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Posted on on March 17th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

This morning I marched at 8:30am to the East 68 Street entrance of the Park East Synagogue, and when I left at about 3pm I entered on the a sea of green – I immediately congratulated an elderly lady for the green antennae she was wearing on her head and I quickened my pace when I saw some green bunnies standing at the crossroad at Lexington Avenue.

The reality must be nevertheless noted – this is that the US has had already its first Catholic President (JFK), but the Jews got closest only when Senator Jacob Javits would have been happy even with the nomination for Vice President in the days the US still had a Liberal Republican wing of the Republican Party, but he was blocked by the Ambitions of New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

The United States were started by Anglo-Saxon Protestants and the thing to be was – be a WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant male in order to get ahead.

In 1962 the Zichron Ephraim Congregation hired for its leadership position the Holocaust survivor Rabbi Arthur Schneier who was born in Vienna, on March 20, 1930, and whose Grandfather, in whose house he lived, was a Rabbi in Budapest who ended up in the extermination Camp Auschwitz in Poland. He belongs to a long line of Rabbis of East Europe and eventually young Arthur Schneier reached the US, after the war, in 1947, and did his studies in the United States. Ordained by Yeshiva University in New York City, he is by now the recipient of ten honorary doctorates. Under his leadership Zichron Ephraim became PARK EAST, and a main Jewish and New York Center for interaction with the United Nations here in New York, and at home capitals all over the world.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier  took his Congregation from being the quiet Park East Synagogue and placed it at the center of World attention for everything that has to do with oppression of Jews and Human Rights for all.

Starting with his first visit to Moscow in 1966, he has intervened with Soviet and Eastern European governments to ease the plight of religious believers; headed interfaith missions to Europe, Central Asia, Middle East, and Latin America; convened six international conferences with government and religious leaders from the former Yugoslavia and Southeast Europe to halt ethnic conflict and further reconciliation.

In April 2008, Rabbi Arthur Schneier hosted Pope Benedict XVI at Park East Synagogue, the first visit of a Pope to a synagogue in the United States. In February, 2009, he had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican to reaffirm Nostra Aetate adopted by Vatican Council II, and was the Keynote speaker in 2008, at an Interfaith Conference convened by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Madrid.

Rabbi Schneier is the recipient of The Grand Decoration of Honor in Gold with Star for Service to the Republic of Austria; Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary; Dr. Karl Renner Prize of the City of Vienna, Grand Decoration of Honor in Gold for Special Services to the Province of Vienna; Order of St. Daniel of Moscow (Moscow Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Church); Religious Liberty Award. He is a member of Council on Foreign Relations; Asia Society; United Nations Development Corporation; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Committee on Conscience; Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations; Joint Distribution Committee; Past President and Honorary Chairman, Religious Zionists of America, Honorary Chairman, World Jewish Congress American Section.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier was one of three American religious leaders appointed by President Clinton to start the first dialogue on religious freedom with President Jiang Zemin and other top Chinese leaders. As part of President Clinton’s delegation to China, Rabbi Schneier was privileged to present the Ohel Rachel Synagogue’ in Shanghai,  with the first Torah scroll in more than 50 years, donated by Park East Synagogue. He has served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Forum for Prevention of Genocide held in Stockholm in 2004, and Chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad from 1991-1995.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier also served as U.S. Alternate Representative at the U.N. General Assembly in 1988 and as a member of the U.S. Delegation for Return of the St. Steven Crown to Hungary in 1979. He was appointed as a member of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations High-Level Group in 2006, by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and in 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon named him as United Nations Ambassador to the Alliance of Civilizations High-Level Group.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Clinton, who praised him for “his service as an international envoy for four administrations, and as a Holocaust survivor, devoting a lifetime to overcoming forces of hatred and intolerance and set an inspiring example of spiritual leadership by encouraging interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding and promoting the cause of religious freedom around the world.”

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, in October 2011, introduced a bill to award Rabbi Schneier the Congressional Gold Medal for his multifaceted humanitarian work.

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation, founded by Rabbi Arthur Schneier in 1965, has worked on behalf of religious freedom and human rights throughout the world. This interfaith coalition of business and religious leaders promotes peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution. The Foundation believes that freedom, democracy and human rights are the fundamental values that give nations of the world their best hope for peace, security and shared prosperity.

Appeal of Conscience delegations have met with religious and government leaders in Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Bulgaria, People’s Republic of China, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Cuba, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Holy See, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Morocco, Panama, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the former Yugoslavia. The Foundation also hosts delegations from abroad to acquaint them with the diversity of American religious life and its contribution to a civil society.

The Appeal of Conscience Foundation has long held that “a crime committed in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion.” The struggle for human rights is ongoing and tolerance can be achieved by promoting open dialogue and mutual understanding. After September 11th, the foundation has rallied religious leaders worldwide to take a stand against terrorism and to use their influence to halt violence and promote tolerance.

