FAITH IN THE FAMILY
BBC1, Monday September 29
WE ALL know that Rosh Hashanah is about family. It’s the festival when you get to spend quality arguing time with those nearest to you and catch up with all the relatives you have spent the previous 12 months avoiding. Well that is the Jewish stereotype of this time of year.
However, in Faith in the Family — a kind of extended sermon in which Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks extolled the virtue of the family — we were told that Rosh Hashanah was indeed about family and that spending time with them was actually a good thing.
Although Rabbi Sacks spoke about the subject from the perspective of the Jewish religion, one did not have to be religious or even Jewish to appreciate the things he had to say.
Anyone who has given birth or witnessed the birth of their own child would instinctively understand Rabbi Sacks’s statement that “the birth of a child is like the birth of a universe… a covenant of love”.
When we celebrate the birth of the universe, he said we also give time and thought to our own children. This brought Rabbi Sacks on to his theme — the fact that the earning and spending of money has overtaken the rearing of children as our most important project as a society.
It was not just the children who were losing out but also the parents. We saw Rabbi Sacks playing with his own grandchildren. He said: “Nothing prepared me for the miracle of raising a family.” Parents who have the privilege of seeing their children growing up every day will feel strongly that this was certainly more important than any material possession.
Rabbi Sacks brought in his first star witness. Oliver James is Jewish, yes, but not religious. He is also a psychotherapist — not a profession which has always been esteemed by Judaism. However, James agreed with Rabbi Sacks on his main thesis. Households in Britain were working more hours, he said, an average of 56 per week compared to 42 in 1980, and that brought with it corresponding pressure. What can we do about it? Well, James agreed that people who had a religious faith were less likely to divorce and much less likely to be materialistic.
Having children had been really important to James too. He said: “What really matters is the extent to which their authentic behaviour reconnects you with what really matters.”
Next stop on Rabbi Sacks’s tour was Esther Rantzen’s house in Hampstead. Rantzen was another agnostic but she also agreed with Rabbi Sacks’s diagnosis. She and her children always found time to talk to each other at family dinner times. Said Rantzen, “If something was going wrong, we shared it. And if things were going right we shared them too.”
It was Rantzen who more than 20 years ago realised that children’s desperation was not being heard and helped to set up Childline — a charity providing help for children in troubled families. The response was immediate.
On the launch night of the charity, 50,000 children attempted to get through.
Rabbi Sacks applauded the help that children were getting — he also chatted to a hard-pressed mother who was receiving help with her children from Homestart, a service which provides assistance to vulnerable families.
Last stop was Lord Winston, who more than most people in this country can claim to have helped parents achieve that miracle of the birth of a child.
But after they were born, said Winston, there were things we could all do “a hell of a lot better”.
Rabbi Sacks emphasised the point: “Caring for the next generation is the most important thing we can all do.”
From Liberal to Charedi, you would not find many Jews who would disagree with that sentiment.
Exemplary bond: the Chief Rabbi with his wife, Lady Sacks