awards

Address by H.E. Francois Delattre of France
May 12, 2011
Rabbi Arthur Schneier,
Mrs Elisabeth Schneier,
H.E. Archbishop Timothy Dolan,
H.E. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian,
UN Undersecretary general Kiyotaka Akasaka,
Commissioner Ray Kelly,
Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to the UN,
Consul General – with a special word of thanks to French Consul General Philippe Lalliot for being our host tonight, M. le Conseiller à l’Assemblée des Français de l’Etranger, Cher Guy Wildenstein, President of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor,
Rabbis, Reverends and Fathers, Distinguished guests,

Sophie and I are humbled and deeply moved to be with you this evening at the French Consulate to honor our friend, Rabbi Arthur Schneier. Humbled, because there are occasions when the one bestowing the award is more honored than the one receiving it. That is the situation tonight.

Deeply moved, too, because Arthur and Elisabeth Schneier have been part of our lives for several years now, back to the time when I was the French Consul General in New York.

I presented my credentials to President Obama only ten weeks ago, and I feel very privileged that one of my first public appearances here in New York as the new French Ambassador is for this ceremony honoring Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

I would like to welcome your family and friends who have joined us here tonight to express their support and admiration.

May I say a particular word of welcome to your wife Elisabeth, who has always stood by you and who shares your love story with France. My tribute to you Arthur extends to Elisabeth, to whom I would also like to express France’s gratitude.

Today my country honors a spiritual leader, a man of peace and an exceptional individual who dedicated his entire life to bringing people of every faith closer together.

Let me spare you the endless listing of each and every one of your accomplishments, awards and honorary degrees. They are so numerous that I couldn’t do justice to them all.

Instead, I would like to make sense of Arthur Schneier’s extraordinary journey from a war-torn Europe to the shores of New York City where he set foot more than sixty years ago.

Trying to capture the essence of your commitment, Cher Arthur, I am immediately reminded of the beginning of “If this is a man”, Primo Levi’s seminal masterpiece about the unfathomable evil of the Holocaust.

It begins with a poem that so closely parallels Arthur’s lifelong engagement that I can’t resist quoting a few lines:

- quote -

Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when rising up.
Repeat them to your children.

-endquote-

As you all know, Rabbi Schneier is an holocaust survivor; he and his mother fled from Austria to Hungary in 1938, soon-to-be imprisoned and persecuted in the Jewish ghetto of Budapest. Almost miraculously, with the help of Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, he survived the atrocities that decimated nearly 600,000 Hungarian Jews during that period. Many members of his family did not and were deported to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Terezin.

Arthur was only 15 years old when Europe was liberated. At seventeen, he came to America on the shores of New York.

Since 1965, as the founder of the “Appeal of Conscience Foundation”, you have worked tirelessly to cultivate and promote interfaith initiatives throughout the world. And when I say the world, this is by no means a figure of speech.

Arthur’s unfailing commitment to counter the forces of extremism and hatred is global. Let me give you a few examples.

In the former Soviet Union you established yourself as a prominent figure of the movement for the rights of Soviet Jews in the sixties. Later, in Russia, you became an international observer to the June 1996 Presidential elections and engaged with key party leaders on issues of democratization, religious freedom and tolerance.

Another example: in Vienna, you organized the historic Kosovo Conference on Peace and Tolerance, which brought together for the very first time the leadership of the Catholic, Islamic and Serbian Orthodox communities in Kosovo.

In Eastern Europe you sent delegations of Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant leaders to hold meetings with government and religious leaders.

In China, you were invited by President Jiang Zemin to examine the life of religious communities as a member of the Delegation of American Religious Leaders appointed by President Clinton.

On the world stage, your driving commitment to defend freedom of religion and belief is without limits and you are internationally known for your leadership on behalf of religious freedom, human rights and tolerance. And I believe your personally know every single head of state on the planet.

As a spiritual leader, you successfully initiated a United Nations General Assembly resolution for the protection of religious sites and religious minorities that was adopted by an overwhelming margin in 2001.

More recently, in 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asked you to serve as a goodwill ambassador of “Alliance of Civilizations”. Its ambition epitomizes your lifelong commitment to prevent extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and interr-eligious dialogue and cooperation.

And of course, there is New York.

The city where you nurtured your dreams and where they came to fruition. The city where you attended Yeshiva University and were ordained as an Orthodox rabbi – the seventeenth consecutive member of your family to do so.

As Senior Rabbi, you have brought local, national and international recognition to Park East Synagogue, your synagogue. This is now an historic New York City landmark house of worship but also a vibrant center for Jewish life.

In April 2008, you hosted the Pope Benedict XVI during his historic visit to Park East Synagogue, marking the very first time a Pope visited a Synagogue in the United States. This crowning achievement was followed in 2009 by the visit of Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew the First of Constantinople.

And a few months later, you offered me the tremendous honor of welcoming me to your synagogue where I had the opportunity to address your congregation. This remains one of the most moving moments of my life.

As an educator, you created in 1981 the East Park Day School. At Park East, generations of children have been taught the values of unity and diversity, coexistence and mutual understanding. And I could go on and on. What a journey, Cher Arthur.

And all along this journey, you have maintained and developed a long and deep friendship with France. You have a special relationship with my country, a relationship of heart and mind deeply rooted in our shared values, the Judeo-Christian values that gave birth to the concept of Human Rights. And the French declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in the midst of our Revolution in 1789 is one of your strongest references.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights that French Professor René Cassin and Eleonor Roosevelt wrote together in the aftermath of World War II is another of your references.

As I said earlier, Elisabeth is part of your love story with France and it should come as no surprise that you chose Paris a few years ago to celebrate your 20th wedding anniversary.

In September 2008 you stood up for granting President Sarkozy the prestigious Appeal of Conscience World Statesman Award. And the following year, it was Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, to whom you handed the Appeal of Conscience Corporate Leader Award. I am glad to greet Renaud Dutreil, the head of LVMH in the United States, who is with us tonight.

Cher Arthur, as a true friend, you have always reminded us of our duty to fight xenophobia and antisemitism and hatred whenever they rear their ugly head.

You know that under President Sarkozy’s leadership, France is and will remain in the forefront of this existential fight for all of us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me now say a word about the award : the French Legion of Honor was established to reward outstanding services rendered to France on the basis of personal merit.

Since its foundation by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honor has been France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world. And I’d like to point out that the rank of officer is only awarded to exceptional individuals for extraordinary achievements.

This is precisely why President Sarkozy, who knows you well and appreciates you so much, has decided to bestow upon you this distinction.

So it is my privilege, on behalf of President Sarkozy, to present you with the Legion of Honor in recognition of your tireless efforts to promote and support religious freedom, human rights and interfaith tolerance all over the world.

Arthur Schneier, au nom du Président de la république, je vous fais Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.
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