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Rabbi Arthur Schneier Honored by Spain

Arthur Schneier (left) and Spanish Ambassador, Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo

Those of us who know Rabbi Arthur Schneier have long understood that while he is the spiritual leader of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, in actuality his mission for peace, dialogue and mutual respect have for quite some time expanded his good counsel throughout the world. The Spanish Government and the representative of King Juan Carlos officially recognized this great man by bestowing upon Rabbi Schneier the Encomienda of the Order of Civil Merit at a ceremony marking Spain's National Day.  Attending this auspicious event were members of the Spanish Mission to the United Nations, ambassadors, clergy, colleagues family, friends and a special delegation representing the Jewish communities of Spain. The most fitting tribute came directly from the SpanishAmbassador himself and we wish to share his speech with you now.

Spanish Ambassador, Juan Antonio Yanez-Barnuevo's Tribute to Rabbi Schneier

            Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Mrs. Schneier,
            Dear colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
            I would like to thank all of you for having accepted our invitation to be here with us today on this very special occasion in which we pay homage to an exceptional human being, Rabbi Arthur Schneier. To all of you a very warm we1come to the Residence of Spain to the United Nations in this day in which we commemorate the anniversary of our democratic Constitution.

Mrs. Claudia de Santos, Deputy Mayor of Segovia, Isabel Sampedro, Ambassador's wife and Assumpcio Hosta Rebes, Se.Gen.of Camino de Sefarad

            Let me also salute the presence among us of an important delegation from Spain, headed by the national Ombudsman (el Defensor del Pueblo), don Enrique M?gica Herzog, together with the Director of Casa Sefarad, Mr. Diego de Ojeda, the President of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Spain, Mr. Jacobo Israel, and the Secretary General and members of the "Red de Juder?as", the network of cities  and there are quite a few  harboring ancient Jewish quarters in our country. Our visitors are all in New York for a Symposium on "The Jews of Spain: Past and Present", held in the Sephardic House at the Center for Jewish History in Rabbi Schneier's alma mater, Yeshiva University, and we thought that their attendance on this occasion was very fitting indeed.
            I think that most if not all present here know, appreciate and admire Rabbi Arthur Schneier: who he is, what he has done, how he is leaving a permanent imprint in the world. Rabbi Schneier is a man of God, a witness to his times, a labourer for peace. A fine product of old Europe, he has made himself into an energetic New Yorker, a proud American and an exemplary citizen of the world.
            Born in Vienna, reared in Budapest, Arthur Schneier, together with his family, had to flee twice from persecution in the course of a few years during the terrible period of totalitarism and genocide that sullied the face of Europe three quarters of a century ago. 1 have heard him telling very movingly about his vicissitudes and those of his family at that time, and how he saved his own life as a young boy thanks to the helping hand of a man of conscience, the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who worked tirelessly in the tragic summer of 1944 in Budapest, together with other foreign representatives, such as Raoul Wallenberg from Sweden and Angel Sanz Briz from Spain, to extract as many people as possible from the Gestapo's claws.

Diego de Ojeda, Dir. Casa Israel Sefarad, Rabbi Schneier and Marc Scheuer, Dir., Office of the Secretariat Alliance of Civilizations

            Let me now quote from another outstanding person, almost the contemporary of Arthur Schneier, who shares with him so many things in experiences and altitudes toward the world. I am referring to Judge Thomas Buergenthal, distinguished American member of the International Court of Justice, who in his recent book of reminiscences "A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy" says this: "My Holocaust experience has had a very substantial impact on the human being I have become, on my life as an international law professor, human rights lawyer and international judge. (...) I understood, not only intellectually but also emotionally, what it is like to be a victim of human rights violations. I could, after all, feel it in my bones".
            One could similarly say that those shattering experiences during his early youth are the source from which Rabbi Schneier draws the strength and the inspiration for his rich spiritual life and for his life long combat for freedom of religion and belief for everybody everywhere as well as for better understanding and cooperation among peoples of diverse faiths, traditions or cultural backgrounds.
            This is also what has prompted Rabbi Schneier to found and lead the Appeal of Conscience Foundation consecrated to those goals, to take part in numerous inter faith missions to different parts of the world to help open new avenues for freedom of belief in many countries   including mine several decades ago   and to be an indefatigable participant and leader in many international congresses and conferences dealing with inter religious and inter cultural dialogue.

Park East Synagogue Pres., Herman Hoch, and his wife, Polly

            Is is thus not surprising that in 2005 former Secretary General Kofi Annan turned to Rabbi Schneier to name him as a member  together with other distinguished personalities from around the world  of the High Level Panel en the Alliance of Civilizations, the initiative set in motion at the United Nations by the President of the Government of Spain, Jos? Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and the Primer Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And again the current Secretary General, Ban Ki moon, asked Rabbi Schneier to serve as a good will Ambassador of the Alliance, in which he is an active and engaged participant, from the Madrid Forum in 2008 to the Istambul Forum this year and, I very much hope to the next Forum in Rio de Janeiro.
            All of this, and many more outstanding services to the cause of humanity, are what the Spanish Government and His Majesty the King Juan Carlos wanted to highlight and exalt by bestowing upon Rabbi Arthur Schneier the Encomienda of the Order of Civil Merit, which I have been privileged in handing over to him on their behalf.
            Allow me to finish with some words of Rabbi Schneier that are a powerful reminder to those among us who have the responsibility of representing our respective countries or, as the case may be, serve the international community through organizations of various kinds. In his preface to the book "Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust" by Mordecai Paldiel, published by the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs of Yeshiva University, he called those foreign representatives who had saved so many lives in Budapest in 1944 "diplomats of action and compassion". Let us have always their example as a model for everything we do, at the United Nations and throughout the world.

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