Remarks by Jonathan Greenblatt CEO of the Anti-Defamation League to Pope Francis

by: Jonathan A. Greenblatt | February 09, 2017

Your Holiness,

This week, in synagogues all over the world, Jews will read Shirat Ha-yam, the “Song of the Sea” from the book of Exodus that Miriam, Moses and the Israelites sang after they miraculously passed through the Sea of Reeds on dry land.

As a newly free people, they expressed their thanks to God for their redemption, saying:

Who is like you, o eternal, among the celestials;

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

Awesome in splendor, working wonders!

For both Jews and Christians, the Exodus from Egypt, the transition from slavery to freedom, represents the promise of the redemption.

The new relationship between Jews and Catholics that began with the Second Vatican Council and the DeclarationNostra Aetate is living witness to the power of reconciliation to transform relationships. 

It has been a blessing to both communities and demonstrates that even centuries of conflict can be overcome. It holds within it the promise of the final redemption for which for Jews and Catholics hope and pray.

We are well aware, your holiness, of your close relationship with the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, and with our friend, Rabbi Avraham Skorka and others.  We sincerely thank you and join you in your prayers for the victims of the AMIA bombing and your call for justice. In Argentina, ADL and DAIA are launching #denunciaelodio.

This campaign aims to empower and engage people to denounce hate speech – mainly in social media platforms - in order to promote respect for all and #porunmundosinodio.  

We know you understand and share our concern about the resurgence of anti-Semitism, especially in Europe.

And we share your concern about the horrendous persecution of ethnic and cultural minorities, many of them Christians – indeed, we are troubled that the world seems not to pay enough attention to this tragic situation.

We are grateful for your continued support for the right of Israel to exist.

We have not forgotten that you placed a wreath on the grave of Theodore Herzl during your historic visit to Israel, recognizing the role Zionism has played in Jewish liberation from suffering. 

And we appreciate greatly your efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians -- for example, by bringing President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas together here at the Vatican. 

We pray for a negotiated end to that conflict, so that, in the words of the prophet, Jews and Palestinians can each sit under their vine and under their fig tree, with none to make them afraid.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they spent 40 years in the desert. They were refugees on their way to a new home and they were often unwelcome and abused, something that many generations of Jews have experienced. 

The refugee crisis today calls for a merciful response, for recognizing those who are fleeing unimaginable violence as our brothers and sisters who desperately need our help and compassion.

We are deeply troubled by the rise of violent religious extremism and of reactionary nationalism, including in the United States. The love of neighbor, enshrined in the book of the Leviticus and considered the greatest commandment by both Jesus in the Gospels and Rabbi Akiva, seems to be in short supply. Instead, we seem, too often, to fear the stranger—rather remember that once, we were strangers in a strange land.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 with a dual mission: to fight the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all.

For over 100 years we have stood up for the rights of Jews in the United States and around the world while at the self-same time, time working tirelessly against bigotry and prejudice of all kinds -- against the extremisms of both the right and the left.

We have advocated at the highest level of government for the protection of the immigrant, for religious freedom, and for the equality and dignity of every human being. And we appreciate your Holiness’ remarkable contributions to this work.

We especially value our relationship with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Together, our two organizations sponsor “Bearing Witness,” a program that trains teachers in Catholic middle and high schools how to teach about the Shoah, the history of Jewish-Catholic relations, and the post-conciliar teachings about Jews and Judaism.

Since the inception of the program, we have trained over 2,000 teachers reaching thousands of students.

For many years, we have hosted an Interfaith Passover Seder for Jewish and Catholic school children.  Last year, we invited a Muslim school to join with us, and they will do so again in just a few weeks. The sight of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim children learning from each other is, in its own way, also a sign of reconciliation and redemption.

Jews and Christians have been described as partners in waiting, waiting for the messiah to come, or to come again.

While we pray for that day to dawn, we are grateful for the friendship of the Catholic Church and for the privilege of working together to protect the needy, the vulnerable, the homeless, and persecuted.

I can think of no more fitting words with which to conclude than these, which come from the final paragraph of “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews for the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate:  

“When Jews and Christians make a joint contribution through concrete humanitarian aid for justice and peace in the world, they bear witness to the loving care of God. No longer in confrontational opposition but cooperating side by side, Jews and Christians should seek to strive for a better world.”

Ken yehi ratzon – may this be God’s will.