A Rabbi’s Trip to the Vatican

by Rabbi Gideon Shloush

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Shloush recently attended a conference on anti-Semitism at the Vatican in Rome.

I dreaded returning to Rome. I remember being there a decade ago and I recall the unsettling feeling. After all, this is the place of our Galut (exile). Rome is the symbol of the crushing of Jerusalem and our people’s enslavement.

Nevertheless I was there to participate in a major international conference focused on anti-Semitism. How ironic. The Romans ransacked Israel, the Catholics were responsible for endless persecutions of our people, and here we were in Rome talking about anti-Semitism. [Read more…]

Pope Meets the Founder of Shavei Israel

SHAVEI-1Pope Francis met with Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund in Krakow. As part of his visit to Poland, Francis travelled to the former extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich introduced Pope Francis to Freund, whose organization, Shavei Israel, aims to strengthen the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world.

Francis and Freund discussed how a growing number of young Poles are rediscovering their Jewish roots. Today there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of others throughout the country who are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

Pope Declares Attacks on Israel and Jews Are Anti-Semitism

Pope Francis welcomed more than 100 leaders of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Wednesday and issued a strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

(Left to right) WJC Governing Board Chairman David de Rothschild, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder, Pope Francis, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra, President of Latin American Jewish Congress Jack Terpins, WJC CEO Robert Singer and Executive Director of the Latin American Jewish Congress Claudio Epelman.

At a private audience with WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in the morning, the Pontiff made it clear that outright attacks against Israel’s existence are a form of anti-Semitism:

To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism. There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.

Jews and Catholics marked the anniversary of the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which condemned anti-Semitism and completely transformed and improved relations between Jews and Catholics.

Lauder praised the Pope for this powerful message and said relations between the two faiths were stronger than they had ever been before:

Pope Francis does not simply make declarations. He inspires people with his warmth and his compassion. His clear and unequivocal support for the Jewish people is critical to us.

Nearly 150 delegates and observers from the World Jewish Congress Governing Board took part in the public audience with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday. The delegates were in Rome for the Board’s annual meeting.

The pope recalled Nostra Aetate, a declaration adopted on 28 October 1965 by the Second Vatican Council:

Indifference and opposition were transformed into cooperation and benevolence. Enemies and strangers have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the declaration Nostra Aetate, paved the way. It said yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity, and no to any form of anti-Semitism and condemnation of any insult, discrimination and persecution derived from that.

On Tuesday, the WJC Governing Board, representing more than 100 Jewish communities around the world, held discussions which focused on the implications facing Jewish communities in light of the various conflicts in the Middle East, including the threat of jihadist terrorism.

The Governing Board reaffirmed its continued support of a two State solution and urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks without preconditions as soon as possible.

The Board also called on the international community to maintain and, if necessary, expand sanctions on Iran until there is verification and international acceptance of Iran’s compliance with all the conditions of the nuclear deal.

Concerning the refugee crisis, the delegates passed a resolution calling on the international community to provide refugees with sanctuary irrespective of origin or religion, recalling the Talmudic maxim that says, “He who saves a single life saves the whole world.”

“Plant One Million” Campaign Reaches Halfway

SEMINARY Bishop and tree and seminarians

Bishop Senior gets ready to bless the white oak tree, planted in honor of Pope Francis. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

(left to right) Bishop Timothy Senior; Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of the PA Horticultural Society; and Alan Jaffe, PHS Director of Communications, at the tree planting at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. photo by Bonnie Squires

Left to right: Bishop Timothy Senior; Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of the PA Horticultural Society; and Alan Jaffe, PHS Director of Communications, at the tree planting at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Bonnie Squires talks with BIshop Senior before the tree blessing ceremony. photo by Jimmy Owens

Bonnie Squires talks with BIshop Senior before the tree blessing ceremony. Photo by Jimmy Owens.

Plant One Million, the largest multi-state tree-planting effort in the nation, is a regional partnership to plant 1 million trees throughout 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and the state of Delaware. The goal is to restore the tree canopy cover — the area of land shaded by trees — in the Greater Philadelphia region to 30%.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) reached a major milestone in the Plant One Million campaign this month, when it planted the 500,000th tree at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

The white oak tree was planted at the Seminary, located at 100 East Wynnewood Rd., Wynnewood, PA, in honor of the visit of Pope Francis, whose recent encyclical urges everyone to take responsibility for care of the environment. Bishop Timothy Senior blessed the tree on the grounds of the seminary, after Vespers services. Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of PHS, also spoke at the ceremony.

The September 1 tree planting coincided with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation established by Pope Francis to remind us of our role as custodians of creation.

Plant One Million is led by PHS, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the TreeVitalize program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, the New Jersey Tree Foundation, and the Delaware Center for Horticulture. Residents throughout the region are being asked to add at least one tree to their home landscape, and to “count” their tree on the Plant One Million website to strengthen research and the impact of the tree canopy.

Jewish Community Set to Welcome Pope Francis

StandWithUsAdforPope'sVisit-9-14-10-11-15. 001-Pope Francis will arrive in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 26. The previous day, at 3:00 p.m., Jewish and Catholic Philadelphians will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-christian religions, in which antisemitism was condemned, at Saint Joseph’s University. Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a close friend of Pope Francis, will be the featured speaker.

StandWithUs will welcome the Pope with seven billboards highlighting the shared Judeo-Christian values of the Jewish and Catholic communities. These posters will have images depicting the historic meeting between the Pope and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu during the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem in 2014. They will be displayed until October 11, in high-traffic areas and various locations where the Pope is scheduled to speak.

“The photos chosen for the posters capture the respect and affection between the Pope and the Prime Minister, and remind viewers of the values we share including freedom and the protection of religious and human rights,” said Joseph Puder, director of StandWithUs/Philadelphia. 
Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East, is the only place where Christians can safely practice their faith.
“Israel recognizes 15 distinct religious groups and allows each to practice as they wish,” added Ferne Hassan, the associate director of StandWithUs/Philadelphia.
The Christian population in Israel increased from 34,000 in 1948 to 163,000 in 2014.  Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has grown in the last half century.