When you were friends with Dan as long as I was; when you share so many experiences with someone from your earliest childhood memories right up until adulthood, they stop being a friend per se, but rather they become so much an integral part of your life that it becomes extremely difficult to separate your feelings for that person from your life experience in general.
It is impossible for me stand here in front of you, and in a few minutes try and summarize the person I knew as Daniel Sacks. It is no more possible for me to do that than it would be for me to tell you my whole life story between the ages of four and twenty-seven. The best I can try and do is to recall a few of the experiences I shared with Dan, and to try and share with you some aspects of the influence he had on my life.
I first met Dan at the age of four when we both began primary school. Amongst the droves of children weepily saying goodbye to their parents for their very first day at school, it is difficult now to recall individual faces. What is certain is that – helped along by the geographical proximity of our two family homes – Dan and I had soon become firm friends both in and out of school.
A great deal has been said over the last couple of days about Dan’s willingness to help others. Even now I can remember how he was always ready with an encouraging word or a helping hand – whether it was to give me a few pointers when I was struggling with my long division exercises, he having finished all his questions within the first five minutes of the class – or whether we were mutually commiserating with each other in a dark schoolroom whilst everyone else was enjoying school sports day under bright sun and cerulean blue skies, because our both suffering from hay fever made our participation impossible; although I got the feeling even then that Dan was more upset about missing the cross-country run than I was.
Our friendship continued when we discovered we both had places at the same secondary school, albeit in Dan’s case with a well-deserved scholarship. I can clearly remember the morning before we left for our first day at City of London, which we spent together. Dan could tell I was rather apprehensive at the prospect of starting a new stage of our lives in an unfamiliar and daunting environment, and so at his suggestion, to lighten the mood, we spent one last childish morning watching Tom & Jerry cartoons before travelling in to school together. I shall always remember his calm collectedness and words of support and solidarity, which helped me to marshal my own reserves to control my fears.
Others of Dan’s friends have their own memories of his time at City of London, but my most abiding memory concerns a challenge we – along with one or two other friends – set ourselves, which perfectly encapsulates Dan’s propensity for completeness and exactness. We decided that each of us would take it upon ourselves to visit each and every station on the London Underground. Dan even made a tracing of the Tube map, and whenever he completed a section of line, that part of the map would be filled in with the correct colour in felt tip. Needless to say, by judicious planning of routes to minimise travel time and expense, Dan beat me by a good number of weeks to the completion of this endeavour, but in great camaraderie and sportsmanship he would continue to encourage me and make helpful suggestions for the speedy completion of my own tube challenge.
After we left school, we saw each other less regularly, but still kept in touch and remained friends. You would often see us – either alone of with a group of friends – enjoying the delights of Solly’s schwarma and chips, whilst discussing the hot tips for the season’s snooker or tennis championships. As we both progressed into adulthood, I became aware more and more of Dan’s penetrating insight into his fellow human beings. In many respects, he knew me better than I knew myself. There were a number of occasions – when I might be going through a difficult patch in some part of my life – when we would meet up as we usually did to sample the delights of Golders Green cuisine. I would never intend to do anything other than to leave my problems at home and have an enjoyable night out with a friend, but in the face of Dan’s calm and gentle manner, I would often find myself opening up to him. Dan would always listen quietly, and then make some insightful comment about me and my situation which seemed to put things in perspective. For instance, his advice encouraged me to go ahead with my plans for a career in music – a decision which have yet to regret.
In this week’s parasha – Lech Lecha – we read of how, following the War of the Kings, Avram is offered all the spoils of war, to dispose of as he pleases. However, true to his beliefs, Avram refuses the offer of worldly glory and wealth as a reward for a victory which was due not to his own efforts, but to the grace of the Almighty.
I cannot think of any better exponent than Daniel of these – the best qualities of the Jewish people. His honesty, sense of justice and fairness and simple kindness and compassion will be qualities I will carry in my memory always.
Eliot Alderman, 10th November 2005