MUNICH — “We have to pray for peace and for the end of this terrible war; we have to pray that this war will end soon and not escalate into a nuclear conflict that can destroy humanity,” said Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, at the 32nd annual summit of the Conference of European Rabbis.
“There is not one Jewish community in Germany or in Austria that does not have thousands of Jewish refugees living with them,” said Goldschmidt, who is also president of the CER.
“Jewish communities have been organizing apartments and assisting the Ukrainian Jewish refugees with all of their needs. These are times that my children and grandchildren will one day ask us: ‘Grandpa, what did you do during these terrible times?’”
Along with his wife, Goldschmidt went to Budapest to visit Jewish refugees.
“One day, a young woman – I think she was 18 years old– asked me, ‘Rabbi, please tell me why God did this? Why do I have to leave my city, my house, my office and my business at such a young age.’ I answered her, ‘I can tell you this one thing: whenever our communities are being destroyed and we are thrown from country to country, the first thing we do is rebuild. The first mitzvah given to Abraham was to leave his home and go. Even though we have to flee and to go, we never cry about it.”
The topic of the CER convention being held at the Westin Grand Hotel in Munich was “Rabbinical leadership in times of pandemic and war: serving God and community in a new reality.”
Over 350 rabbis and their wives from 43 countries and leading communities throughout Europe and across the world gathered to discuss pressing issues, to network, and to hear from a vast array of world-class rabbis, politicians and educators.
Addressing the opening of the event, Goldschmidt spoke about the leadership of every rabbi and rebbitzen in attendance, especially in these “trying and terrible times” for Eastern Europe. He reflected on how “successful communities the world over are made not by having physical buildings, but by people and leaders working tirelessly for others.”
Dr. Markus Söder, minister-president of the Free State of Bavaria, noted the many communities and cultures that live in Bavaria, and the importance of promoting Jewish life there.
Nicola Beer, MEP, vice president of the European Parliament and special envoy on combating religious discrimination including antisemitism, told the convention through video-link that “it is essential to foster and protect Jewish life in Europe.”
Following the opening addresses, a panel discussion addressed the question: “Is religious life in Europe on the brink?”
Since its founding 66 years ago, the CER has advocated for the religious rights of Jews in Europe, and has helped ensure that legislative safeguards are put in place advocating for the protection of Jewish observance across the continent.
Daniel Höltgen, special representative of the Council of Europe for antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes, spoke of how Europe is “becoming a growingly secular environment. The ignorance and ideology against religious freedom need to be countered to allow for active Jewish life.”
"[Europe is] becoming a growingly secular environment, the ignorance and ideology against religious freedom needs to be countered to allow for active Jewish life."Daniel Höltgen, Special Representative on antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes, Council of Europe
Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, said that education is certainly the key to further protecting religious practices in Europe.
On the issue of shechita ritual slaughter, von Schnurbein said “the Jewish People have always been deeply concerned about animal welfare... people need to be more aware of these issues in general.”
Ahmed Ahmed Shaheed, UN Human Rights Office special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, spoke of how religious freedom cannot just be about belief, but rather, this freedom must also be about ritual and practice in order to speak for Jewish communities, with an emphasis on practical observance.