The event marked the opening of the meeting of the standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), which was held this time at a particularly symbolic place and timing – at the Council of Europe building on the day that the entire Jewish people paused to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
The ceremony was held near the Holocaust monument at the front lawn of the Council of Europe building and was attended by representatives of the European Union institutions.
CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt called on the state leaders during the ceremony to "protect the rights of Jews now, so as not to hear a memorial prayer near a monument later."
The standing committee's semi-annual conference lasted three days and was attended by rabbis from most EU countries. The meetings' agenda appeared to have been taken from those dark days, as the rabbis focused on the growing anti-Semitism across the continent and on the attempts to disrupt Jewish life through legislation seeking to prevent kosher slaughter and male circumcision.
'Study Torah to survive anti-Semitism'
Israel's senior Orthodox Lithuanian leaders, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, sent a letter to the conference participants, in which they stated that "anti-Semitism has been raising its head recently," implying that the wave of legislation across Europe stemmed from the hatred of Jews.
"Our Sages of Blessed Memory said that since the giving of the Torah, the world's nations have hated the Jewish people," the rabbis wrote. "In every single generation, the world's nations sought to destroy us, and God saved us from them… We can see in reality how in every single place the evils of the world's nations are trying, Heaven forbid, to hurt the Jews both physically and financially, and are even desecrating the holy temples."
They added that the way to survive anti-Semitism is to study the Torah and observe mitzvot, alongside "lobbying among the world's nations," as the CER does. "Increase the study of Torah among your congregation members as much as possible – this will guarantee the rescue and continued existence of the Jewish people."
'Fortified wall against anti-Semitism'
The opening session of the standing committee's meeting was held in the presence of Ulrich Bunjes, a special policy advisor at the Council of Europe. Rabbi Goldschmidt raised the issue of the multiple hate crimes against Jews, especially in Ukraine, France, Greece and Hungary.
Addressing the attempts to limit Jews' freedom of religion, the rabbis said: "From this place, the Council of Europe building, where the harshest statement was made against the circumcision mitzvah, we declare that we will stand like a fortified wall, as one, to curb any initiative against observing the mitzvot and against the growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
He added that the CER rabbis would continue working with EU institutions and in every state to thwart any legislation violating Jews' religious rights.