This Shabbat we are celebrating the life and works of our founder Rabbi, Louis Jacobs, of blessed memory. It is the tenth anniversary of the passing of the single dominant scholar in Anglo-Jewry.
Louis was also my Rabbi, and the Rabbi whose treatment at the hands of the United Synagogue, resulted in the formation of New London Synagogue. I have the warmest memories of my teacher, of skipping down from the children’s services at Rosh Hashanah to hide behind the curtains in the sanctuary to hear sermons I didn’t understand - as a kid - but knew were special. Later, as my own understanding of Judaism deepened, I was able to understand quite how special the sermons, and so much else of Louis’ work, was - truly exceptional.
This year we are being joined on Friday night for a communal dinner by the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, who knows a thing about making decisions based on principles, even if they come with a significant personal cost. And on Shabbat I will be taking the opportunity to share from one of Louis’ less well known works, on Jewish Values. I’m delighted that, among our guests, we will be joined by Chazanim George Rothschild and Stephen Cotsen, who worked with Louis for so many years, and Louis’ son Ivor.
Ivor, among other things, is the mastermind of Friends of Louis Jacobs, a wonderful charitable endeavour keeping alive the scholarship, the stories and the message of our teacher, Ivor’s father. www.louisjacobs.org is a spectacular resource of articles by and about Louis, as well as videos and other information. It is most warmly recommended.
To leave the last word to Louis. We are involved in a precarious thing, trying to balance a commitment to tradition while embracing our place in a very fast-moving modern world. It can feel as though we, at New London, lack some of the clear cut language and positions of the fervent peddlers of atheism and the demagogic religious fundamentalists. Louis’ response to this challenge is perhaps best captured in this charming quote,
“I have sometimes yielded to the temptation, when challenged that my views are ambiguous, to declare that it is better to be vaguely right than definitely wrong.”