Catholic-Jewish gathering remembers Kristallnacht, addresses recent violence in Holy Land

It was on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when members of the Nazi party sponsored anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) which attacked Jewish persons and destroyed Jewish owned property in Germany and Austria. Known as “Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass,” this event is regarded by historians as “the Night the Holocaust began” in Europe, which ultimately led to the murder of more than six million Jews.

To remember those events and to stand united in saying “Always Remember!” “Never Forget!” and “Never Again!” the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of Collier County hosted its 20th annual “Kristallnacht: The Night of Broken Glass” on Nov. 5, 2023, at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples. The event was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Venice and Jewish Federation of Greater Naples, GenShoah of SWFL, and the Holocaust Museum and Janet G. and Harvey D. Cohen Education Center.

On behalf of the Diocese, Bishop Frank J. Dewane said it is necessary to come together to remember Kristallnacht and the Holocaust which followed, but the commemoration takes place in a global context. This is as the world witnesses the contemporary events of the Oct. 7 terror attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens, as well as an alarming rise of anti-Semitism nationally and within the Diocese of Venice.

“In the present global setting, dialogue, diplomacy, and reaching understanding are more difficult and yet ever more needed,” Bishop Dewane said. “Finding receptive ears that listen to the voices that express nuanced perspective, however, is a challenge. The present circumstances give possible rise to disagreements between Catholics and Jews if we are not careful and attentive.”

With its purpose to engage Jews and Catholics in understanding their past history and advancing the causes of mutual understanding and appreciation of their differences as well as their commonalities, Bishop Dewane praised the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue and its important work.

Bishop Dewane stressed how Pope Francis, a lifelong promoter of Catholic-Jewish relations, immediately and unequivocally condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 brutal violence, and called for the immediate release of hostages, and further supported Israel’s right to self-defense.

“We must all pray that world leaders find just solutions that lead to peace,” Bishop Dewane said. “There is a futility of war. It has no victors, only victims. We must all pursue the gift of peace by any means possible.”

Further, the Bishop said it is not in anyone’s interest to allow the forces of violence and hatred to ignite resentment among people of faith and silence the moral voice of religion.

“The spiritual bonds that unite us through the One True God must be observed. It must allow us to speak candidly to one another, and to stand together for justice, peace, and freedom of humankind,” the Bishop concluded.

Nearly 1,000 attended the commemoration, which included calls for peace and unity among the people of the world. There were also prayers for the victims of the Holocaust and Oct. 7 attacks, as well as for all who are subjected to religious persecution.

A poignant moment during the annual commemoration was a candle lighting ceremony. Six candles were lit by Gen Shoah (second and third generation Holocaust survivors). Each lit their candle for the victims of the Holocaust and for a brighter future. A seventh candle was lit for the victims of the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

In addition, Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer, of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, shared the story of how the Torah – the books of the Hebrew Bible – was a survivor of the Holocaust from the present-day Czech Republic, and was then spared damage during Hurricane Ian in September 2022 when the island and temple were flooded.

The event’s keynote was by Rabbi David Maayan, assistant director of the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at St. Leo University in Tampa. The topic: “Theologies of the ‘Other’: Catholics and Jews After the Holocaust.”

The commemoration concluded with the singing of “God Bless America,” and Bishop Dewane leading everyone in a moment of silence for peace.

Among the dignitaries participating in the commemoration were, Michael A. Feldman, co-founder of the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida; Dr. Nat Ritter, Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples; Marty Gauthier, Dialogue Catholic co-chair; Yvonne Holtzman, Dialogue Jewish co-chair and member of Gen Shoah; Rabbi Ariel Boxman of Temple Shalom; Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer, Bat Yam Temple of the Islands; Shelley Lieb, co-chair of Gen Shoah; Rabbi Adam Miller, Temple Shalom; Rabbi Ammos Chorny, Beth Tikvah; Father Robert Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples; Father Robert Garrity, of Ave Maria University; and Father Casey Jones, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton, the host Parish. Also present were more than two dozen youth who are in the Confirmation program at St. Agnes Parish.