Vaclav Havel, Honored in New York, Voices Support for Jewish Concerns

Czechoslovakia’s new playwright-turned-president, Vaclav Havel, greeted a delegation of American Jewish leaders just before attending a star-studded concert held in his honor here last Thursday evening.

During a 15-minute meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Havel reiterated his opposition to the 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.

“I didn’t approve of it then; I don’t approve of it now,” he said in response to a question about the resolution.

The delegation also told Havel of its concern over the Soviet Union’s refusal to implement an agreement for direct flights between Moscow and Israel.

Havel replied that he hoped the impasse would “soon be resolved” and that he had discussed the matter with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens in Prague on Feb. 9, when the two countries re-established diplomatic relations.

After the meeting, Havel proceeded to Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine for a special concert in his honor organized by producer Joseph Papp. It included performances by Paul Simon, Placido Domingo and Dizzy Gillespie.

One of the speakers at the celebration was writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who recalled that as a young boy in Transylvania, he would look jealously across the river at Havel’s country.

Before World War II and Soviet domination took their respective tolls, Jews living in Poland and Hungary thought of Czechoslovakia as a place where “ethnic political and religious groups could live in peace,” Wiesel said.

Today, the Nobel laureate told Havel across the vast cathedral, “I am no longer a small boy who looks across a river with envy, but we now all look at you and your kinsmen with pride.”

Earlier in the day, Havel was presented with an award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation by its president, Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

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