THE Chief Rabbi cast aside his critics and declared his delight at attending the Limmud Conference during an emotive speech on Monday, the first of two.
Amid roars of raucous approval from a packed crowd, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis triumphantly revealed he had witnessed some “amazing acts of selfless volunteering” and “children and youth engaged in phenomenal programmes”.
Rabbi Mirvis is the first British Chief Rabbi to attend the conference — despite fierce criticism and anger from leading rabbis who pleaded with him not to appear.
And his two talks were the most popular sessions during the five-day event at the University of Warwick, which ended yesterday and attracted 2,700.
“Here at Limmud you cannot escape the fact that it’s great to be Jewish,” he insisted passionately.
“I’ve seen a deep thirst for knowledge and a desire to connect with our Jewish roots.
“The greatest strength of the Jewish people is its friendliness and unity.”
During his historic hour-long-speech, the Chief Rabbi spoke without notes as he captured the attention of an audience which had queued around the building to hear him speak.
And his exit from the stage was met by a rapturous standing ovation after he espoused the message of the Torah and Nelson Mandela to explain that “every single person has it in his or her capacity to become a type of Moses”.
The South African-born rabbi said: “It is who you are that counts.
“And the message here is that if you utilise your own potential, in the best possible way, you can for example be a black person, born in apartheid South Africa, in the Eastern Cape, and within your capacity and your potential, one day, against the odds, you can become the greatest leader of the entire world.
“You can grow to become truly great.”
And in what could be interpreted as several swipes at those rabbis who condemned his appearance at the conference, he urged the community not to build walls around themselves.
“This is a universalist message and when we disregard those outside our community, when we build walls around ourselves, we may be pious but we are acting treife,” said Rabbi Mirvis (below).
“The lesson I draw from the story of Moses in the weekly parasha is that we must work on our unity as a people.
“We must be part of the world, not keep to ourselves or be in ghettos. We must engage in tikun olam to make this world a better place.” He observed that a rope was only ever as strong as all the small parts that are intertwined and Jews must be similarly intertwined in order to be strong as a community.
“If we see injustice we must stand up and do something about it,” demanded Rabbi Mirvis, “because as Jews we must be committed to every single human being created in the image of God.”
The former Chief Rabbi of Ireland insisted that the Torah retained a “timeless value”.
“Through the weekly portion we are always able to derive incredible inspiration for our personal life, people and for society,” he maintained.
Yet Rabbi Mirvis was equally comfortable discussing secular issues, revealing that he watched the Fox news channel on the day Prince George was born in order to see how they assessed the birth.
“We are here to be a light unto the nations and not to simply exist in a self-imposed ghetto removed from the people of the world,” he concluded. Let us learn from Moses that whoever we are, we have an incredible future, but it depends on what we will strive to achieve and what we strive to accomplish.”