Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Stories of the ‘Jewish Pope’ – Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

November 13, 2011 1:36 pm 1 comment

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau personally signed copies of "Depths" following a long "conversation with Rabbi Menachem Genack at the 92Y in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Israel Meir Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel -and both former and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv – shared the stage of the 92Y in New York with Rabbi Menachem Genack, Director of the Orthodox Union, November 2, 2011. The evening’s wide-ranging conversation combined rabbinical teaching, a bit of social commentary and stories of a series of life changing events and reminiscences.

Rabbi Lau’s immediate family was caught in the horrors of the Holocaust, and other then his two brothers, all were murdered. Lau, than a child of eight, was hidden in a sack carried by his older brother,  Naphtali. Other family members had escaped from Europe, some landing in Cuba. Following a South American speaking tour, a visit to the island’s Jewish community was arranged. The Rabbi and his minyan were greeted by Fidel Castro who informed Lau that “I know everything about you,” subsequently asking how an orphaned child, virtually a child of the streets, Lau had achieved a position that effectively made him the leader of the world wide Ashkenazi community. Asked Castro, how could Lau, a poor child with no family, become the “Jewish Pope?”

One result of his meeting with Castro – and by the distinguished Rabbi’s own admission – he became an “international smuggler.” There is, of course, a wonderful story behind the designation. Though Israel and Cuba had no diplomatic relations, the Cuban dictator, who told Lau that Cuba allowed “no displays of anti-Semitism,”  told Lau he believed Prime Minister Rabin, together with his colleague “Perez,” would bring peace to the Middle East, and wanted to send the two Israeli leaders gifts. The Rabbi, knowing both loved to smoke, suggested Cuban cigars – “not even to smoke, just to place on the table, with a note from you (Castro).” Three boxes of Cuban cigars soon arrived – in fact, illegal contraband, not allowed in the United States, even in transit. Queried the Rabbi, “how would it have looked if the Jewish Pope had been arrested for smuggling?”

The former Chief Rabbi’s words resonated from the stage of the “Y.” He educated and charmed a packed audience, relating stories of meetings with international leaders and ordinary people, tales of laughter and tears shared with a worldwide “congregation” of the great and the simple.  Lau spoke of great hope and great tragedy. He related the results of a meeting with Pope Benedict, and praised him for his refusal to baptize Jewish children orphaned in the Holocaust, saved by Catholic Poles. The Pope, he said, had stated that he would “not interfere with the continuity of our senior brother, the Jewish people.”

Questions were asked about the establishment of the date of Yom HaShoah. Calling the Holocaust an event “uniquely separate from Jewish history,” Rabbi Lau said he believed a singular Day of Remembrance was needed. The date chosen was that of the hardest battle of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto against the gestapo, April 19. Lau said he feared that if the Memorial Day had been combined with Tisha b’Av, Israelis would not significantly remember the reasons behind Yom Ha Shoah.

Rabbi Lau discussed the ransoming of Gilad Shalit, calling it both a halachic and policy question. We are a nation that speaks in aleph bet ain brera – no alternative. Despite opposition, we had no choice…we are responsible, one for the other. …The disaster was not the liberation of terrorists,” said the Chief Rabbi. “The disaster was when Gilad was in the arms of the terrorists.”

Had time allowed, Rabbi Lau could have kept his audience enthralled for hours. Concluding, he summarized the job of a rabbi, saying a rabbi has to have an ear to listen, be able to answer questions and do chesed – kindness, give of oneself, teach and attract people to the Torah.

Rabbi Lau seems to have all well in hand – and then, he writes books. His latest volume is Out of the Depths, his biography. Lau, the thirty eighth generation of “two rabbinic dynasties,” relates stories of survival – physical, spiritual political and personal. All his words point towards a continuity of generations. Rabbi Lau travels with his readers from Poland, the geographic home of his family to Israel, as he returned to the Jewish ancestral home, and across a worldwide network. The Rabbi concludes, “The struggle for the continuity of the generations is the true battle.” He calls on his children to “spread their light and proclaim…the miracle of the victory of eternal Israel.”

Rabbi Lau spoke at a later event at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Rabbi Lau (center) joins Julius Berman (left) and Rabbi Menachem Genack (right). Photo: Maxine Dovere.

1 Comment

  • Sharon Seligson

    I would like to know if you can get me in touch with Rabbi Lau. My eighteen year old grandson heard Rabbi Lau speak in Poland on Yom Hashoah. He was entralled with him. For his graduation I would like to purchase one one his books Out of the Depths and have it signed by him. I already have two copies of the book but I would buy a third if it could be personalized to my grandson and signed by Rabbi Lau. Possibly you could forward this request to him or you could tell me how I can get in touch with him.

    Thanking you in advance,

    Sincerly

    Sharon Seligson
    537 Bardini Drive
    Melville, NY 11747
    631-271-1768

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships World Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Women are less likely than men to want to kill Nazi leader Adolph Hitler if given the ability to travel back in time, a recently published research paper revealed. The paper analyzed 40 studies involving 6,100 respondents in a time-travel thought experiment, the New York Post reported on Friday. While 60 percent of men said they would theoretically be willing to kill Hitler, only 55 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing the same. The paper was published in the Personality and […]

    Read more →