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Chief Rabbi TV review

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2006-09-21

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

You know its the Jewish New Year around the corner when you switch on BBC 1 around 11.30 at night and notice the beard of Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks coming into full vision and this year was no exception.

For years we have had Sir Jonathan give his annual TV broadcast which reflects on an aspect of life that has affected him and indeed the Jewish community.

Last year it was the Asian Tsunami and this year, it was about 350 years of Jews being readmitted back to England.

The programme opened with Sir Jonathan talking about the Tent, a project that took place earlier this year where along with fellow religious leaders and Prince Charles, everyone got together from different backgrounds and generally schmoozed together in the privacy of the tent located at St Ethelburga’s Church in London.

We then saw Sir Jonathan meet various people from the Jewish community to talk about the integration of Jews into British society and then ended with the Chief Rabbi hanging out with some young Muslims who set up the City Circle where he was given a New Year card from them.

As always with Sir Jonathan you know what you are going to get. He appears to talk with a passion about how we should respect each other and get along and how the Jews are a good model of integrating well within British society despite initially outcry from the host community.

He uses that as an example to other groups who have recently arrived in the country and how the Jewish experience can be used as a benchmark.

There's nothing particularly worthy of the Chief Rabbi and his New Year programmes, they feel very mechanical and  this reviewer noted that broadcasting at 11.30 at night also meant he was trying his hardest to stay awake. Yes, the programme was verging on being boring. It didn't quite know if it was trying to be religious, spiritual, academic or even historic. Maybe it was trying to be all these things. But trying to be everything, it just ended up being nothing worth viewing.  Viewers are unlikely to learn or know anything that they didn't already know about.

The UK Jewish community is diverse and needs to be better reflected, which sadly over the years has not been served by just getting Sir Jonathan out to reflect on the small part he plays in British Jewish life.  British Jewish life goes beyond the Chief Rabbi and a New Year programme should be looking at that. It embraces the left and right, the religious and not so religious. It is about so much more than just one man with a title.

While the formula for getting the Chief Rabbi in every year may have worked in the past,  it is now time for the BBC to look at a new way of reflecting the Jewish community at this time of the year. And that means getting other Jewish voices and members of the community involved in making a programme.