Friday, April 4, 2008

Benedict to visit Park East Synagogue in New York

(Via New York Times' CityRoom) - Breaking news:

Pope Benedict XVI has added a new stop to his New York itinerary: the first papal visit to a synagogue in the United States and only the third such visit by a pope to any synagogue. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced today that the pope will visit Park East Synagogue at 164 East 68th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues on the afternoon of April 18, the day he arrives in the city.

Pope Benedict was invited by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the leader of Park East Synagogue. This would be only the third papal visit to a synagogue anywhere. The pope visited the Cologne Synagogue in his native Germany in April 2005, and Pope John Paul II visited the Rome Synagogue in Italy in April 1986.

Rabbi Schneier said in a statement released with the announcement:

For the last 46 years I have preached from this pulpit advocating Torah values of freedom, human rights, and mutual respect. It is my unique privilege to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Park East Synagogue on his first visit to a Jewish House of Worship in the United States. This historic first is a reaffirmation of Pope Benedict XVI commitment to inter-religious dialogue and outreach to the Jewish community.
Rabbi Schneier's bio (from the Synagogue's website):
Rabbi Arthur Schneier has since 1962 been the spiritual leader of Park East Synagogue, a historic landmark in New York City. As Senior Rabbi he has brought local, national and international recognition to Park East Synagogue through his more than four decades of dedication to nurturing and cultivating Jewish life in New York, in Israel and around the globe. More than 25 years ago he founded the Park East Day School, a unique Early Childhood through Grade 8 Jewish Day School based on a combined general academic and Jewish studies curriculum, with a decidedly global focus. His driving commitment to renew Jewish life globally has stretched from his pioneering campaign for Soviet Jewry in the 1960s to the recent revitalization of Jewish cantorial music in New York by bringing, in September 2005, Cantor Yitzhak Meir Helfgot of Jerusalem to Park East Synagogue as its Chief Cantor.

Rabbi Schneier has also worked for religious freedom and tolerance throughout the world as founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (1965). A recipient of the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, 2001, he was cited as "a Holocaust survivor who has devoted a lifetime to overcoming forces of hatred and intolerance and set an inspiring example of spiritual leadership by encouraging interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding and promoting the cause of religious freedom around the world." He was also a U.S. Alternate Representative to the U.N. General Assembly and was recently appointed to the High-Level Group, Alliance of Civilizations, by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Jewish community of Cologne, becoming the first Pope to visit a synagogue in Germany.

On April 13, 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue in Rome, the first recorded papal visit on record, where he gave a historic address reiterating Nostra Aetate's condemnation of "the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone" and reaffirmed the Church's desire for dialogue and friendship with her "elder brothers."