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TO THE POPE: SHALOM ALEIKHEM

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Rabbi Rafi RankBy the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank

This past week, I made it into the Israeli press.  My name appeared in very small print, in an ad published in HaAretz, Israel’s equivalent of the New York Times, along with tens of other American rabbis who expressed their warm welcome to the pope.  And I’m glad my name was there because the pope had a rough visit.

Israeli commentators kept reminding their audiences that as a child, the pope was part of a Nazi youth group.  His address at Yad Vashem was criticized for being deficient and distant.  He never mentioned the Third Reich or the responsibility of his homeland, Germany, for the Shoah.  And at an interfaith meeting designed to promote peace, a Muslim cleric’s angry outburst against the Jewish state disrupted the entire affair.  And so, what is there to say?  Your Holiness, the Holy Father Pope Benedict the XVI—Shalom Aleikhem: Welcome to Israel.

No one holds back in the Holy Land! 

I have no idea how the pope responded to all this, but I have a suspicion that underneath that white robe, he’s a pretty tough guy.  As the leader of Vatican City, itself  regarded as a sovereign city-state, he is undoubtedly accustomed to the abuses and excesses of the media and others.  His trip to Israel can handle the criticism because the trip is a an expression of outreach to a people the Church has historically mistreated.  In the past forty years, the Church has taken substantive steps towardteshuvah, repentance.  It continues to do so.  The Pope’s trip to Israel should be understood in that light and in no other.

We may not agree with the pope’s every word, or even the way he says them, but the very fact that we can now disagree with the Pope, and do so on an equal footing, is itself proof of a relationship that has been changed radically.  The Pope greeted Israelis not as subjects, but as the ruler of one sovereign nation visiting another sovereign nation—a Jewish nation.  It’s very important that the gracious gestures of erstwhile enemies be greeted in kind.  What exactly was the point of beating him up?  He’s not a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  God knows that when it comes to contemporary anti-semites, the wolves of this world feel no need to disguise themselves. 

I wonder if he got a chance to eat a falafel?  I hope so.  The falafel in Israel is the best.  But even better is the democracy, the freedom of speech, the feistiness of our brothers and sisters in the Jewish state, and their commitment to always remember.  I take a measure of comfort in that even if I may disagree with how the feistiness gets played out some time.  I’m glad the pope visited the Holy Land and I know that many Israelis were equally thrilled with this gesture of peace.  If only all the world’s leaders would be so bold and so courageous!

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