New York (AsiaNews) - Just a few hours from the Jewish Passover, Benedict XVI yesterday evening visited the Jewish synagogue of East Park to greet rabbi Arthur Schneier, who for some time has been involved in interreligious dialogue, and the Jewish community of the city.
It is the first time a pope has visited a Jewish community in the United States. The pontiff was greeted with songs of praise and shouts of "Shalom" (peace). Rabbi Schneier, aged 78, of Austrian origin, survived the Holocaust and founded an association for dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
After showing the pope the scrolls of the Torah kept in the synagogue, the rabbi welcomed his guest with the greeting of "Mazel Tov" (good fortune) for his birthday, celebrated last April 16. The rabbi then recalled the shared experience of the second world war, and repeated his great confidence in the "continuation of dialogue" between Jews and Christians.
The visit to the synagogue of New York comes a few weeks after some controversy on the Jewish side over the reintroduction of the prayer for Good Friday into the Latin missal, in which God is asked that the Jews may recognise Jesus as Lord. Some Jewish groups have accused the prayer of proselytism, while Vatican personalities have defended the expression as an element of the Christian faith, which desires that all men know Jesus the savior.
Benedict XVI wished "peace" (Shalom) to the Jewish community. "It is with joy that I come here", he said, "just a few hours before the celebration of your Pesah (Passover), to express my respect and esteem for the Jewish community in New York City". Among the figures present was Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and James Wolfensohn, former director of the World Bank.
"I assure you most especially", he continued, "of my closeness at this time, as you prepare to celebrate the great deeds of the Almighty, and to sing the praises of Him who has worked such wonders for his people". "I encourage all of you", he continued, "to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood".
At the end of the brief encounter, there was an exchange of gifts. The pope gave the community a copy of a 15th century miniature taken from a manuscript of the Vatican Library, depicting a Jewish wedding. The Jewish community gave the pontiff a plate for the Seder supper of Passover, which rabbi Schneier described as a journey "from slavery to freedom".