But for the Congregation itself, the most important institution is its Day-School intended to help the survival of a Jewish culture in a free and democratic America – a very hard feat in itself these days.

Park East Day School. Click for home.

The Rabbi’s son, now Rabbi Marc Schneier, was born in 1959 and has now a Congregation with two seats – one in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, New York State – the The Hampton Synagogue founded in 1990 with a New York City branch – the New York Synagogue in Manhattan – with at the time people asking if the two were the Hampton Synagogue in Manhattan, or the New York Synagogue in the Hamptons – whatever the answer, above was a case of an independent  son following the grand ideas of his father.

While Rabbi Arthur Schneier was looking at the World at large – Rabbi Marc Schneier started to work with people like  Russell Simmons, who as Hip-hop’s master impresario brought marginalized voices to a mass audience. The two created the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) that works between Jewish and Muslim Communities in the United States, but as the following photo shows also with the President of Israel in even larger circles. Russsell Simmons is the Chairman of FFEU. With them works Martin Luther King III, President and CEO, “Realizing the Dream Foundation.” (I have in front of me my notes  at a January 14-15, 2007 meeting)

The photo actually was taken when Schneier and Simmons explain to President Shimon Peres the ways they work against prejudices of one community against the other and for Peace.

A third member in the Marc Schneier – Russell Simmons team is Imam Shamsi Ali of  New York’s largest mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center (ICC) on East 96th Street at Third Avenue – and their coooperation is a ray of hope that at least here in the US – Muslims and Jews can cooperate for mutual understanding.

I mention the above because we were involved in this effort at start, but I will not go beyond this here, simply, because the topic of this posting is the father and not the son – this except to mention that the father managed somehow to help bring up a son that will follow his family line, albeit in his own ways.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is already counted like his father, as one of the most influential Rabbis in the United States, and held positions with the North American Board of Rabbis and with the World Jewish Congress.


Now to this Saturday service at the Park East Synagogue – the first half of the HALF CENTURY CELEBRATION OF RABBI ARTHUR SCHNEIER. Some specifics that made this Saturday service different then any other Saturday:

The two sections read as add-ons to this Saturday service – one from the book of the Prophet Ezekiel (36:16-38), and the other from the book of Numbers (19:1-22) contain the following excerpts:

I will take you from among the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you back to your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and from all your fetishes.  And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh;  and I will put My spirit into you. Thus I will cause you to follow My laws and faithfully to observe My rules.  Then you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be My people and I will be your God.

And when I have delivered you from all your uncleanness, I will summon the grain and make it abundant, and I will not bring famine upon you.  I will make the fruit of your trees and the crops of your fields abundant, so that you shall never again be humiliated before the nations because of famine.  Then you shall recall your evil ways and your base conduct, and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abhorrent practices.  Not for your sake will I act — declares the Lord God — take good note! Be ashamed and humiliated because of your ways, O House of Israel!

Thus said the Lord God: When I have cleansed you of all your iniquities, I will people your settlements, and the ruined places shall be rebuilt;  and the desolate land, after lying waste in the sight of every passerby, shall again be tilled.  And men shall say, “That land, once desolate, has become like the garden of Eden; and the cities, once ruined, desolate, and ravaged, are now populated and fortified.”  And the nations that are left around you shall know that I the Lord have rebuilt the ravaged places and replanted the desolate land. I the Lord have spoken and will act.

Thus said the Lord God: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of Israel and act for their sake: I will multiply their people like sheep. As Jerusalem is filled with sacrificial sheep during her festivals, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. And they shall know that I am the Lord.

In addition, there is the special Torah reading for Shabbat Parah from the book of Numbers 19:1-22

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying – This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded:

Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.  You shall give it to Eleazar the priest. It shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. The cow shall be burned in his sight — its hide, flesh, and blood shall be burned, its dung included —  and the priest shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff, and throw them into the fire consuming the cow.  The priest shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water; after that the priest may reenter the camp, but he shall be unclean until evening.  He who performed the burning shall also wash his garments in water, bathe his body in water, and be unclean until evening.  A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the cow and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, to be kept for water of lustration for the Israelite community. It is for cleansing.  He who gathers up the ashes of the cow shall also wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.

This shall be a permanent law for the Israelites and for the strangers who reside among you.

He who touches the corpse of any human being shall be unclean for seven days. He shall cleanse himself with it on the third day and on the seventh day, and then be clean; if he fails to cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, he shall not be clean.  Whoever touches a corpse, the body of a person who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the Lord’s Tabernacle; that person shall be cut off from Israel. Since the water of lustration was not dashed on him, he remains unclean; his uncleanness is still upon him.

