Friday, May 16, 2008

Israeli Ambassador on "smoothing things up" with the Vatican

John Thavis interviews Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican Mordechai Lewy on his recent appointment, which he describes as "smoothing things up and not for stressing the corners" (Catholic News Service. May 16, 2008):
ROME (CNS) -- Israeli ambassadors to the Vatican have a tradition of being press-friendly, and Mordechay Lewy is no exception.

Three days after presenting his credentials to Pope Benedict XVI, Lewy sat down with six Vatican journalists for a conversation at the Israeli Embassy in Rome's Parioli neighborhood.

Over coffee and cookies May 15 he chatted about his new job and did a little parsing of the pope's speech, which was handed to him at the credentials ceremony.

Lewy left no doubt that he relishes the role of ambassador to the Holy See. He said that when diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel were established in 1993 he told himself, "That's a job for me." He's had a long interest in the history of religion in the Middle East. ...

Ambassador Lewy also took the opportunity to address some questions regarding the status of Christians in the Holy Land and concerns expressed over their freedom of passage:
One church complaint in recent years has been a tightening of entry visas for church personnel working in Israeli territory. Lewy said the stricter policy was the result of the many suicide bombings during the second intifada that began in 2000.

The ambassador said Eastern churches in the Holy Land often have personnel coming from countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, so they are going to be carefully checked. Those whose job it is to protect the country view it simply as a security issue, he said.

"I see a clergyman. The security supervisor sees a Syrian," he said.

When it was pointed out that Christians have not carried out suicide bombings, the ambassador recalled the case of Melkite Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, a Syrian prelate arrested by Israel in 1974 and charged with running guns for terrorists but freed under Vatican pressure.

"It was a long time ago, but this remains in the collective memory. It did a lot of harm," Lewy said.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

President Bush: "Our friendship ... is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul."

The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul. When William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower in 1620, he quoted the words of Jeremiah: "Come let us declare in Zion the word of God." The founders of my country saw a new promised land and bestowed upon their towns names like Bethlehem and New Canaan. And in time, many Americans became passionate advocates for a Jewish state.

Centuries of suffering and sacrifice would pass before the dream was fulfilled. The Jewish people endured the agony of the pogroms, the tragedy of the Great War, and the horror of the Holocaust -- what Elie Wiesel called "the kingdom of the night." Soulless men took away lives and broke apart families. Yet they could not take away the spirit of the Jewish people, and they could not break the promise of God. (Applause.) When news of Israel's freedom finally arrived, Golda Meir, a fearless woman raised in Wisconsin, could summon only tears. She later said: "For two thousand years we have waited for our deliverance. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words."

The joy of independence was tempered by the outbreak of battle, a struggle that has continued for six decades. Yet in spite of the violence, in defiance of the threats, Israel has built a thriving democracy in the heart of the Holy Land. You have welcomed immigrants from the four corners of the Earth. You have forged a free and modern society based on the love of liberty, a passion for justice, and a respect for human dignity. You have worked tirelessly for peace. You have fought valiantly for freedom.

My country's admiration for Israel does not end there. When Americans look at Israel, we see a pioneer spirit that worked an agricultural miracle and now leads a high-tech revolution. We see world-class universities and a global leader in business and innovation and the arts. We see a resource more valuable than oil or gold: the talent and determination of a free people who refuse to let any obstacle stand in the way of their destiny.

I have been fortunate to see the character of Israel up close. I have touched the Western Wall, seen the sun reflected in the Sea of Galilee, I have prayed at Yad Vashem. And earlier today, I visited Masada, an inspiring monument to courage and sacrifice. At this historic site, Israeli soldiers swear an oath: "Masada shall never fall again." Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

- From an Address by President George W. Bush at the Knesset, honoring the 60th Anniversary of Israel. May 15, 2008.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Irena Sendler 1910-2008: "Righteous Among the Nations"

The face of a guardian angel - Irena Sendler 1910-2008
Irena Sendler, Lifeline to Young Jews, Is Dead at 98 New York Times May 13, 2008:
Irena Sendler, a Roman Catholic who created a network of rescuers in Poland who smuggled about 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto in World War II, some of them in coffins, died Monday in Warsaw. She was 98.

The death was confirmed by Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that supports rescuers of Holocaust victims.

Mrs. Sendler was head of the children’s bureau of Zegota, an underground organization set up to save Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Soon after the invasion, approximately 450,000 Jews, about 30 percent of Warsaw’s population, were crammed into a tiny section of the city and barricaded behind seven-foot-high walls.

On April 19, 1943, the Nazis began what they expected would be a rapid liquidation of the ghetto. It took them more than a month to quell the Warsaw ghetto uprising. By then, only about 55,000 Jews were still alive; most of them were sent to death camps.

Also by then, however, Mrs. Sendler’s group of about 30 volunteers, mostly women, had managed to slip hundreds of infants, young children and teenagers to safety.

“She was the inspiration and the prime mover for the whole network that saved those 2,500 Jewish children,” Debórah Dwork, the Rose professor of Holocaust history at Clark University in Massachusetts, said Monday. Professor Dwork, the author of “Children With a Star” (Yale University Press, 1991), said about 400 children had been directly smuggled out by Mrs. Sendler. ...

