David Knoll shared the following remarks at the shloshim service at Emanuel Synagogue for the late Rabbi Brian Fox z"l.
In the nineteenth century there was a rabbi in Poland who startled his congregants one Shabbat morning towards the end of the service by announcing that: "Before we finish Shabbat services today, and before we even think about having Kiddush, we are all going to walk across the village to the new train line and watch. We will say nothing until you follow me back to our shul."
And off he went.
The entire congregation, astonished, but compliant, followed the rabbi all the way across the village. They walked for nearly 20 minutes and then turned away from the village until the rabbi stopped, and of course his congregants then stopped. They stopped at a good vantage point well away from any of the non-Jewish villagers who were marshalled more than a mile away.
For this was the day when the first steam train was going to come up its tracks along the edge of the village.
The rabbi knew when the train was going to come.
Not long after the rabbi and his congregants had arrived at their vantage point, they all heard a loud noise. They had never heard anything like it before. We would recognise it today as the noise which a steam engine makes.
And indeed, there was a steam engine which came up those tracks. The steam engine was belching its steam as the engineer was shovelling coal into its belly. The steam engine dragged behind it carriages which had within them many wealthy non-Jewish citizens, who no doubt had paid many Marks for the privilege.
Once the train had passed, the rabbi put his hand up. He pointed back to the shul and walked back with his bewildered congregants trailing behind.
Once back inside the shul, with everybody settled back into their seats, the rabbi asked: "What did you see?"
When no one wanted to answer he asked again: "Really, what did you see?"
Still there was silence from the congregation.
Then the Rabbi spoke. This is what he said: “The one with the energy was in front. A leader must have energy. A leader must be in front. If we Jews want to be a light unto the nations, or le-goyyim, we must choose to be in front and we must have the energy to stay in front. And just as importantly, we must know where we are going, and if we do it well, others will follow.”
This was the message that the late Rabbi Brian Fox z"l shared with students at the University of New South Wales when he spoke at my request when I was president of the Jewish Student Union.
Brian's idea of choosing to lead reflected the then very recent shift back to chosenness in the teachings at Hebrew Union College. In a remarkable twist on the message of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, Rabbi Brian Fox insisted that we were not only to engage with the world, we were to drive positive change and take others with us.
No one can doubt that Rabbi Brian Fox was the one with the energy and was the one in front: a rabbi who led by example, and a rabbi who truly inspired.