FAITH IN THE FAM­ILY

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

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.

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

Ex­em­plary bond: the Chief Rabbi with his wife, Lady Sacks

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