Austrian Church Leaders Met with Chief Rabbi and Jewish Leaders for Joint Meditation on Yom Kippur E
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Austrian Church Leaders Met with Chief Rabbi and Jewish Leaders for Joint Meditation on Yom Kippur E

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Austrian political and church leaders made significant gestures toward the Jewish community over Yom Kippur to counteract the upsurge of anti-Semitism which accompanied last summer’s Presidential election campaign.

For the first time in Austrian history, dignitaries of the Catholic and Lutheran churches met with Austrian Chief Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg and leading members of the Jewish community for a “joint hour of meditation” on Yom Kippur eve, last Sunday. Later, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky visited the Vienna Synagogue for a prayer service.

The hour of meditation was initiated by Catholic Action and the Laymen’s Council. It was held in the main hall of the Austrian National Library, a building erected by Emperor Josef II who granted Jews civil rights in Austria in the latter half of the 18th century.

The historic symbolism of the site was not coincidental. Observers noted that Austria’s small Jewish community is in need of reassurance because of the anti-Semitism that greeted the exposure of President Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past by Jewish organizations before and since the July 8 elections.

The new Bishop of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groer, and the senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church, Alfred Jahn, attended along with Chief Rabbi Eisenberg, Ivan Hacker, president of the Jewish community and others. Paul Schulmeister, president of Catholic Action, said, “This joint meeting cannot be taken for granted, but is indeed very necessary. The immediate cause of this meeting was the disturbing upswing of anti-Semitic tendencies during the Austrian Presidential elections.”

He added, “We do not want to forget. We do not want to cover with a cloak of silence what was brought to the surface last summer in the matter of anti-Semitic ideology, whether deliberate or unintentional.”

Vranitzky said at the synagogue, “I want to declare in my name and in the name of the Austrian government, that we want to do everything in the future to avoid any doubts from your side that our homeland is also yours. Together we have rebuilt Austria from the ruins, and together we want to accept the demands of the future. So I want to ask you to join in coping with those demands.”

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