A message to Pope Francis

Let us unite together in the battle against antisemitism and hate and win the day for our children, grandchildren and future generations.

POPE FRANCIS – a call to unite together in the battle against antisemitism (photo credit: REUTERS)
POPE FRANCIS – a call to unite together in the battle against antisemitism
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Your Holiness, we are grateful for your kind invitation to once again visit with you here in the Vatican. We remember fondly our first visit just weeks after your election as Pope. Sadly, our visit today comes at a time when antisemitism and bigotry have again taken center stage threatening our world and the future of humankind.
Indeed, it was on this very day, January 20th, some 78 years ago where 14 people sat around the table in Wannsee to plot the “Final Solution,” a code word that would lead to the extermination of six million Jews. Who could have imagined that a mere eight decades later we would again witness another worldwide epidemic of antisemitism and hate. Your Holiness, we have come to ask for your help, as the leader of the Christian world, to help us to confront this debasement of humanity!
The great 20th century thinker Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik posed a question on the verse in Exodus “And God saw the suffering of the children of Israel and he knew.” Asks Rabbi Soloveitchik, “if God knew, then why did he wait decades before redeeming the Israelites?” So, Rabbi Soloveitchik answers, “God waited for Moses, his earthly partner, who at the time was unprepared to accept the mission.” As the Psalmist teaches, “the heavens belong to God but the earth was given to man”. God acts only in concert with his earthly partners, so when Moses was ready for his mission he found his creator waiting for him at the Burning Bush! That is our dilemma; here we are in 2020 – antisemitism and bigotry are present everywhere. In the heart of our democracies in London, Paris, in Berlin, in the Parliaments and here in Rome, where an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor needs police protection to go shopping.
This hate has now crossed the Atlantic and infected America’s cities and her prestigious learning centers, like Columbia and NYU, UCLA and Stanford, yes, it is present even in the halls of Congress and in the corridors of the United Nations. The attacks often take place in broad daylight, even on trains and buses – witnessed by hundreds of onlookers.
Worse, reminiscent of the Holocaust years, religious Jews identified by their skullcaps or by their beards are particularly vulnerable, even when they light their Hanukkah candles in the privacy of their home in Monsey, NY. In Montreal, it was a taxi driver who punched a young Jewish man in the face because he was wearing a yarmulke. In Miami, a 68-year old Jewish man was shot six times. His crime: walking into his synagogue.
How can we explain that 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz the leaders and mullahs of Iran continue to have the audacity to publicly deny that there ever was a Holocaust? Yet they still receive VIP treatment when visiting almost every country in the world. And why is the world and the UN silent when they know that Hezbollah has stored thousands of rockets and missile launchers near hospitals and schools, deliberately putting their children in harm’s way. And when they know Christians in Kenya and Nigeria are being targeted and beheaded in bloody terrorist attacks... when Lebanese Christians, Muslims and their Jewish neighbors in northern Israel are threatened by Iran’s terrorist reach and threatened by an uncaring world!
We would be remiss if we did not publicly express our solidarity with all of these endangered communities. Finally, we thank Your Holiness for releasing next month the Vatican Archive, which will shed light on the controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII and the Shoah. Your Holiness, we seek your help in teaching our world that while we may not be in the Garden of Eden, indifference is too high a price to pay for men and women created in the image of God.
We have the ability and the responsibility to stand up to the evil that threatens us all. Today, on the anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference and (in a few days) the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, let us remember what Winston Churchill said – that had the world challenged the Nazis in the early 1930s, then tens of millions would have been spared the ultimate sacrifice in the 1940s. And let us also remember the words of Simon Wiesenthal, that freedom is not a gift from heaven, it is something we have to fight for each and every day.
So, let us unite together in the battle against antisemitism and hate and win the day for our children, grandchildren and future generations.
The writer, a rabbi and the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, delivered these remarks to Pope Francis at the Vatican on January 20.