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Remarks by Rabbi Marvin Hier, Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,at Simon Wiesenthal Center private audience with His Holiness Pope Francis

Vatican

October 24, 2013

Your Holiness, like millions of others I was amazed to see that after being named Pope Francis, you personally went back to your hotel to check yourself out. For me this simple act said it all. It reminded me of the verse in Genesis (13:3) which says of Abraham, our father, the founder of monotheism: “V’yelech Lemasov”, “He went back to his [same] lodgings”. To which the Talmud (Erchin 16B) explains that Abraham kept the same itinerary -- always staying in the same hotels even though he had now become a world leader. In order to emphasize to all that his was a mission based on kindness and good deeds, not on wealth and power.

There is no greater virtue in Judaism than peace or Shalom. Peace dominates our prayers. Peace, Shalom is one of the names of the Almighty himself. But peace, like a doctor’s prescription works only if one is willing to make lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, but there are millions of people who ignore their doctor’s advice.

Just as there are some nations who can’t compromise. That’s what Chamberlain forgot in 1938 when he returned from Munich with his ‘Peace in our time’. Only Churchill understood who Hitler really was. If not for him, today’s audience with Your Holiness and a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center could never have taken place.

As Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik writes (Fate And Destiny), “Evil is an undeniable fact. It exists. I will neither deny it nor camouflage it....” Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time. Seventy-five years after the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom (the night of broken glass), a poll commissioned by the respected Ebert Foundation estimates that 150 million Europeans still harbor anti-Jewish sentiment.

That is the reason why the Torah has two ways of expressing the word Memory. One way is positive, Zachor, to remember, reach out, dialogue, hold bi-laterals, conferences, to find common ground. The other dimension is negative, Lo Tishkach, do not forget to act when you are dealing with terrorists and rogue nations whose only purpose is to obfuscate and delay, until they acquire nuclear weapons and lead our world to Armageddon.

Your Holiness, we know that we have you as an ally in our struggles against anti-Semitism, and we want to reiterate to you that you have an ally in the Simon Wiesenthal Center in your struggle to secure the rights of religious minorities everywhere, especially endangered historic Christian communities in Egypt, Iraq and beyond.

Finally, we are delighted that Your Holiness has accepted an invitation to visit Israel next year – the spiritual center of the Jewish people, where Jews, Christians and Muslims are free to practice their faith and to express their opinions without fear or repression. May your presence there help all those committed to a lasting Middle East peace, to finally recognize the existence of a Jewish state alongside her twenty-three Arab neighbors!

We pray that G-d grant you םימי תחיחא, a long reign to fulfill your noble task for the betterment of all mankind.