Catholic-Jewish gathering remembers start of Holocaust

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. “Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass” 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, the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of Collier County hosted its annual “Kristallnacht: The Night of Broken Glass” Nov. 5, 2022, at Temple Shalom 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 this year’s gathering was held in the context of a recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents including the placing of lawn signs in communities throughout Naples, Collier County and the entire Diocese of Venice.

“Unfortunately, we need to acknowledge this inhumane unchristian rebirth that we have evidenced in Southwest Florida – of anti-Semitism,” Bishop Dewane said.

The Bishop said Catholic and Jewish peoples have a common parentage which bond the two together. The coming together through the Dialogue allows for open discussion which ultimately prevents misunderstandings and mistrust, fostering a way for the two faiths to see each other with a deep amount of respect.

“Each one of us has a responsibility to take action when we see anti-Semitism,” Bishop Dewane continued. “It isn’t just for the Dialogue group to resolve. It isn’t just for a Parish or synagogue. It’s for all of us to come together when we see the negativity that can rears its head, just as it did so many years ago when Kristallnacht foreshadowed what the world never thought could happen (the Holocaust) – and it did happen. You and I have responsibilities to speak out and to speak up.”

The guest speaker was Dr. Suzanne Brown-Fleming, Director of the International Academics Programs Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and her topic was “November 1938: Perspective from the Vatican Archives.”

In her talk, focused on the month following Kristallnacht, Brown-Fleming said a certain context was needed, reminding the audience that the groundbreaking 1965 Vatican II document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), which redefined the relationship between the Church and other non-Christian faiths, was years away. Nostra Aetate importantly states that what happened in the Passion of Christ “cannot be charged against the Jews then alive, nor against the Jews today.”

Brown-Fleming cited several diplomatic and personal reports sent to and from the Vatican regarding Kristallnacht as well as correspondence from the faithful, who were almost all blatantly anti-Semitic, blaming the Jewish people for the death of Christ, and because of this, saw little reason to help the Jews in Germany or elsewhere.

In the end, Brown-Fleming said the Vatican was “not willing to aggressively condemn the Nazi action against the Jews, but only to authorize on behalf of the Pope a reminder of the Church of the mission to aid the suffering and the persecuted. It is quite an understatement to say this response in these troubling times was not enough.” She noted much has changed since Nostra Aetate.

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

Among the dignitaries present for the commemoration were, Michael A. Feldman, co-founder of the Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida; Rabbi Adam Miller, Temple Shalom; Jane Schiff, Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples; Marty Gauthier, Dialogue Catholic co-chair; Luba Rotsztain, Dialogue Jewish co-chair; Rabbi Mark Gross, Jewish Congregation of Marco Island; Rabbi Ammos Chorny, Beth Tikvah; Father Robert Kantor, Pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Naples; and Yvonne Holtzman, Candle Lighting Chair, Dialogue member and Gen Shoah. Also present were more than two dozen youth who are in the Confirmation program at St. Agnes Parish.

The Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of Collier County has been working together for 21 years with the purpose of engaging Catholics and Jews in understanding our past history and advancing the cause of mutual understanding and appreciation of our differences, as well as our commonalities.

“Pope’s Rabbi” shares stories of friendship, interreligious dialogue

A friendship lasting a quarter-century finds its roots in the Second Vatican Council Declaration Nostrae Aetate (On the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions), the important document that called for a fresh and positive relationship between the Catholic and Jewish Faiths.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Pope Francis have served as examples of friendship and interreligious dialogue because they have lived out the call of Nostrae Aetate which acknowledges the Church’s bond with the Jewish people.

Rabbi Skorka was the keynote speaker at the April 3, 2022, gathering of the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of Collier County at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples. The presentation was co-sponsored by the Diocese of Venice and Jewish Federation of Greater Naples.

“One of the values I learned from my parents and grandparents was that speech between peoples should reflect the way that people ought to relate to each other with moderation, sincerity and honesty,” Rabbi Skorka explained, noting that the friendship with Pope Francis began as an open exchange of ideas with then Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. Rabbi Skorka was the leading Rabbi in Argentina as Rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano (Latin American Rabbinical Seminary), in Buenos Aires.

The Rabbi explained that the Holocaust, and its lasting impacts, was a reality that marked his being since childhood.

“The travails of the Jewish people took palpable form in my family which was decimated by the massacre (of the Holocaust). It was not merely historical fact as a Jew I should remember; what stays with me was the sadness which overwhelmed the members of my family and the many members of the community in which I was a part. The Shoah and anti-Semitism were not simply recounted to me; it was an experience that also shaped me by being imparted by many who suffered in their native Europe.”

When he began his rabbinical studies, Rabbi Skorka learned a great deal about Nostrae Aetate, which was released in 1965 by St. John XIII. While the document was short, it served as a profound and absolute apology for years of divisiveness between the Catholic and Jewish faiths.

Inspired by the knowledge and understanding that no religion is an island, Rabbi Skorka openly wrote about the need for interfaith dialogue. One such article brought the Rabbi and Archbishop into contact, forming a lasting bond centered on the belief that the only way to overcome hatred was through the encounter of the members of different religions and cultures.

