Is religion the problem or the solution? That was the topic of Rabbi David Rosen’s talk Jan. 10 at the 75th anniversary kickoff celebration of American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta chapter. It took place at the Buckhead home of Viki and Paul Freeman.
Rosen is the AJC’s international director of interreligious affairs based in Jerusalem.
Among his list of accomplishments, Rosen was former chief rabbi of Ireland and senior rabbi of South Africa’s largest synagogue, and he’s a member of the chief rabbinate of Israel’s delegation for relations with world religions. He shared his view on the religions of the world at the Jan. 10 event. While in Atlanta last week, he also made other appearances, which included serving as Scholar-in-Residence at Congregation Shearith Israel.
Dov Wilker, AJC Atlanta regional director, conducted a Q&A with Rosen, referring to him as “the Pope’s rabbi.” Rosen, who said he speaks officially about interfaith issues through the AJC, proffered unofficial comments about his position as an Israeli citizen, saying, “A two-state solution is the ONLY solution.”
On the AJC front, Rosen, in his elegant British accent, spoke of his worldwide travels resulting in steady strides in improving interfaith relations. He shared that anti-Semitism may be more open because “‘anti-social media’ allows the circulation of garbage. … There is a general insularity and rise in xenophobia, but not necessarily more anti- Semitism.”
A very positive experience he shared was his December trip to the United Arab Emirates, where Muslim royalty and clerics lit Chanukah candles with the delegation. “I am finding that leaders from all over the world want to bend over backwards to show that they are NOT anti-Semitic!” Rosen said.
AJC board member Murray Goldman said he was fortunate to be on that trip with his wife, Marcia. The couple were part of the AJC Gulf Mission to Oman, Bahrain, and UAE while Rosen and 12 other rabbis were at an interfaith conference in Abu Dhabi. “We were at a Shabbat service and kosher meal in Dubai with approximately 80 ex-pat Jews, which was an amazing religious and personal Jewish experience in the midst of a Muslim country. It was evident that the interfaith and political influence of Rabbi Rosen and AJC were making a difference, bringing these countries and their citizens closer to better relations with Israel and world Jewry.”
Rosen is international president of Religions for Peace; honorary president of the International Council of Christians and Jews; and the Jewish representative on the board of directors of the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. He was part of the Israeli team that negotiated full relations between the state of Israel and the Holy See, and is a past chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, the Jewish umbrella organization for interfaith relations. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI made Rosen a knight commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in recognition of his contribution to Catholic-Jewish reconciliation; and in 2010, he was named a commander of the British empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his interreligious work.
In addition to Rosen’s talk at the Buckhead celebration, AJC Atlanta president Melanie Nelkin recognized several active AJC members who were recently touted by Atlanta magazine among the city’s most powerful leaders.
She was proud of AJC’s “value-driven messages” on local, national and global forums – most recently the reaction to the tragic shooting in Pittsburgh. “The Torah has 169 mentions to ‘remember and not forget;’ this anniversary will not allow us to forget.”
Kenny Blank, executive director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, briefly spoke about AJC’s vision in founding the AJFF and specifically about its new City Springs venue. Sandy Springs City Councilman Andy Bauman was present when Blank said, “We were like Jews wandering the desert until we just found the Promised Land there.”