We mark this gathering of St Egidio in Rome after, almost two years of the Corona pandemic, which turned the world we knew upside down. The good news are that the world survived this pandemic in a much better way than the Black Death and the Spanish flu, and thanks to collaboration of many scientists and medical researchers, vaccines were produced and the world is in the process of finding the right medical cocktail to heal the sick. The bad news are that millions of people died of this pandemic, and the pandemic continues to affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
It is our hope and prayer that unlike previous pandemics which brought great political instability, revolutions and wars, that now the citizens of the world will come together in fraternity and responsibility.
As we look at for sources of wisdom and counsel, we go to Genesis the beginning of all beginnings, where the creation of men inherently and almost immediately brought to situation of conflict and hate. As the Torah recalls the story of the first two brothers Kain and Abel, it records the story of a religious conflict of the two, both trying to build an exclusive relationship with God, creating a conflict, which culminated in murder and exile.
This is the story also of human kind and our civilisation, which for millennias went to war to bring the “true” faith to others. The era of religious warfare is not over.
We live in the 21st century, which since it’s inception was marked by hate, terrorism and conflict in the name of G-d, led by false prophets, who promise the return of humanity to the Garden of Eden by reviving barbaric and inhuman practices from over a thousand years ago. These false prophets ignite whole regions with hate and mayhem, bringing suffering to millions of people, especially to women. What should be our answer to this new face of religion which endangers peace and wellbeing of millions. Neutrality and inactivity in the face of evil is by itself evil.
We are concluding our deliberations tomorrow next to the colosseum of Rome. For us Jews the Colosseum has extra significance as it was built by Vespasian the conqueror of Judea, using the Jewish prisoners of war as builders and the treasury of Jerusalem to finance this stadium. Truly our ancestors were great construction workers, since not only did the colosseum survive the ravages of time, but even the Pyramids in Egypt built thirteen centuries earlier by the Jewish slaves in Egypt are still around. It would be an ideal moment to advertise this trait of ours, if not that contemporary Jews are today free to practice any profession in the world.
On a more serious note. The colosseum, the important remnant of Roman culture, is the institution of antiquity, which provided family entertainment by showing human suffering, celebrated bloodshed and death, desecrating the sanctity of human life.
It is therefore very beneficial that the community of St Egidio has initiated this gathering here in Rome, along with many other great initiatives, rising to the biblical call of : “am I my brother’s keeper” calling out to the responsibility each one of us has for the other, to preserve life, to preserve peace, replacing silence with the word, replacing solitude with partnerships and replacing the fear of the other with that of hope and friendship. We recall with pride and joy the Rabbi Moshe Rosen prize the Conference of European Rabbis conferred to the founder of the St Egidio community, Professor Andrea Riccardi, for his monumental work in making this world a better place.
I would like to express our sincerest appreciation to the St. Edigio community for their continuing support for the remembrance of the Sho’ah, the struggle against recurring anti-Semitism and their support to the Jewish community in Europe to maintain the freedom of Jewish practice and hence the possibility to think about a European Jewish future.
It is with deeper and new understanding that we read from anew the book of Genesis, the beginning and the basis of the bible and of Judaism, how our Patriarch Abraham opened his tent to all strangers and our Patriarch Jacob removed the obstacles to the most important commodity in the world, fresh water, to give access to the stranger and to the disadvantaged alike.
Yuval Noah Harari made an observation that while the medical and scientific world came together to fight and find a remedy against the virus, states and political entities drew apart and tried to isolate themselves from the outside world, each country going it’s own way in combating the virus. But if there is one thing which this vicious and treacherous virus taught the world, is the total interdependence of humanity. Even if rich countries will vaccinate each one of their citizens, ignoring the third world, a new mutation coming from there might render their vaccine irrelevant and obsolete.
Covid-19 taught to all of us humility and vulnerability. Mankind which was able to reach the planet Mars, was humiliated by this unseen microscopic creature, creating havoc in our lives. But the virus also reminded us of our interdependence on each other. How much did we miss the smile, hug and kiss of the other?
The interdependence of humanity has also to be manifested in our care for the environment and the great task of saving our planet and its inhabitants from the perils of global warming. For too long have we tried to ignore this mounting challenge, hoping it would go away, if we will not discuss it. Here as well, we are asked to join hands with our co habitants of our planet to ensure that this beautiful world, G-d has created, will be inhabitable for generations to come.
I would like to say a word about nuclear disarmament. Other than during the Cold War, the greatest danger is not the arsenals available to the superpowers, or those countries still thinking they are a superpower, amassed for the sake of mutual assured destruction, but the danger of proliferation of nuclear and tactical weapons to countries, organisations and individuals, who might use them to threaten and actually destroy our planet.
Unlike during Cold War times, today we have to deal with an extreme religious movement, which is suicidal, and having states controlled by this ideology acquiring nuclear weapons would make our planet a very dangerous place.
As we are returning slowly from our zoom-holes and bunkers and from individual worship to public and communal services and life, we should cherish our human interdependence and commonality. The new world developing after this pandemic, should take lesson from Kain and Abel, the first two brothers, that our relationship to G-d cannot be only individual and exclusive, but has to encompass our fellow man and woman, as the Jewish All of וייעשו כולם אגודה אחת לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם :New Year’s prayer states mankind should unite to serve G-d with a full heart.