Over 300 rabbis from 30 European countries attended the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) Convention in Prague, which centred on the pivotal issues affecting European Jewish communities, including outreach and conversion policy.
The conference, which was held as part of the Week of Tolerance in Europe and the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, opened with a memorial ceremony at the monument to Czech Jews deported to Nazi death camps.
At the conference venue, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and Chairman of Yad Vashem, discussed the relevance of Kristallnacht, during which some 1,500 synagogues were destroyed in Germany and Austria. Rabbi Lau pointed out that the Nazis understood where Jewish life is centred and therefore chose to begin by destroying synagogues.
“The Nazi’s choice of the word ‘crystal’ to describe this night was merely to hide the enormity of their crime, but on this night they sought to destroy the very soul of the Jewish people,” Rabbi Lau said.
The opening ceremony also included addresses by CER President Chief Rabbi Joseph Haim Sitruk; CER Av Beit Din of Europe, Dayan Chanoch HaKohen Ehrentreu; Chief Rabbi of Rechovot Rabbi Simcha haKohen Kook and Chief Rabbi of the Czech Republic Rabbi Ephraim Sidon. The session was chaired by Chief Rabbi of Geneva Rabbi Yitzhak Dayan.
Divrei Bracha from the Rishon Lezion Harav Ovadia Yosef were read out personally by his son Rabbi David Yosef.
The first day ended with a Gala Dinner in honour of Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), in appreciation for his support for the CER and in recognition of the very close ties between the political representation of Jewish communities in Europe and the CER rabbanim. The dinner was attended by Czech government ministers and a number of ambassadors.
Speaking at the dinner, Kantor said: “Kristallnacht happened in Germany, in Austria and in the Czech Republic – here. That’s why it’s so important to wind up commemoration of Kristallnacht here in Prague, and we have to understand it. But what should be done next? Commemoration is a very important thing, but commemoration alone is insufficient. We have to look forward, to the future. And we have to understand that the biggest shortage today is not the problem of economics. It’s not a material problem. It’s a problem of a shortage of tolerance.
And finally, we can say that the problem of the so-called “Nuclear club,” of the so-called “Nuclear club countries” (with Iran, with Northern Korea) is also a problem of criminal tolerance for somebody else’s intolerance.”
The second day of the conference was dominated by the theme of outreach and the importance of outreach activities in the fight against assimilation. The Convention heard a keynote speech on this theme from Rabbi Moshe Shapira, which followed an opening halachik shiur from Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu.
On November 13, a senior delegation of CER rabbanim visited the President of the Czech Republic, H.E. Mr. Vaclav Klaus.