Lenny Bruce famously said that even a Catholic in New York is Jewish, but that didn’t stop one of the city’s most prominent Jewish leaders from accepting a touch of the Holy See on Monday.
Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue was knighted and made a member of the Papal Order of St. Sylvester at a ceremony on the Upper East Side, joining luminaries such as industrialist Oskar Schindler and comedian Bob Hope who have held the title.
“It’s Pope Francis” very touching and tender way of confirming [Rabbi Schneier] and the good works that he’s done on behalf of religious freedom, international peace and justice,” said longtime pal and neighbor Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
The cardinal grinned broadly as he pinned the order’s gold cross to the 84-year-old Holocaust survivor’s lapel. “It’s an honor.”
During his career, Rabbi Schneier campaigned vigorously alongside other faith leaders for greater religious freedom and tolerance, as well as helping to build ties between Jews and Roman Catholics following World War II.
“In 1965, in the height of religious persecution in the Soviet Union, I mobilized with Robert Kennedy religious leaders of all faiths in an appeal to our first religious freedom mission to Moscow, but via Rome,” Rabbi Schneier said. “We need to strive together for a world of mutual acceptance, not tolerance, acceptance.”
Rabbi Schneier has been associated with the Park East Synagogue since 1962.
After the ceremony, the new knight shared a Champagne toast with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Mayor David Dinkins and former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, as well as half a dozen of the city’s most prominent religious leaders.
“I’m here to pay tribute to a dear friend and a good leader,” Dr. Kissinger said. “He’s contributed to the solution of one our great problems,” promoting peace between the major world faiths.
The knighthood, which may be bestowed on Catholics and non-Catholics alike, is intended to honor significant contributions to humanity.
The ancient order’s origin is somewhat murky, though it apparently was first intended to honor lay Catholics who showed intense devotion to the church.
In 1905, Pope Pius X changed the Order of St. Sylvester to include non-Catholic honorees, separating it from the so-called Golden Militia, of which it had previously been a part.
In addition to the gold cross, the official St. Sylvester regalia includes a red-and-black uniform and a sword. “You mentioned about my getting a sword? I have a problem with a sword, though,” Rabbi Schneier insisted. “I’m for peace!”
“Turn it into a plowshare,” Cardinal Dolan suggested.