Waiting for Answers from the Pope

Jewish leaders are still waiting for answers. Both local and national Jewish leaders participating in Friday’s meeting here between Pope John Paul II and 196 Jewish representatives said they hope and expect answers from the Pope to questions and unresolved issues raised at a Jewish delegation’s meetings at the Vatican August 31 and with the Pope on September 1.

The Jews are still waiting for an explanation for the Pope’s audience with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, accused of Nazi war crimes. They are still waiting for the Vatican to move closer to formal recognition of Israel. And they are still waiting for the Vatican to clarify its understanding of what the Holocaust means for Jews, according to Rabbi Solomon Schiff, director of the chaplaincy for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, one local organizer of the meeting with the Pope.

“We are hoping that the Pope will use his influence to include teachings about the Holocaust in Catholic curriculum and to push back the tides of anti-Semitism,” Schiff said.

“In Rome, the Pope listened carefully and expressed the view that he could not answer all points at this time but would respond in time. We hope he will respond to these issues in Miami,” Schiff said. Many of the Jewish participants see Miami as the second part of the Rome meeting, he said.

Mark Freedman, American Jewish Congress executive director of the Southeast region, said the pessimistic view of Friday’s meeting is that the ceremonial nature of the meeting will remain intact. The optimistic view, said Freedman, is the Pope will elaborate on specific issues.

“We would want a statement on the Waldheim visit, but I don’t think he’ll do that. The residual is pomp and circumstance,” Freedman said.

Schiff said the agenda for the meeting will look a lot like the agenda for the meeting in Rome. Recognition for the State of Israel, an explanation for the Waldheim audience and the Vatican’s ambivalent attitude toward the uniqueness of the Holocaust for the Jews will likely be raised in the meeting with the Pope.

The Pope will meet the Jewish leaders Friday at 8:30 a.m. at the Miami Fine Arts Center, where he will first tour and bless an exhibit of Judaica from the Vatican Library. Then in a nearby auditorium, the Pope will first hear an address from the Jewish delegation now set to be delivered by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious 2Consultations (IJCIC).

Originally, the organizers of the meeting had designated Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman, the president of the Synagogue Council of America (SCA), as the speaker for the Jewish delegation. But internal dissent within the SCA prompted Klaperman tostep aside. The six groups comprising the SCA, a rabbinical and lay organization from each of the three major streams of Judaism, each decided individually whether to participate in the Miami meeting. The two Orthodox organizations, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Union of American Orthodox Synagogues, decided not to send representatives to Miami but decided against vetoing the other SCA member groups’ participation. Each organization has the power to veto the SCA’s participation. But one condition the Orthodox groups insisted on in a meeting last week was that Klaperman, an Orthodox rabbi, would not speak to the Pope.

Gunther Lawrence, SCA spokesman, said the Orthodox felt Klaperman was their representative in the SCA and they did not want him speaking to the Pope. Klaperman took the decision badly and felt hurt and disappointed, Lawrence said.

The Orthodox decided to boycott the Miami meeting because they said the meetings at the Vatican earlier this month were not substantive enough and made no significant progress. The groups did not think the Miami meeting would accomplish anything more substantive, said Schiff, who was present at the meetings when the Orthodox withdrew from the Miami meeting.

Waxman, who is a Conservative Jew, participated in the Rome meetings as did Klaperman.

Local Jewish officials have planned a dinner for their national counterparts who will be in town for the Pope’s visit on Thursday evening. About 500 people including some American Catholic representatives are expected at the dinner where the keynote speaker will be Johannes Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Willebrands is expected to give an overview of Catholic-Jewish relations, and participants said they hope he, too, will respond to many of the concerns raised in Rome.

Several Jewish organizations plan to demonstrate in Miami in protest of Vatican attitudes toward Jews. The groups are opposed to Jews meeting with the Vatican in light of what they claim were unsatisfactory responses to Jewish concerns at the meetings in Rome.

Thursday night, Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, N.Y., willead a teach-in at the Young Israel synagogue in North Miami focussing on the historic role of Catholic Church anti-Semitism and the Pope’s record on Jewish issues. Weiss said he would demonstrate how the Church’s anti-Semitism played a decisive role in the Holocaust.

Thursday morning, Weiss lead a group of local rabbis in a “pray-in” at Miami International Airport Friday morning, Weiss and supporters will lead a sunrise protest at the Fine Arts Center.

Herut Zionists will also mount a demonstration with Weiss’ group at the Fine Arts Center Friday. The Union of Orthodox Rabbis has called on all Orthodox Jews to boycott the Miami meeting.

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