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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →