“As a religious leader and as the bishop of Cleveland, I consider it one of my primary responsibilities to combat all forms of hatred and division. That includes antisemitism,” said Bishop Edward Malesic. “Antisemitism and other forms of racism are intrinsically evil and must be eradicated in our world. The words of Jesus speak of love – not only the love of God, but also love of neighbor. Jews here and elsewhere are among our closest neighbors.”
The bishop’s remarks were delivered on Dec. 20 during the annual “Shine a Light on Antisemitism” event coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. The outdoor event on the grounds of the organization’s offices coincided with the third night of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival that commemorates the purification and rededication of the temple after the Syrian-Greek occupation of the holy place. Today, the holiday reminds Jews to rededicate themselves to keeping alive the flame of Jewish religion, culture and peoplehood so it can be passed to the next generation.
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“As the beautiful Festival of Lights begins, I want to extend Happy Hanukkah greetings from the Catholic community of the Diocese of Cleveland to our brothers and sisters in the Northeast Ohio Jewish community,” the bishop said. “May this wonderful celebration increase the bonds of faith, family and friends and brighten your lives as you mark the lighting of another lamp on the menorah each night and recall the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem by Judas Maccabeus. We remember how he valiantly resisted persecution against the Jewish people, and we stand in solidarity with you today against modern forms of antisemitism.”
Bishop Malesic told the nearly 200 people gathered for the event that he recalled visiting the nearby Maltz Museum of Jewish History’s “Stories of Survival” exhibit. “I know emphatically how important it is for our Church to make all people aware of the consequences of the deadly poison of hatred. This hatred was clearly manifested in the holocaust and, sadly, it is repeated in other genocides still occurring today throughout the world. “
He said the Catholic community in the Cleveland Diocese stands in solidarity with those in the Jewish community and join in calling for the respect of their religious life and traditions. “We embrace and amplify the teachings of our Church and the Second Vatican Council which convened bishops from around the world to teach us with the greatest authority,” he added. The bishop noted the 1965 document from that council redefined the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religious, Since then, he said leaders in the Catholic and Jewish faiths “have worked hard with each other to live in a spirit of harmony in a society that is increasingly diverse in its racial, ethnic religious and political makeup.”
The disturbing trend of anti-Semitic incidents has become even more painful in light of the Church’s strong relationship to the Jewish tradition “and our meaningful connections to the Jewish people in dialogue and friendship,” Bishop Malesic added. He noted that Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of the friendship between the Jews and Catholics, which is based on a fraternity grounded in the history of salvation.
“Let us commit to not only maintaining but further developing that friendship and, as a result, our mutual care for one another as neighbors, brothers and sisters,” the bishop said. “We can and must walk together to build a community where we worship our common God with religious freedom, where we live without the burdens of prejudice and hatred and where we are able to obtain that justice out of respect for each other, that leads to peace.”
As he concluded his remarks, Bishop Malesic told the gathering that the Catholic community in the diocese shares their hopes and joys “as we pray for peace on earth and goodwill to al. May the unity that flows from our great religious celebrations also shine a bright light against the darkness of division and bring us to a deeper level of respect and understanding among all people.”
Gregg Levine, chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Community Relations Committee, served as emcee for the event. He told those gathered that Jews account for about 2% of the American population and many of them try to avoid being identified publicly as Jews because of antisemitism. One in four Jews has experienced antisemitism, he added.
“The menorah light faces out to add light to the darkness to shine a light for others to see,” he said, adding that light must be shared now more than ever in this time of increasing antisemitism.
Levine introduced the other two speakers, Helen Forbes Fields, president and CEO of the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, and Rabbi Hal Ludin-Luria, senior rabbi of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike. A children’s choir sang a few songs before the third light of the menorah was lit as darkness fell.
Levine noted several Greater Cleveland buildings – including the Jewish Federation in Beachwood – would be lit in blue to help “Shine a Light on Antisemitism” and to raise awareness of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of lights that runs from Dec. 18-26 this year.