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‘Why I Am A Jew’

Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the U.K., publishes an animated video about Jewish identity in time for the High Holidays

Hannah Vaitsblit
September 11, 2015

Just in time for the annual season of Jewish introspection, Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, has gotten the self-questioning ball rolling with a new whiteboard animation characteristically titled “Why I am a Jew.”

The video, which is narrated by Sacks, opens almost satirically with an anonymous hand drawing a pensive-looking figure (Sacks), then expands into a more general array of Jewish symbols. Sacks uses this as a framework to emphasize the enduring value of particularism and “challenging the idols of every age,” in contributing to a better universalism.

And what would a High Holidays video be without a bit of high-brow Jewish guilt? Sacks proclaims: “The dreams and hopes of my ancestors live on in me and I am the guardian of their trust, now and for the future.” He very intentionally contextualizes the revelation at Sinai with industrialization, urban life, and the trials and tribulations of the Jewish exilic experience; so you better not forget where you came from.

Sacks poignantly classifies the Judaic tradition as having “shaped the moral civilization of the West, teaching for the first time that human life is sacred, that the individual may never be sacrificed for the mass, and the rich and poor, great and small, are equal before God.” This message reverberates, almost as a reminder that even in the midst of the hyper-collective prayer and indistinguishable equality before the Divine, the individual—from the lonely High Priest awe-fully entering the Holy of Holies, to the perplexed congregant repeating archaic confessions—still matters in the broader definition, and redefinition, of what it means to be “Jewish.”

Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.