Over 200 Rabbanim from across Europe, the U.S. and Israel gathered in Toulouse, France, last week for the biennial meeting of the Conference of European Rabbis. As well as focusing strongly on fighting anti-Semitism, the conference’s delegates discussed such diverse topics as the use of technology in Jewish law and the continuation of European Jewry. As usual, the event was graced by the presence of a number of Chief Rabbis — including Vice President of the CER and Chief Rabbi of France Rabbi Haim Korsia, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, and Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzchak Yosef, as well as senior European politicians.
During the opening of the conference, calls to fight anti-Semitism were backed by members of the European Parliament and Commission, who expressed their support for the continuation of Jewish life across the continent.
In his welcome address, President of the CER, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of Moscow, told delegates: “The children who were shot in Toulouse were killed for the same reason as those Jews who were murdered 70 years ago during the Holocaust, here in Europe. The doubling of anti-Semitic attacks in 2014 means we must fight resolutely against anti-Semitism and nip this phenomenon in the bud. We will continue to fight across Europe for the right to live safely on this continent as Jews.”
Antonio Tajani, Vice President of the European Parliament, told the crowd, “The Jewish people’s heritage is my heritage and we won’t have Europe without our heritage.
“The European Parliament, the guardian institution of the democratic principles and inalienable values of Europe, is committed to uncompromisingly refuse any form of hatred and anti-Semitism.”
In a video message to the convention, Mr. Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the European Commission, talked of the need for further discussion about the role of religion in Europe. “Europe without the Jews,” he said, “is no longer Europe … we need your contribution to have this debate.”
During the day, Vice President Tajani, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt and delegates met with local politicians and the Bishop of Toulouse to discuss the importance of interfaith dialogue in combatting racial hatred.
The second day of the conference saw delegates join members of the local community to hold a memorial ceremony to mark the 26th of Iyar, the Hebrew date of Victory in Europe (VE) Day.
The ceremony particularly focused on the more than 1.25 million Jewish servicemen who fought during the war, including 250,000 who lost their lives.
During the ceremony, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said, “On 8th May, 1945, when the Jews came out of hiding, there was no time to cry; we were in survival mode, creating a new existence for ourselves. That was the time to build. Today, 70 years on, where we have rebuilt our communities, we are yet to cry over those who gave their lives as soldiers. They fought to ensure Jewish life can exist in a free Europe.
“Bad things happen because good people don’t stand up. Just as Jewish servicemen stood up for our future, we need to understand that it is the future of Europe that is at stake. The CER is here because we believe in the future of European Jewry in Europe, French Jewry in France and Toulouse Jewry in Toulouse.
“We need allies, and we need to fight together to overcome the challenges that are in front of us.”
The ceremony also featured addresses from Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, Chief Rabbi David Lau, WWII serviceman Mr. Eli Buzon, and Mr. German Zakhariev, Director and Founder of the Jewish Memorial Day Foundation.
The conference itself focused on practical applications of Jewish law. It concluded on Thursday with an emotional memorial service at Otzar Hatorah School where, three years ago, a terror attack killed four members of the Jewish community.
The ceremony included addresses from the Rabbi of the school, Rabbi Yaacov Monsenego, whose young daughter Myriam was one of the victims, and Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the names of those who were killed were recited in a stirring memorial prayer.
Reflecting on the ceremony, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said, “We are here in this town and in this school to honor [the] memory [of those who were murdered here]. This was not just an attack on the Jewish community of Toulouse but an attack on world Jewry.”