On January 29-30th, Rabbi Gideon Shloush led a delegation from the New York Board of Rabbis (NYBR), of which he is the president, to the international conference on anti-Semitism held in Rome. The conference was hosted by the Italian ministry and attended by foreign dignitaries from almost all of the 57 countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE)—the world’s largest regional security organization. The Italian government, which controls the OCSE, decided to host the conference amidst the growing anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe.
The conference began in the Vatican and featured opening remarks from Pope Francis, who spoke out against anti-Semitism. “The enemy against which we fight is not only hatred in all of its forms, but even more fundamentally, indifference,” the Pontiff said, as Shloush noted in an article in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Pope Francis continued, “The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,” quoting a text from the Nostra Aetate (Our Day), a declaration passed by Pope Paul VI that discusses the relationship between the Catholic Church and other religions. When they met, Rabbi Shloush thanked the Pope for his support of the Jewish People and the State of Israel.
The next day, the foreign ministers each gave a series of presentations denouncing anti-Semitism. Ministers from countries such as Belarus, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Norway and many others unanimously agreed that “there is no justification for anti-Semitism,” Shloush noted to the PJF. In an interview with The Observer, Shloush remarked that the presenters were not only diplomats, but also representatives from major corporations like Facebook, who spoke about what constitutes anti-Semitism in the realm of social media.
The conference was a bit of an ironic experience, Shloush remarked to the PJF. “The Romans ransacked Israel, the Catholics were responsible for endless persecutions of our people, and here we were in Rome talking about anti-Semitism,” he said. Still, Shloush, who teaches Judaic Studies at Stern College, viewed the experience as an invaluable opportunity to combat anti-Semitism. “I was invited to represent the North American rabbinate,” he said in an interview. “Anti-Semitism is a major concern in the world, and if it’s being addressed in a public forum, then as a leader of the community, I wanted to be there.”
When asked if he thinks the conference will influence change in European policy, Shloush was cautiously optimistic. “There are words, and then there are actions,” he said to The Observer. “I hope that the countries in Europe will implement policies to fight anti-Semitism, but I worry that their goodwill will be slow to action. It’s one thing to have a discussion and show you care, but it’s another thing to move governments and institute laws and practices that combat anti-Semitism.” Shloush also commented that the experience was an “incredible opportunity to interact with foreign ambassadors and to reshape their perception of Israel and world Jewry.”
Shloush noted that leading this delegation had an immense impact on him, strengthening his pride in the Jewish people and in the State of Israel. “As a Jew, going to Rome is an unpleasant experience. Deep down you know that the early inhabitants of this city destroyed our holy Temple, razed Jerusalem and exiled our ancestors. Yet, there is an incredible feeling of Jewish pride knowing that in 2018 the State of Israel is a beacon of light while the Roman Empire is a distant memory.” Shloush concluded, “Like so many others, the Romans could not destroy the Jewish spirit. Especially today, with the gift of the State of Israel, the Jewish People are standing tall and proud.”