Aguiar spurns pope for Lag B’Omer celebration


Guma Aguiar, who in recent months has become one of the hottest names in Jewish philanthropy, pumping millions of dollars into organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh, Yad Vashem and Chabad, may have gotten himself on the hot seat with the pope.

According to Arutz Sheva, the right-wing Israeli publication, Aguiar was invited to a sitting with the Pope, who is in Israel now. But he instead chose to go to Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, for Lag B’Omer, where tens of thousands of Jews annually engage in a night of revelry and bonfires for the holiday.

From Arutz Sheva:

Jewish philanthropist Guma Aguiar turned down a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI Monday and headed north with hundreds of thousands of Jews who made their way to the Galilee mountain gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The philanthropist, who reportedly is considering buying the Jerusalem Beitar soccer team, was one of the notables who opened the Lag B’Omer holiday ceremonies at the gravesite of the Mishnaic Sage in the village of Meron.

Aguiar said he “respectfully declined” the invitation to join President Shimon Peres in greeting the pontiff partly in response to criticism of the Vatican voiced by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

The move also was politically motivated, according to Arutz Sheva, as Aguiar said he declined the invitation in part because of the Vatican’s decision not to walf out of Iranian President Mahmud Ajmadinejad’s speach at the Durban II conference earlier this month.

“I was honored to receive the president’s invitation,” Aguiar said. “But when I realized that Vatican representatives paid respect to this dangerous extremist politician in Geneva by not absenting themselves from the hall, it would have been inappropriate for me to attend [the] event.”

Recommended from JTA