in Modern Orthodox congregations, ousting the ArtScroll Siddur, which is written from a fervently Orthodox perspective. Sacks has nothing but praise for ArtScroll. though at earlier points in his ca- reer he may have had more to say on issues of religious politics. He earned scorn for his role in denying syna- gogue honors to the man voted the greatest British Jew of all time by readers of the Jewish Chronicle in 2005. the controversial British Rabbi Louis Jacobs. who had run afoul of the Orthodox establishment for his supposedly hereti- cal writings. (Sacks wasn't even a finalist.) Perhaps the lowest point inhis tenure came when a letter was leaked in which he said a popular Reform rabbi who had died was "'amongst those who destroy the faith." These days, however, Sacks appears bent on stay- ing above the fray. He art- fully dodges a question about Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech atYad Vashem, which was lambasted publicly by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau. Sacks makes do with platitudes about Koren Publishers Jerusalem\ British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses New York-area rabbis and lay leaders May 19 at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan. Jewish-Catholic reconcili- ation. Asked what he thought about female rabbis. Sacks launches into a flowery riff about the importance of women in Jewish life. "The word rabbi means "my teacher.' And can women be teachers of Torah? Ab- solutely," Sacks said. "And beyond that. you will have worked out by now that I have no intention of answering questions that I don't want to answer." The questions that most exercise Sacks these days have little to do with paro- chialJewishconcerns an- other noteworthy departure from his !styli colleagues, who are most often in the news for controversies relat- ed to the coercive power they wield in a mostly secular country. His second decade in office was inaugurated in 2001 with a call to Jewish responsibility, as .opposed to the more inward-focused idea of Jewish renewal, which was the theme of his first. Sacks believes that Jews. as a people with a long his- tory of living as a minority, have much to teach contem- porary societies struggling to integrate recent arrivals. But he warns that a model of dialogue between faith leaders, what he calls the "classic model" of interfaith understanding, is unequal to the task~ Dialogue is "an elite ac- tivity," Sacks says, and the forward and we should not have high expectations." Sacks said. "There are some wonderft~l, wonderful mod- erate.Muslims in Britain and in America and in the Middle East and elsewhere, and I love them and we work with them and we have them in our home and we do things together. But that is not the actual route to a solution of the problem. It is a miscon- ception of the problem." Asked about American rabbis who have made such encou~nters a mainstay of their interfaith efforts. Sacks again has nothing but words of praise. "That is one avenue," problems are"downthereon Sacks said, flashing his the street." Moreover, with penchant formetaphor."Av- Muslims. dialogue will al- enues are very beautiful. It's ways get bogged down in the a lovely Winding lane full of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wild flowers and lovely vistas. "It's not the major route But it's not the interstate." Talk about 'Idol' worship win, instead lost the competi- tion to KrisAllen, asweet-faced, small-town folk singer. Inwhat had to have been a disappoint- ment to the show's four judges and to legions of Lambert fans across the country, the finale proved "American Idol" isn't really about talent. Over the season, the-"Star Wars"-style combat of good versus evil. dark versus light, played out like a culture war: Lambert. 27. the Jewish rocker from San Diegowith clear-eyed ambition for Hollywood fame. and Allen. 23. an evangelical Christian from Arkansas who plays acoustic guitar and does missionary work. In a pop contest starring these oppo- sites, talent inevitably became secondary. Dark knight Lambert has raven hair. wears dark eye- liner, black nail polish and leather trench coats. His style simultaneously recalls classic rock stars, serial killers and vampires, and beyond his trademark flamboyance, he possesses a sexual ambiguity he was clearly not interested in dispelling: When photos of him dressed in drag and kiss- ing other men leaked on the Internet, he iesponded with indifference: "I am who I am," Simon CoweU may have seen this coming, because, not long before, he had told Lambert on the show, "If you are not in the final next week, it will be one of the biggest upsets on this show." In the moment, still, Lambert's loss didn't seem to stop Cowell from looking crestfallen, a blow of defeat for the talent purist who insists that "Idol" is about finding the brightest star. home. Allen is the all-American boy, as inoffensive land unexcit- ing) as vanilla cream pie. Ifthe"Idol" contest had been truly about talent, Lambert would have been the crowning glory of all eight seasons. But the majority of the reported 100 million votes went to Al- len, leaving many of the show's fans dumbfounded. Before announcing the winner, host Ryan Seacrest's face fell a little. In the end. the nation's con- servatives changed the game by voting their conscience, not their common sense. And in the end. the majority of "Idol" wewers proved they don't really care about finding a star. All that matters is that they get to worship their Idol, the one who is most like them. Danielle Berrin is a staff writer for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.