Your All-Holiness, Eminences, Dear Friends,
Thank you, Harriet, for your leadership today and everyday as we navigate and hope to emerge from the darkness of the pandemic into the light of brighter days, like this day.
AJC CEO David Harris has long looked forward to being here for this award presentation to His All-Holiness, and only recently learned that he needed to be in Israel for meetings with the new Israeli government. David asked me to express his regrets and gratitude and warm congratulations to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on this festive award presentation occasion.
It is my honor to introduce the Human Dignity Award, which AJC presents to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, an exemplar of religious leadership for people of all faiths. This AJC Human Dignity Award recognizes His All-Holiness’s singular care for humanity and the environment, exceptional commitment to interreligious coexistence, and indispensable advancement of Orthodox-Jewish relations.
As we honor His All-Holiness today, we also celebrate the special relationships that AJC and the Jewish people have developed with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and his predecessors at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and with His Eminence Metropolitan Emanuel of Chalcedon, who has led the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s dialogue with the Jewish people for decades. Their Eminences, both here today, are dear colleagues and friends to me, to us, to the Jewish people. We would not be here today without their contributions.
Your All-Holiness, we at AJC have been the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s partners not only in Orthodox-Jewish relations, but also in assuring religious freedom for all, especially in Turkey, home to the Patriarchate, and throughout the Middle East, where Christianity was born and is now—in many places—threatened. We have joined the Patriarch in His All-Holiness’s prophetic trailblazing in stewardship of our common home, the Earth, as essential to our care for all of humanity. Long before the whole world was talking about the climate crisis, His All-Holiness was known as the Green Patriarch.
The Patriarch’s focus on Orthodox-Jewish relations has brought us to this momentous day. To date, Jewish and Orthodox Christian leadership have held ten formal dialogue gatherings. At the third one, held in Athens in 1993, the first during Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s tenure, His All-Holiness’s message was read to the assembled, as follows:
This common spiritual origin of Christians and Jews seems today, more than ever, to offer a fruitful ground toward the rejection of the consequences of mutual prevailing hostility during the past, and the establishment of a new relationship between them, genuine and authentic, rooted in the willingness to work toward mutual understanding and improved knowledge of each other.
Your All-Holiness’s mission statement for our Orthodox Christian-Jewish endeavors rings as true today as it did nearly thirty years ago. As a result of the Patriarch’s leadership, we can celebrate those achievements and recommit to persist in our knowledge and understanding of one another.
AJC has met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in many places, including Jerusalem, Washington, Rome, one month ago, Thessaloniki, here in New York, and, of course, in Constantinople-Istanbul, home of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
We remember with gratitude one particular visit at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In the wake of the horrific 2003 terrorist attacks upon synagogues in Istanbul, in which 25 died and scores were injured, an AJC solidarity mission traveled to be with the grieving Turkish Jewish community. Following our visit at the Patriarchate, His All-Holiness joined the AJC delegation at the reopening of Neve Shalom, the central synagogue, when AJC presented the mourning Jewish community with a Torah scroll, salvaged from the Holocaust. At that moment of Jewish fragility, the Patriarch’s presence strengthened our people, demonstrating interreligious solidarity in action. It was an act of compassion we will never forget. It is emblematic of the deep care for all humanity that His All-Holiness represents, and why we honor the Patriarch this day.
This AJC Human Dignity Award to be presented to Patriarch Bartholomew is an exact facsimile leaf of Genesis chapter 1 in the beautiful Kennicott Bible, the lavishly illuminated Hebrew Bible that survived from medieval Spain, during that great moment of tri-faith mutual flourishing in a Golden Age, before the expulsion of Jews in 1492. (The image appears on the front of your programs.) Combining Jewish, Christian, and Islamic artistic motifs, this Bible captures the spirit of interreligious relations which His All-Holiness exemplifies and reminds us of our great responsibility in assuring interreligious comity.
The opening of the Hebrew Bible framed here has been at the core of the Patriarch’s commitment to human dignity, which the Jewish tradition calls Kevod Habriyot, respect for God’s creations, human beings – created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image - and the Earth, which humans are called l’avdah u-l’shamrah, to cultivate AND protect.
I invite AJC’s chair of Interreligious Affairs Bobi Baruch to join Harriet and me in presenting AJC’s Human Dignity Award to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Your All-Holiness, Harriet, Bobi, please join me.