Chicago area rabbis on the Jewish United Fund Rabbinic Action Committee Mission met with Pope Francis in Vatican City on Wednesday during the weekly papal assembly in St. Peter’s Square. In pouring rain, the 19 rabbis were escorted to a special seating section next to the dais of the Pope, who welcomed the delegation at the beginning of his homily.
Afterward, three rabbis had the opportunity to greet the Pope: Rabbi Leonard Matanky, President of the Rabbinical Council of America and Dean at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Rabbi Michael Weinberg, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, and Rabbi Carl Wolkin, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook.
“I greeted the Pope with a handshake and with the word ‘shalom,’ to which he responded, ‘shalom’ with a big smile,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg presented the Pope with a letter from Cardinal George in Chicago as well as a book, A Legacy of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue: The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lectures (Liturgy Training Publications, 2012), which chronicles the Catholic-Jewish lecture series that occurs annually in Chicago, symbolic of the relationship between Chicago’s Jewish community and the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Matanky gave the Pope an Ida Crown Jewish Academy yarmulke on behalf of the school and its students along with another book, a collection of essays from Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein dedicated in memory of his son. Wolkin offered the Pope a blessing.
“When [the Pope] said, ‘Pray for me,’ that was my cue,” Wolkin said. “I said how honored we were to have this time with him, and then I prayed for him and said, “Y’varech’cha HaShem v’yishm’recha” – may God bless you and protect you.”
The JUF Rabbinic Action Committee has organized a mission to a European country and Israel every year since 2003. This year, the trip included relevant Jewish sites in Italy, such as the Ancient Synagogue in Ostia Antica.
Other rabbis on the mission: Alan Abramson, Michael Balinsky, Steven Bob, Paul Caplan, Alejandro Felch, Seth Gelman, Sam Gordon, Sidney Helbraun, Andrea London, Debra Newman Kamin, Yehiel Poupko, Marc Rudolph, Isaac Serotta, Michael Siegel, Anthony Stoller and Eitan Weiner-Kaplow.