First Papal Visit to a US Synagogue

The pope will visit an Upper East Side synagogue led by a Holocaust survivor during his visit to the city this month, in what will be only the third Papal visit to a synagogue in history, and the first in America.

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the Park East Synagogue on East 68th Street the evening of APril 18.

“We’re a small, small part of the program, but a significant one,” the spiritual leader of the synagogue, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, said yesterday during a phone interview.

Rabbi Schneier, who has met Benedict twice and who said he considered the previous Pope, John Paul II, a friend invited the pope to visit the synagogue after hearing he was visiting the city the week before Passover.

“This is an opportunity for him to use Park East Synagogue for outreach,” Rabbi Schneier said, calling the visit a historic moment that is particularly special because it falls near Passover, the festival of freedom. Benedict has visited one other synagogue, in Cologne, according to Rabbi Schneier. John Paul visited a synagogue in Rome.

Rabbi Schneier was the first rabbi to be awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for his work on interfaith dialogue. He is the founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith group that works for peace.

Benedict’s visit this month will be his first to America as Pope. He will be stopping in Washington, D.C.. to meet with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the president before heading to New York. He will give a service at Yankee Stadium for congregants and at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral for clergy. He will also be visiting ground zero and making a speech at the United Nations.

The pope’s visit to Park East Synagogue will last about half an hour and will include music by the synagogue’s children’s choir, Rabbi Schneier said. The Pope will then make brief remarks to a group of congregants and Jewish leaders from around the city.