This is the ritual: When a person dies in a tent, whoever enters the tent and whoever is in the tent shall be unclean seven days;  and every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean.  And in the open, anyone who touches a person who was killed or who died naturally, or human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.  Some of the ashes from the fire of cleansing shall be taken for the unclean person, and fresh water shall be added to them in a vessel. A person who is clean shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels and people who were there, or on him who touched the bones or the person who was killed or died naturally or the grave.  The clean person shall sprinkle it upon the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus cleansing him by the seventh day. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe in water, and at nightfall he shall be clean.  If anyone who has become unclean fails to cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the congregation, for he has defiled the Lord’s sanctuary. The water of lustration was not dashed on him: he is unclean.

That shall be for them a law for all time. Further, he who sprinkled the water of lustration shall wash his clothes; and whoever touches the water of lustration shall be unclean until evening.  Whatever that unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches him shall be unclean until evening.


The two sections of above explain the return of Israel to its land that becomes again a source of plenty – and the fact that death of any human or animal is a course that makes you unclean. In our view an essence of what modern Israel stands for as an ideal.

We think that there is no problem with the first half – Israel did prosper. With the second half there are problems, and the two Rabbis of the family Schneier are fighting to decrease the losses from lack of cooperation between warring sides.
The Saturday speakers were:
The Ambassador of Israel to the UN – Mr. Ron Prosor,
The Son, Rabbi Marc Schneier,
The Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, and Chairman of Yad Vashem – the Jerusalem Memorial to the Holocaust, Rabbi Meit Lau,
The head of the Congregation, an Emeritus President of the congregation, a guest who was Chief Rabbi of Venezuela
The Respondent – Rabbi Arthur Schneier himself.
On Sunday the lineup of speakers included:
New York State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli,
Hon. Edward I. Koch, New York Mayor 1978-1989,
Scotch Stringer, Borough of Manhattan, President,
Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver,
Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of israel in New York,
Hon. Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice-Chairman, Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations,
Ms. Karen Schneier-Dresbach, daughter of Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
President of the Synagogue – Mr. Hermann Hochberg,
Respondent – Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
On the original list for Sunday were also – H.E. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, Senator Charles Schumer, and

Congressman Charles Rangel, but they did not show up. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who was not on the list, came directly from the airport from her returning flight from a trip to Libya.  She was the one that asked Congress to honor Rabbi Arthur Schneier with the Congressional Gold medal.

From the line-up of Speakers I will pick on the Son’s presentation:

He spoke of doubts a human can have as expressed by his asking “IF” – If I had not Done This, If I had Done That, What would have been my life then? Clearly a very normal situation and very human – we are never sure of our choices of actions except if guided by a clear moral vision that tells us what to do.

But then IF is just the middle – the heart – of LIFE. It is the IF that equals life and when looking at the Hebrew word for LIFE – it is HAIIM – which in Hebrew is written in four letters as well – like LIFE. It is (HA)IIM and in the Center there are the two “I” – II – which is the name of God.
So, here we have it – that the IF that is guided by morality is the ethics that God taught us.

But more:

In all languages Rabbi Marc Schneier was able to check out – LIFE is in the singular except in Hebrew – and I concur with him from those languages I know as well.

In Hebrew (HA)IIM is plural – Why?

And here comes the clencher – this because an ethic life is within a community – it is not an individual event. Marc Schneier says about his father that what he got from him is the way to always consider the community. The life of ethics must do something of value to the community and what his father did was good for Park East and built up that congregation.

Personally, what I heard here was a slap on the face of existentialism. Really, if we are here only to serve what is good to us as individuals, we did not read that second text contained in the add-ons to the service of this Saturday. If one commits murder he cannot just walk back to his community. Yes – and you are nothing unless you have a community. The way to the community is what guides you when you ask “IF.”
In his response on Sunday, Rabbi Arthur Schneier said that he lost his childhood in the Holocaust and what kept him going was the believe in God. His family came from Muncach  (a town in Northern Maramuresh that is now included in the Zakarpattia Oblast – Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine – neighboring our own Northern Bukowina area, that is also now part of Ukraine under the name Chernivtsi Oblast.)   Now he believes in his heart that America is good – God bless America, let’s be positive about America – we are a a great people.
It was here in this Synagogue that he, Bobby Kennedy, and Mayor Lindsay started The Struggle for Soviet Jewry.
He continued – Yesterday we read about the Ark – the tabernacle – it was topped by the two Cherubs with their wings posted towards heaven, but the two were facing each other because we have to act together. That was the hot-line to God whose split tablets have in them – one with five commandments relating to God and Man, and the other one with five commandments about relations of Man to Man.
The Synagogue is a House of Prayer but also a House of Values and a House of Assembly – and it has become a HOME.
We are now nearing Passover – the celebration of Freedom he said. Freedom is the greatest export item for the US to the World, he said.
New York City has over 290 ethnic and religious groups right here in NY City, and it is a model of coexistence. If anything – Globalization has taught us – we swim together or we sink together, he said looking at the two rows of various religious prelates that are his partners in the Appeal of Conscience Foundation – that he founded and still chairs. On the side there was also a group of Holocaust survivors sitting together.

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