President Reuven Rivlin.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt arrived at President Rivlin’s Residence with a large delegation of European rabbis on Tuesday.
For some, it was not their first trip to Israel, but certainly their first visit to the President’s Residence. They carefully walked past the row of busts of all nine former presidents and read their biographical details.
Dress-wise, they covered a wide range of religious observance from black kapota
s [long black coats worn by some ultra-Orthodox men] and large black hats to blue business suits and light colored sports jackets. There was no segregated seating even among the obviously ultra-Orthodox.
The CER was founded in 1956 by Rabbi Sir Israel Brodie who was then Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. Working together with Rabbis Jacob Kaplan and Aharon Schuster who were the Chief Rabbis of France and Amsterdam, as well as with Hahacham Solomon Gaon, the British Sephardi spiritual leader, Brodie sought to revive vestiges of Jewish life that remained in Europe after the Holocaust. Goldschmidt had high praise for Rabbi Moshe Rosen, who as Chief Rabbi of Romania under the Ceausescu regime, managed to take care of the Romanian Jewish community.
Goldschmidt said that the CER comprises some 700 rabbis who serve communities throughout Europe. All the rabbis work together to combat antisemitism and uphold Jewish beliefs.
Goldschmidt stressed the importance of Jewish solidarity in the face of rising antisemitism.
The last time that a CER delegation had come to Israel he said, was during the Gulf War. “It was then a different Israel and a different Europe,” he added.
Goldschmidt is the organization’s fourth president and the first rabbi from an eastern European country to hold the position, although he has served as chairman of CER’s standing committee.
RIVLIN SAID that it is very important for the tribes of Israel to be connected – especially when there is so much neo-fascism in Europe and when events such as the Pittsburgh shooting take place.
Rivlin, who frequently refers to the four tribes of the Jewish State as the ultra-Orthodox, National Religious, secular and Arab, said that Diaspora Jewry constitutes the fifth tribe. “We have a common concern about antisemitism and a common destiny,” he said.
Rivlin refused to accept that there may be a distinction between antisemitism and an anti-Israeli agenda. The president added that when he meets world leaders from countries in which neo-fascist parties have risen to prominence, he tells them that one cannot be an admirer of Israel and an antisemite at the same time – because Israel is a Jewish and democratic state.
Although he has referred to secular Jews on more than one occasion, Rivlin said that he didn’t like the word, and preferred to say that there are people who are more religiously observant and people who are less so.
Agreeing that there is an unbreakable bond between Diaspora Jews and the State of Israel, Goldschmidt said that CER rabbis are the envoys of Israel in Europe. When Rivlin demurred, Goldschmidt said: “We’re not asking for a salary from the Foreign Ministry, but a synagogue is like an embassy. It’s ex-territorial, and when there is an assault on Israel, we bring people together in the synagogue and we explain the situation to our congregants and to anyone else who wants to listen.”
Goldschmidt said that European Jews suffer antisemitism on many sides. There is Islamic terror, and there is what he termed as “politically correct antisemitism,” which limits religious rights. The Jewish people can confront any challenge so long as they are united and stand together, he said.
Rivlin shared his experience when he met with Pope Francis last week. “I as a Jew impressed on him the importance of freedom of religion, and he said that antisemitism is an evil sin,” Rivlin disclosed. Rivlin added that he had responded that antisemitism is not just a sin but a crime, and that all forms of religious or racial discrimination are harmful, not only to the people targeted, but to the countries in which they live, especially those who pride themselves on being democratic.
“We Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are mutually responsible for each other and must stand shoulder to shoulder,” said Rivlin.
Goldschmidt who thinks that European Jewry needs more support from Israel, warned that if Israel doesn’t take notice, there will be no remaining Jewish communities in Europe.
Dr. Boris Minsk, head of the Board of Patrons, said that there is a problem with Jewish identification in the Diaspora. The group’s main task is the ongoing need to support Jewish communities throughout Europe, especially the smaller ones of 500 people or less. “We have come a long way,” he said, “but we realize that the problem of antisemitism is a great obstacle.”
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