“Benedictus qui largitur de majestate sua carni et sanguini.”
This is the traditional blessing a Jew makes out of respect when he encounters a monarch or a ruler. In the language of the Bible, the blessing says:
“ברוך הוא שנתן מכבודו לבשר ודם”
If I may be allowed a personal note, it is with a deep sense of humility that, as a descendant of the Tribe of Levi, I stand here presenting my credentials in the name of the State of Israel. According to Biblical tradition, the Levite was in duty-bound to assist the Kohen Gadol, the Pontifex in performing the Temple ritual and later the synagogue liturgy of the priestly blessings. The fact that my great-grandfather, from the town of Rogasen in the district of Posen, changed the spelling from Levi to Lewy was due to his illusory notion that Americans would pronounce Lewy better. He proved to be wrong. He therefore returned to Imperial Germany after participating in the American Civil War in order to found a family and to move to Berlin at the end of the 19th century. There, my late father grew up and later rescued himself from the Shoa by immigrating illegally to then Mandatory Palestine.
As a result, I now come from the civitas /litterarum, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, to Roma aeterna, in the full knowledge that both cities are holy and considered umbilicus mundi It made me deeply appreciative, when my government decided to nominate me as the fifth Ambassador of Israel to the Holy See. I sincerely hope that I will be able to add to the fabric of the delicate network of relations so recently established between Israel and the Holy See, as well as between the Jewish People and the Catholic Church. I am aware that this assignment is much more than a classical diplomatic mission, The Holy See counts time in centuries, if not in millennia. Hence, it would be somehow inadequate to regard our relations merely as a bilateral affair between two sovereign states. In addition, the diplomatic dimension is relatively new, even if compared with the significant reconciliation between Catholics and Jews that was effected through the promulgation of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate more than forty years ago. We appreciated your Holiness’s letter on the fortieth Anniversary of that declaration, when you wrote, “In laying the foundations for a renewed relationship between the Jewish People and the Church, Nostra Aetate stressed the need to overcome past prejudices, misunderstandings, indifference, and the language of contempt and hostility.”
Many hoped in the early sixties that such a significant declaration would not fail to leave its trace in the political domain, in shaping future attitudes of the Holy See towards the State of Israel. It did of course, ultimately paving the way to the establishment of diplomatic relations. However, Nostra Aetate continues to resonate and act as the basis of the inter-religious dialogue between Catholics and Jews. Consequently, it is incumbent upon the Ambassador representing the only Jewish sovereignty in the world to stay attuned also to the interests of Jews around the world. Like my predecessors, I will make it my duty to follow this dialogue closely and with much personal interest and offer whatever assistance I can to keep it on an even keel and on track.
Our respective spiritual traditions form the Judeo-Christian heritage, which is so central to modern culture and civilization can create a common platform to both of us. It could and should help to generate a more humane and fraternal world. We would suggest that ways be sought to translate our shared vocation into more meaningful directions for concrete social and humanitarian action, in such fields as the fight against famine and disease, the prevention of substance abuse, the provision of clean water, the combat against desertification and damage to the environment in general, to name but a few.
Beyond ethical and social topics of deep mutual interest, may I suggest that we continue to cooperate in areas such as the ongoing battle against the scourge of anti-Semitism. The threats of religiously motivated violence are a growing spiritual challenge and a physical menace. Above all, killing innocent people in God’s name remains an offence against Him and against human dignity.
The frame of our bilateral relations is still young and needs to be nourished further. We still have to finalize the Economic Agreement. Since the recent renewal of the negotiations, undeniable progress has been made. There is a sincere desire on behalf of the current Government of Israel to conclude the negotiations positively and expeditiously as possible. We believe also that there is much room to deepen and broaden the scholarly and cultural exchanges between Catholic institutions worldwide and academic institutions in Israel. The academic program specially tailored with the Hebrew University for graduates from the Pontifical Biblical Institute from Rome should be regarded as a model for what can be done. Israel would like to reiterate its commitment to maintain the status quo in the Christian Holy Places and to uphold the respective rights that the Christian communities enjoy under it. We listened with profound empathy to your Holiness’ address to the conference of Latin bishops of the Middle Eastern region on 18 January 2008, in which you stated that everything should be done to prevent the Holy Land “becoming an archaeological site deprived of ecclesial life.” We shall do our utmost to help strengthen the Christian communities in Israel as their essential presence in the Holy Land is deeply rooted and historically self-understood.
I would also wish to re-assure Your Holiness of the sincerest commitment on the part of Israel to the Middle East peace process in all its aspects. We hope that the momentum re-kindled at Annapolis will bear far-reaching fruits. The European continent and the entire Mediterranean region may face, however, nightmarish perils if the process of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East is not brought to a halt. Against the backdrop of our traumatic experience in the middle of the last century, no one should be surprised that we take such threats seriously.
With God’s help, we may work together to foster our relations in every sphere, in order that they may attain the height they deserve to give full expression to their historical significance.
It is thus with a distinct sense of honour that I present to Your Holiness the Letters by which the President of the State of Israel accredits me as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Israel to the Holy See.