Between Jerusalem and Rome

When the Jewish people ask their Christian friends to set aside their differences in order to work for a better future, they must do the same.

Jerusalem aerial view David Citadel 370 (photo credit: Library of Congress)
Jerusalem aerial view David Citadel 370
(photo credit: Library of Congress)
There are many external factors threating the future of the Jews, such as antisemitism, radical Islamic sentiment and the choice by many to disregard similarities in favor of differences. With these threats ever looming, it was heartening on August 31 to join with my fellow Jews from Europe, Israel and America to meet with Pope Francis to discuss how we can better bridge the gap between our two religions.
Representatives from the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America joined together to present the document “Between Jerusalem and Rome: Reflections on 50 Years of Nostra Aetate” to the pope. This document celebrated 1965’s Nostra Aetate, which was drafted by the Church to unite Catholicism with other religions, including Judaism, and to begin the difficult work of erasing the antisemitism that had been rampant for centuries in Christian religious life. This new document, drafted by the three Jewish organizations, also called on the Vatican to join us in our quest to combat Islamic extremism and the threat it poses.
The fourth chapter of the Nostra Aetate, which specifically deals with the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish faiths and which Pope Francis recently called the Magna Charta of the Church’s dialogue with the Jewish world, has helped both our religions. It has allowed the Catholic faith to set aside animosities rooted in alleged betrayal that happened millennia ago and it has allowed the Jewish faith to form connections with its Christian neighbors and to collaborate with others to improve our world. It is only through forging closer relationships with our peers in other faiths that we can better the world and protect innocent lives from the cruel face of extremism.
And I truly believe that this is what our meeting with the pope will help accomplish. Building bridges between disparate groups is the most difficult work in which people can engage. For this meeting, several bridges were built. It can often be nearly impossible to get different groups of Jews together working toward a common goal and yet we brought Jews together from three continents to draft “Between Jerusalem and Rome” and to present it to the pope.
Once we were able to unite as a larger Jewish community, we were able to continue the good work created more than 50 years ago by the Nostra Aetate. For the past five decades, the Jewish community’s relationship with the Catholic community has changed – sometimes improving and sometimes backsliding.
But Pope Francis was extremely receptive to us and our ideas and truly seems willing to continue working with us to preserve our common, shared future. The pope praised the “fruitful dialogue” our two faiths have been engaging in for years and expressed a hope for a deeper and more meaningful relationship that will further our mission of peace and safety.
And yet we still have much work to do. “Between Jerusalem and Rome” called strongly for other faiths to follow the Catholic Church’s example and work to strengthen a collaborative and fraternal bond with the Jewish world. While the Catholic Church has worked to set aside past prejudices, prejudice still runs rampant in all religions – including Judaism. While asking our Christian friends to reconsider our relationship and better it, the Jewish People must do the same. We too have prejudices and animosities based on history from long ago that we must set aside. We must work together to make a better world for our children – the children of all faiths.
Radical Islamic extremists threaten the safety of Jews, Christians and the many moderate Muslims.
We must all work together to smother this threat.
And, while the Catholic Church has made a concerted effort to grow closer to its Jewish brothers and sisters, many other Christian groups still preach hateful and antisemitic rhetoric.
Nevertheless, despite the many hills left to climb, after receiving such a warm and heartfelt welcome from Pope Francis, I feel safer today than I did last week.
The author is a Russian Jewish businessman and philanthropist who is active in Jewish causes on a global scale. He sits on the board of patrons of the Conference of European Rabbis and is a passionate supporter of the State of Israel.