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Pope Benedict XVI visits Rabbi Arthur Schneier
April 18, 2008
New York
Pope Benedict XVI visits Rabbi Arthur Schneier Pope Benedict XVI today made a historic visit to Park East Synagogue in New York, marking the first time a Pope has visited a Synagogue in the United States and only the third time any Pope has ever visited a Jewish house of worship. His Holiness visited the Cologne Synagogue on April 19, 2005 and Pope John Paul II, visited the Rome Synagogue on April 13, 1986. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Senior Rabbi of Park East Synagogue, invited the Pope for the private visit.

"For the last forty-six years, I have preached from this pulpit advocating Torah values of freedom, human rights, and mutual respect,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier to the Pope. ” Your visit today to Park East Synagogue is a reaffirmation of your outreach and commitment to enhancing Jewish-Catholic relations. A turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations was Vatican II, the guidelines of Nostra Aetate, which have brought us closer, facing one another with respect and mutual understanding. In the last 45 years much progress has been made. Your presence here should give us hope and courage for the road we still have to travel together, as we strive to fulfill the mission God entrusted to Abraham, to be a blessing to the human family,"

Addressing the Pope from the bimah in the Park East Synagogue sanctuary, Rabbi Arthur Schneier continued, “At a time when religion is misused and abused by some, we must intensify together our commitment to repair our fractured world. Our presence together is a message that inter-religious dialogue is viable and vital to the resolution of conflict. Your message of conciliation has already been heard around the globe. It is a message of hope for inter-religious dialogue as an instrument of cooperation in the pursuit of peace, freedom, human rights and security. On the eve of Passover, let us remember the Exodus and hear the cry of the oppressed, a constant refrain in Judaism. That freedom is not achieved without hope, sacrifice and dedication.”

“The relationship between the church and the Jewish people is theologically significant, and not simply a matter of intercultural exchange or trying to find common ground on issues of justice and peace,” said the Rev. James Massa, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Judaism is internal to Catholicism. It’s different from any other kind of relationship with another religion

Rabbi Arthur Schneier presented the Pope with a Seder plate designed by Menahen Ben Ari Berman, an award-winning artist from Jerusalem. The sterling silver Seder plate consisting of over 2 kilos of silver, was hand-chased with cartouches and flowers depicting springtime (Chag ha-aviv) with vermeil indentations for the ceremonial Passover foods. The Hebrew phrase around the Seder plate is, "Zachor et yom tzeitchem m'eretz Mitzrayim," or "Remember the day of your Exodus from Egypt."

Rabbi Arthur Schneier underscored that the Papal visit to Park East Synagogue was a significant occasion for all Americans. “This is a nation which has allowed all religious communities to flourish. The Jewish people and Israel live in concert with men and women of all faiths doing its share to preserve and extend life on this earth.”

“In our lifetime we have experienced the ravages of war, the Holocaust, man’s inhumanity to man and tasted the joy of freedom, “ said Rabbi Arthur Schneier. “ This momentous occasion takes place on American soil, where men and women escaping the clutches of oppression and religious persecution have built a nation of democracy and freedom. This is a nation which has allowed all religious communities to flourish.”

Students from the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School and the Park East Synagogue children’s choir greeted the Pope in song. The liturgical selections included: “Hevenu Shalom” (We bring greetings of peace to you!); “Shema Yisrael” (Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one); and “Oseh Shalom” (He who creates peace His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel).

The Pope was also presented with gifts from two young members of the congregation. Lindsey Dresbach, a Bat Mitzvah alumna of the Park East Synagogue, presented the Pope with flowers and a Passover Hagaddah. Russell Rutter, who became Bar Mitzvah at Park East Synagogue presented the Pope with a box of matzoth. As related in the Torah, the Israelites left Egypt in such haste; they could not wait for their bread dough to rise. This unleavened bread symbolizes redemption and enhances our appreciation of freedom.

Prominent Jewish members of New York City’s business, civic and corporate communities who witnessed the historic moment included: Jerome Berko, Past New York President, Jewish National Fund; Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman & CEO, Goldman Sachs & Co.; Karen Dresbach, Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Paul Fribourg, Chairman, President & CEO, Continental Grain Company; Judge Ellen M. Heller, President, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Ronald Lauder, President, World Jewish Congress; Jerome Lauren, Senior Vice President, Polo Ralph Lauren; Harry Lis, RFR Holding LLC. Jed Manocherian, President, PanAm Equities; Jeffrey Marcus, Managing Director, Crestview Advisors LLC; Bruce E. Mosler, President & CEO, Cushman & Wakefield; Dr. Daniel Roses, New York University School of Medicine; Howard Rubenstein, Chairman, Rubenstein Associates and Vice-Chairman, Museum of Jewish Heritage; Elisabeth Schneier, Director, Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Blackstone Group L. P.; The Honorable Asaf Shariv, Consul General of Israel, New York; Stuart Subotnick, General Partner, COO, Metromedia; James D. Wolfensohn, Former Chairman, The World Bank; Ronald Wurtzburger, President, Peerless Clothing; Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Publisher, New York Daily News, US News & World Report and the Former Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier was joined on the bimah by Park East Synagogue President, Herman Hochberg and Joseph Wilf, Vice President, Park East Synagogue and Vice Chairman of Yeshiva University.

Pope Benedict XVI Was accompanied by: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, Secretary of State; Cardinal Edward Egan, Archbishop of New York; Cardinal William Levada, Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Penitenziere Maggiore; Archbishop Fernando Filoni, Substitute for General Affairs of the Church; Archbishop James Harvey, Prefect of the Papal Household; Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
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