Special to the JTA Cardinal Cooke, the Jews and Israel
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Special to the JTA Cardinal Cooke, the Jews and Israel

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The nation’s press, particularly the press in New York, has been lavish in its coverage of the life and death of Terence Cardinal Cooke, the late Archbishop of New York. But if one read that press carefully, especially The New York Times, one would never know that Cooke had a long and fruitful relationship with leaders of the Jewish community.

I first met this warm, cheerful prelate when he was Msgr. Cooke serving as personal secretary to the late Francis Cardinal Spellman. Most people are unaware that Spellman played a key role in helping mobilize support among the American Catholic bishops during Vatican Council II (1962-65) for the Vatican Declaration on Catholic-Jewish relations that condemned anti-Semitism and called for mutual respect between Catholics and Jews.

During that period, Msgr. Cooke frequently served as liaison between Spellman and myself, as well as with American Jewish Committee leaders Charles Silver, a close friend of the Cardinal, Judge Joseph Proskauer, and Morris Abram. It was then that Msgr. Cooke received his “on-the-job” training in Catholic-Jewish relations.


On his designation as Archbishop of New York, the AJC sponsored a luncheon in his honor on April 30, 1968, attended by prominent Catholic and Jewish leaders. In his “maiden” address on Catholic-Jewish relations, Cooke spoke of his commitment to “heightened respect, sympathy and affection” between Catholics and Jews. He then went on to repudiate anti-Semitism in these words:

“In these years following the Second Vatican Council, we Roman Catholics are more than ever convinced that anti-Semitism should never find a basis in the Catholic religion and must never find a place in any Catholic’s life … We Catholic people are anxious to salute our Jewish brothers anew. Conscious of our common heritage of salvation in the covenant between God and Abraham and his descendants, we pledge ourselves to continue fostering stronger and more extensive bonds of mutual respect, concern and cooperation.”

Cooke then encouraged cooperation between Catholics and Jews in social justice areas:

“The pursuit of justice in civil rights and the resolution of our serious urban problems are surely areas in which our cooperation can bear rich fruit. Our opportunities are extraordinary here in New York — a great Jewish city and a great Christian city …. I pray today and every day that together we shall seize the opportunities afforded now and serve the needs of our people more effectively than ever before.”


In November, 1968, at a United Jewish Appeal dinner honoring his close friend, Charles Silver — who conducted the famed Al Smith dinner for Catholic charities – Cooke made warm and positive statements supporting the historic relationship of the Jewish people to Israel. Subsequently, he lent his name to petitions supporting the human rights of Soviet Jewry.

During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Cooke attended Sabbath services and spoke from the pulpits of several leading New York synagogues. Reciprocally, rabbis were invited to speak from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

On the problematic side, some Jewish leaders differed publicly with the Cardinal on such issues as abortion and aid to private schools, but there was cooperation with him on the condemnation of drugs, pornography, abuse of sex and violence in the media, and related public morality issues.


Some anxiety did develop in the Jewish community when Cooke became president of the Near East Catholic Welfare Council, whose professionals were one-sidely allied with Palestinians and other Arabs to the exclusion of any sympathy for victimized Jewish refugees in Israel and in Arab countries. But the Cardinal trod a careful middle ground in upholding the legitimate social welfare needs of Arabs while not retreating from his moral support of Israel.

His abhorrence of violence, made public in his condemnation of terrorism in Ireland, carried over to his disdain for PLO terrorism and violence, as he told me on more than one occasion.

His keen sensitivity to the state of the Jewish soul was perhaps not dramatically reflected when he and I collaborated on world refugee problems, particularly the Vietnamese “boat people” tragedy. At a press conference held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1980, Cooke explained his motivation for responding to the Indochinese refugee crisis in these moving words:

“Our generation witnessed the savagery of the Nazi Holocaust which led to the destruction of millions of Jewish lives. To our eternal shame, most of the world stood by while human beings were being destroyed. We are now trying to learn our moral lessons from that tragedy, and that is why we — Christians and Jews together — are joining hands to stand against the evil which is afflicting these poor Vietnamese refugees.”

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