On Monday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted an annual reception for leaders of Israel’s Christian communities. The traditional gathering, reaffirming the ties between Israel and its Christian population, marks the beginning of the civil New Year.
In attendance were the heads of various churches in Israel, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III, senior members of the Christian community, and representatives of the Israeli government.
In an address to his guests, Rivlin mentioned important moments in Jewish-Christian relations this year. He noted that this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, a document released by the Catholic Church in 1965 which, for the first time in the Church’s history, defined a policy against anti-Semitism and opened the door to a healthy dialogue between the Jewish and Catholic communities.
He also spoke about his visit to the Vatican and his meeting with Pope Francis, during which, he said, the two leaders “spoke about how this relationship has grown stronger over the years”.
Rivlin said that the Pope’s message had resonated with him. “I appreciate very much what he said against anti-Semitism, and against converting Jews. His message of understanding and acceptance reflects both Christian and Jewish ideas – ‘Love your neighbor, like yourself’,” said the president.
He also reflected on a beautiful sentiment that the Pope had expressed to him. “Pope Francis said, ‘A true Christian cannot be an anti-Semite’. Let me say – a faithful Jew cannot be anti-Christian or anti-Muslim.”
Rivlin added that the shared Bible of Jews and Christians teaches the basic values that allow the two religions to work together and respect each other. “The Ten Commandments – holy to Jews and Christians – teach respect for God and respect for man. These values do not go against each other, they go with each other,” he said.
In a time when being Christian in the Middle East is increasingly dangerous and restrictive, Rivlin gave recognition to Israel’s record as a safe place for Christians and other non-Jews, saying, “I am proud that Israel protects the freedom of worship and expression for everyone, of every faith.”
But, he went on, Israel goes even further than that. “It is not enough for us to only be a safe home for Christians,” he told the Christian leaders. “We want the community to prosper, and play a part in Israeli society.”
He wished Israel’s Christian communities a joyful holiday season and said that in the coming year, Jews and Christians would need to continue to show unity and solidarity. “We all have a duty – at the beginning of the New Year and every day – to stand together and show the world that the conflict in this region is not a war about religion, it is a war against hate,” he avowed.
“We must work to build bridges between our communities, in the Holy Land and around the world,” he concluded. “We must build dialogue, and show that people with different beliefs can live side by side, and even together.”
Representing the Church Heads, His Beatitude Theophilos III praised Rivlin’s interfaith efforts as president, telling him, “We wish to express our appreciation for the strong stand you have continued to take in demonstrating respect for all religions, and your condemnation of violence from whatever side it comes.”
The Church leader added, “We understand the importance in the region of healthy diversity of ethnic and religious traditions, with true coexistence, mutual respect, and security for all. We join you in these affirmations and condemnations.”
He finished his remarks with a reminder of the Biblical heritage that Jews and Christians share, saying, “Allow us to reiterate our commitment to education based on the principles of moral values that derive from our common heritage. This is paramount to the shaping of our social fabric.”