The Wikipedia entry has further details:

In December 1942, the newly created, the newly created Children's Section of the Żegota (Council for Aid to Jews), nominated her (under her cover name Jolanta) to head its children's department. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto, to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto. During the visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.

[Sendler] cooperated with the Children's Section of the Municipal Administration, linked with the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish Relief Organization tolerated under German supervision. She organized the smuggling of Jewish children from the Ghetto, carrying them out in boxes, suitcases and trolleys. The children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary or Roman Catholic convents such as the Sisters Little Servants of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mary at Turkowice and Chotomów. Some were smuggled to priests in parish rectories where they could be further hidden. She kept lists of the names, hidden in jars, in order to keep track of their original and new identities.

Arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, she was severely tortured and sentenced to death. The Żegota saved her by bribing the German guards on the way to her execution. She was left in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. Officially, she was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. Even in hiding, she continued her work for the Jewish children.


  • Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project - a website by rural Kansas school students who -- initially skeptical about the claim to have saved 2,500 children -- started a research project:
    They found that Irena Sendler, as a non-Jewish social worker, had gone into the Warsaw Ghetto, talked Jewish parents and grandparents out of their children, rightly saying that all were going to die in the Ghetto or in death camps, taking the children past the Nazi guards (in body bags, saying they were ill, or using one of the many means of escape from the Ghetto-the old courthouse for example), and then adopting them into the homes of Polish families or hiding them in convents and orphanages. She made lists of the children's real names and put the lists in jars, then buried the jars in a garden, so that someday she could dig up the jars and find the children to tell them of their real identify.

    The Nazi's captured her and she was beaten severely, but the Polish underground bribed a guard to release her, and she entered into hiding. The students wrote a performance (Life in a Jar) in which they portrayed the life of Irena Sendler. They have performed this program for numerous clubs and civic groups in the community, around the state of Kansas, all over the U.S. and in Europe (225 presentations as of November 2007). The community of Uniontown has little diversity and no Jewish students in the school district. The community was inspired by the project and sponsored an Irena Sendler Day. The students began to search for the final resting place of Irena and discovered she was still alive and living in Warsaw, Poland. Irena's story was unknown world-wide, even though she has received esteemed recognition from Yad Vashem in the 1960's and support from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in New York City. Forty-five years of communism had buried her story, even in her own country.

    From that time on they would take a jar to every performance and collect fund for Irena and other Polish rescuers. ...

  • A TV movie about the life of Holocaust hero Irena Sendler is being readied for production and will air next season on CBS:
    "The Irena Sendler Story" is based on an authorized biography of the woman credited with rescuing some 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, producer Hallmark Hall of Fame said Monday. ...

    John Kent Harrison, who became familiar with Sendler's bravery while in Poland three years ago filming a CBS miniseries about Pope John Paul II, wrote the script for the Sendler film and will direct.

    The movie is drawn from the 2005 book "Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story," written by Anna Mieszkowska.

  • I'm no hero, says woman who saved 2,500 ghetto children The Guardian March 15, 2007:
    Mrs Sendlerowa, who is in a Warsaw nursing home, insisted she did nothing special.

    In an interview she said: "I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality."

    "The term 'hero' irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little."

  • Irena Sendler Tribute by Yad Vashem ("The Righeous Among the Nations").

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pope Receives Israeli Ambassador, Asks Israel to Aid Catholics

Pope Benedict XVI received Monday Israel's new Vatican ambassador, expressing the need for a 'just peace' to resolve the conflict between the Jewish state and the Palestinians:
Mordechay Lewy presented his credentials to the pontiff at a ceremony in the Vatican.

'The Holy See joins you in giving thanks to the Lord that the aspirations of the Jewish people for a home in the land of their fathers have been fulfilled, and hopes soon to see a time of even greater rejoicing when a just peace finally resolves the conflict with the Palestinians,' Benedict said.

The Vatican recognized Israel's 'legitimate need for security and self-defence', in the same way that it believed that all people should have a right to be given equal opportunities to flourish,' the pontiff told Lewy.

'Accordingly, I would urge your government to make every effort to alleviate the hardship suffered by the Palestinian community, allowing them the freedom necessary to go about their legitimate business, including travel to places of worship, so that they too can enjoy greater peace and security,' Benedict said.

The pontiff also offered his 'good wishes' for the 60th anniversary of the founding Israel which is being celebrated this year.

He also recalled the establishment in 1993 of diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican.

See also: Pope asks Israel to aid Catholics YNet News. May 12, 2008.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pakistani Christians - Praying for Israel and a right to Pilgrimage

Pakistani Christians praying for Israel which Islamabad ought to recognise
Karachi (AsiaNews) – Christians across Pakistan are praying for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel in the hope that one day Islamabad and Tel Aviv may establish diplomatic relations and allow them to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, said Asharf P. Butt, president of the Association of Pakistani Christians, at a press conference in Karachi organised to express best wishes for Israel and its population.

The organisation “demanded once again that the government of Pakistan recognise Israel and normalise diplomatic relations,” Asharf said, “not only as a question of international justice but also to allow Pakistan’s ten million Christians to make a pilgrimage in the land of the Bible.”

Christians in Pakistan “have a long-standing dream, to visit this land but cannot because of the current diplomatic situation,” he said. “This means that we are deprived of our religious rights. Hence we shall pray in all of Pakistan’s churches for peace and protection for the holy city of Jerusalem.”