The Rabbi went on to say that Pope Francis has a profound ability to identify with the Jewish experience. This was evident in his instinctive understanding from the very beginning that dialogue between Catholics and Jews would become untenable if Catholics harbored any thought of “converting” Jews to Jesus Christ.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane also addressed the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue gathering, talking about the noble mission of the group.

Bishop Dewane said that the advancement of Catholic-Jewish relations comes directly from Nostrae Aetate, which should be celebrated. The document changed the landscape of the Church and was done with prudence and love, started a completely new conversation within the Catholic Church.

This new moment in the Church’s history had its roots in a renewed study of Hebrew and Christian Scripture and other theological developments that had occurred at the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Dewane explained how Pope John Paul II led a revolution that transformed relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to visit a Jewish synagogue and the Western Wall. He then established diplomatic relations with Israel, applying the term “beloved elder brothers” when referring to the Jews.”

The Bishop explained that the development of Nostrae Aetate’s principle themes reshaped specific expression of Catholic Teaching, which had posed obstacles to Jewish-Catholic relations.

“The long road ahead is marked by our two communities of faith in a relatively short time since the Second Vatican Council and has yielded immense fruit and I believe there are practical ways in which we can build on these developments,” Bishop Dewane continued. “We need to share our concerns on an increasingly hostile culture and especially a growing antagonism toward people of faith… We can find a common purpose in standing up against these acts as people of faith… Any one act against faith is too much. We all need to speak up, each one within our tradition, within our faith perspective. In this environment we face today we must also see increased positive collaboration to deepen friendships as we moved forward together.”

Michael Feldman, member of the Catholic Jewish-Dialogue served as the program emcee. Other speakers included Rabbi Frank Muller, Father Bob Kantor of St. Agnes Parish, as well as Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Co-Chairs Luba Rotsztain and Martin Gauthier.

“Pope’s Rabbi” coming to Naples April 3

The Catholic Jewish Dialogue of Collier County is honored to present Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the “Pope’s Rabbi,” for a talk about his ongoing 25-year friendship with Pope Francis.

All are invited to attend the program which is co-sponsored by the Diocese of Venice and Jewish Federation of Greater Naples. The presentation will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 3, 2022, in the ballroom of St. John the Evangelist Parish, 625 111th Ave. N., Naples. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

Rabbi Skorka will describe his 25-year “deep and sincere friendship” with Pope Francis, dating to when then-Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Bergoglio was elevated and appointed as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. At the time of their first meeting, Rabbi Skorka was the leading Rabbi in Argentina as Rector of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano (Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, in Buenos Aires.

The friendship, which continues to this day, began a dialogue that became an important component of both their personal lives and responsibilities as clergy. They collaborated in writing a book and engaged in 31 television discussions.

According to Rabbi Skorka, “Our personal dialogues had taken on the mission of spreading a culture of dialogue throughout society in as many ways as possible.”

In an interview with Richard Price of the Catholic Jewish-Dialogue of Collier County, Rabbi Skorka shared how he and the future Pope began their lasting friendship.

“In the beginning, there were differences between our ages and positions,” the Rabbi said. “My title as Seminary Rector was hardly on a par with the Archbishop of one of the most important Catholic communities in the world. It was he who overcame this disparity by unreservedly opening himself up to me. He paved the way. We not only began to dialogue but, most importantly, we began to work to spread the practice of dialogue in all aspects of our lives and responsibilities.”

A turning point in the friendship and ongoing dialogue occurred in 2004, when Rabbi Skorka invited then-Cardinal Bergoglio to deliver a message to his synagogue community, in anticipation of the day of Rosh Hashanah.

“His message to my synagogue in 2004 went on to develop the idea of the encounter between the individual and God, and of the importance of memory in that relationship. He alluded to the essence of Jewish belief expressed during this most holy season, the Days of Awe: to believe in the Creator who relates to each person and remembers each individual. In fact, I was astonished to hear this sermon. (His) message on this occasion could well have been the reflections of a Rabbi to his community.”

The Rabbi went on to say that Pope Francis has a profound ability to identify with the Jewish experience. This was evident in his instinctive understanding from the very beginning that dialogue between Catholics and Jews would become untenable if Catholics harbored any thought of “converting” Jews to Jesus Christ.

“As he would say years later as Pope Francis, ‘There was a basis of total trust [between us], because we knew in our conversations—and I want to highlight this—neither of us negotiated our own identity. If we had, we would not have been able to talk. It would have been a sham. … Neither of us attempted to convert the other.’ I cannot overstate the importance of this sensitivity, which is a pre-condition for the mutually enriching dialogue that he and I experienced,” Rabbi Skorka concluded.

For those interested in hearing more of this story, please consider attending the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue of Collier County presentation of Rabbi Skorka on 3 p.m. Sunday, April 3, 2022, in the ballroom of St. John the Evangelist Parish. Tickets are $18 in advance and are available by visiting https://jfgn.regfox.com/rabbi-skorka. Note: if seats are available on the day of the program, tickets will be sold at the door for $25.

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