Conference of European Rabbis hosts 32nd General Convention at in Munich
Conference of European Rabbis hosts 32nd General Convention at in Munich Eli Itkin

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) hosted its 32nd General Convention at the Westin Grand Hotel Munich, Germany. The Convention is set to address the timely issues of “Rabbinical Leadership in times of Pandemic and War, Serving G-d and community in a new reality.”

The Convention was opened and is hosted by Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the President of the CER, who addressed the attendees at the opening of the event. Over 350 rabbis and rebbetzins from 43 countries and leading communities throughout Europe and across the world gathered together to discuss pressing issues, network, and hear from a vast array of world-class rabbis, politicians, and educators.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt addressed the attendees at the opening of the event and spoke about the leadership of every rabbi and rebbetzin in attendance, especially in these “trying and terrible times” for Eastern Europe. He reflected on how “successful communities the world over are made, not by having physical buildings but by people and leaders working tirelessly for others.”

Dr. Markus Söder, Minister-President of the Free State of Bavaria, opened with a welcoming address, He mentioned the many communities and cultures that live in Bavaria, and how Jewish people have remarkably “renovated themselves after the dark days of the Holocaust.”

He further spoke about the importance of promoting Jewish life in Bavaria. Mrs. Nicola Beer, MEP, Vice President of the European Parliament and Special envoy on combating religious discrimination including antisemitism, addressed the Convention through video-link, stating that “it is essential to foster and protect Jewish life in Europe.”

Following these opening addresses, a panel discussion took place probing the timely question of “Is religious life in Europe on the brink?” Since its founding 66 years ago, the CER has advocated for the religious rights of Jews in Europe and has striven to ensure that legislative safeguards are put in place, advocating for the protection of Jewish observance across the continent.

Mr. Shimon Cohen, Senior Advisor to the CER and Campaign Director of Shechita UK, spoke of how “since the Second World War, the Conference of European Rabbis has taken the lead on this, filling a much needed void, of advocating for religious Jews, proclaiming and seeking to protect their rights and ensuring religious Jewish life is much a priority as campaigning against antisemitism… Our active religious life is as important as memorials and statements against antisemitism. We have come a long way in this regard, allowing for Jewish communities to thrive in Europe, but we certainly have more to do… We must educate people so that they are better informed of Jewish practices.”

Mr. Daniel Höltgen, Special Representative on antisemitic, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious intolerance and hate crimes, Council of Europe, spoke of how Europe is “becoming a growingly secular environment, the ignorance and ideology against religious freedom needs to be countered to allow for active Jewish life.”

Mrs. Katharina von Schnurbein, Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, European Commission, agreed with Mr. Cohen’s statements, explaining that education is certainly the key to further protecting religious practices in Europe. Mrs. von Schnurbein spoke regarding Shechita and how “the Jewish People have always been deeply concerned about animal welfare… people need to be more aware of these issues in general.”

Mr. Ahmed Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), spoke of how religious freedom cannot just be about belief, but rather, in order to speak for Jewish communities, with their emphasis on practical observance, this freedom must also be about ritual and practice.

During the conference, Michi Wassertil - Chairman of the Yad Tamar Association, which provides a community assistance package for cancer patients and families who suffer from various crises - presented an app which helps continue the family routine and ordinary daily activities such as paying bills, transporting the children to classes and school.

"The usage of AI enables us to map the urgent needs of the family in a sudden crisis, and allows each member of the community to enter the app and see the daily tasks of that particular family which were not tended to and could help: whether by driving the child to classes once a week, every member of the community who wishes to volunteer even once could enter the app and help with what's needed."

The Convention finishes on Wednesday with a full program covering further important issues.