At the Memorial Service
From the time I was a boy, it was always my ambition to stand in the pulpit and address a congregation with the words my Father often used – ‘My Friends’.
I never expected that my ambition would be fulfilled today, on such a sad occasion. Nevertheless, I can really say and mean ‘My Friends’ or should I say ‘Our Friends’ as I am speaking here also on behalf of my sister Naomi and brother David and our families.
It was to be our Mother’s stone setting today. At Dad’s suggestion the inscription included the words ‘She was a Mother to her Congregation’ and so she was. That would make many of us here today brothers and sisters, more than friends.
A comment was made to me at the shiva that everyone felt they owned a piece of Rabbi Jacobs. Naomi, David and I accepted living within this parameter especially as we participated with the sense of mutual loyalty and duty my parents always felt to the New London and the New North London Synagogues at their inception. Naturally we each had our own and special relationship with our Dad.
David found himself in the troubled world of a youngster caught up in the midst of something he could not comprehend. To this day he cannot come to terms with the way some people acted. But David had a relationship with our parents that was full of love and mutual understanding, especially in their latter years when he did everything in his power to care for them, in spite of the great personal challenges he faced.
Naomi was my parents’ Jerusalem correspondent featuring intellectual empathy and unbridled optimism. Naomi, Sasson and their children were always so pleased to have them visit and shared intense and wonderful times together.
And myself, who found it hard to knuckle down to solid learning but nevertheless, readily absorbed the very positive religious insights my Dad gave me from an early age. He knew I liked to be involved in the dissipation of religious concepts but as a facilitator and spectator. It was greatly satisfying as my Dad knew I loved this role so as to not only to open doors for him as his chauffeur, but help open doors to others, in the great adventure that dynamic Judaism presented.
With many others committed to the cause we started new synagogues, arranged lectures, public meetings, conferences and publications. My Dad sometimes called a small bunch of us fanatical middle of the roaders and suggested we find more people to take up this position.
Bringing the spectatle up to date last year we started work on www.louisjacobs.org and made many videos on subjects ranging from Time and Eternity to his Rabbinic Heroes to the issues of Masorti in the wider community. Dad was very excited at having a website devoted to his thinking, once he saw the possibilities of proliferating ideas and engaging a wide audience. Neither the website nor the videos had been completed on his passing but we are committed to carrying on with this work. We hope to go live very soon not just as a memorial to him but as the way that we may be able to achieve his dream of having educated people from all sections of the religious community being open and challenging to each other leshem shamayim – for the sake of heaven.
It is my role today to thank everyone. We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and messages of condolence. The tributes and honour paid to our late father have greatly comforted us at this very sad but strangely encouraging time for the family.
What is absolutely clear from the many many letters, emails, shiva visits and phone calls is that my Dad’s ideas reached out to a very wide audience from all persuasions. Politics got in the way of open dialogue but beneath it all I can now see just how seriously his writings are taken even by those who were outwardly critical. He often spoke of creating a ‘mood’ in the community, not a ‘movement.’ He became convinced that the mood has been created and something would happen to coax the challenging debates into the open. Maybe his passing will be the catalyst.
But something that was not to be achieved in his lifetime has now been achieved. In making the funeral and shiva week an outpouring of love and concern, there was no disrespect. Everyone did the right thing and we thank all sections of the Community for this. This once in a lifetime event has truly been remarkable for the family and this community.
So to the members of the New London a very special thank you for making all the arrangements for this beautiful service – Minhag Anglia in all its glory. On behalf of David and Naomi and myself we would like to have the time to thank you individually. But today I must mention my Dad’s colleagues who have given him a wonderful send off to the Olam Habah. Dad believed there are three givens, Shamayim, Torah Min Hashamayim and the Olam Habah, the world to come.
Rabbi Hammer has skilfully guided us and organised the services and we are so glad that you are with us and have been so supportive over the last difficult year.
Rabbi Wittenberg has showed us such empathy. His friendship and relationship with my parents over so many years shines out of his words, writings and deeds. The concern, effort and respect that you Jonathan put into the days surrounding my Father’s death will never be forgotten. The energy that Rabbi Wittenberg and Rabbi Hammer are putting into novel ways of continuing his teaching is fantastic. Watch this space!
Stephen Cotsen took away much stress organising and arranging everything to a tee especially today’s service and your great chazanut with the Choir is a pleasure to listen to. Your co-ordinating the news and articles on the web site and the splendid newsletter is greatly appreciated.
George Rothschild, one of my Dad’s closest friends as well as colleagues gave my Dad much pleasure in their discussions, reminiscences and sometimes in mischief. George, your words today expressed your true feelings for my Dad.
To Rabbi Weiner and Rabbi Gordon: your appropriate and moving words showed different aspects of my Father’s influence.
To Ronnie Cohen and the New London staff, special thanks for your participation and being ready and available at all the right times.
To Adrian Marks the new New London Chairman: thank you for introducing the service. Our families go back a long way and my Dad was so pleased that Adrian is now at the helm to help further develop the Synagogue and its standing.
All the past Chairmen of this Synagogue have also been great fans of my Dad and encouraged him to be both a congregational Rabbi as well as an academic, the perfect mix for my dad’s personality. Eleanor Lind, Anne Cowan and Lenny Krikler spoke great words at the shiva. These reflected the different and very personal effects that my Dad had on their lives.
Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove has graciously flown in from Chicago to address the congregation today. My Dad was delighted to answer Elliot’s questions as he delved into my Dad’s character and work. Elliot’s work with my Dad is unfinished but knowing Elliot’s resourcefulness he will identify other sources and we all look forward to reading his thesis. Because of Elliot’s current work and the close connection between his grandfather and my father we could not think of a more appropriate person to speak today and we thank you Elliot, so much, for a brilliantly analytical and heartwarming address and for your teaching over Shabbat with us at the New North London.
This week’s sedra is Devarim and it starts, ‘These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel’. As you know, Frank Cass of Vallentine Mitchell has recently published my Father’s book on Jewish preaching. This week the book starts off its piece stating that there is a midrashic comment that reads Devorim instead of Devarim. This translates as ‘these are the bees which Moses spoke to all Israel’. Moses’ words to all Israel were bees, that is, they were bee-like in nature. Thus the words of the righteous can be compared to a swarm of bees as people throng to follow their teachings which guide Jews throughout the world. Perhaps the meaning here is that though each good person is an individual, his specific insights are of value to the whole group.
Indeed it is evident that my Father was able to share his insights with a very wide group.
But I have been trying to find a sentence that would sum up what motivated him as Rabbi Jacobs. He was immersed in belief in Shamayim and its expression and helped so many others find their Judaism. He always wanted people to work it out for themselves by setting us on what he considered was the right and enduring path. He has left us with a mound of knowledge to dip into, not just through his books, writings and videos but through the resources that he used throughout his life being accessible at the Oxford Centre at Yarnton Manor and I must here mention the respect, sensitivity and diligence that their librarian Piet van Boxel and Joanna Weinberg gave my Dad in arranging the move.
So, my friends, still on the theme of Devarim, words, I have chosen the following summary sentence. Actually the sentence is a berachah (blessing) that is recited during the morning service.
Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetsivanu la’asok bedivrei Torah. Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by thy commandments and commanded us to busy ourselves with the words of torah.
Dad was always busy with Torah, virtually every minute of every day. There would be nothing he would have liked better than for more members of this synagogue and other likeminded people to also do our best in busying ourselves with Torah and continue the great Quest for religious truth.