Australia to host World Christian Jewish Council
Australia has been selected to host the 2007 World Conference of Christians and Jews. The event will take place in the second week of July 2007. The Australian Council of Christians and Jews is a member of the International Council of Christians and Jews, the umbrella organisation of 38 national Jewish-Christian dialogue organisations world-wide.
The ICCJ was founded as a reaction to the Holocaust, the Shoah, to examine the deeply engrained roots of mistrust, hatred and fear that culminated in one of the worst evils in human history.
The beginning of the Holocaust is recalled in the events of Kristallnacht which is commemorated in Sydney every year.
The event is held each year on the Friday closest to the day which in 1938 saw Germany's synagogues destroyed. This year's forty minute lunchtime service is to be lead by Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, a Catholic and Rev Bill Crews of the Uniting Church at midday on Friday, November 5.
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a wave of pogroms against Germany's Jews. In a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. This event came to be called Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") for the shattered store windowpanes that carpeted German streets.
The pretext for this violence was the November 7 assassination of a German diplomat in Paris.
Stormtroopers killed at least 91 Jews and injured many others. For the first time, Jews were arrested on a massive scale and transported to Nazi concentration camps. About 30,000 Jews were sent to Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen, where hundreds died within weeks of arrival. Kristallnacht culminated the escalating violence against Jews that began during the incorporation of Austria into the Reich in March 1938. It also signaled the transfer of responsibility for "solving" the "Jewish Question" to the SS.
Australia has a Jewish community of about 100,000 with a high proportion of Jewish students attending Jewish day schools, and proportionally the highest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the world.
Post war immigration led to the burgeoning of synagogues and the revitalisation of the Australian Jewish community. Jews are prominent in the arts, legal and medical professions. There are about forty synagogues in Sydney and Melbourne respectively, Jews in Melbourne numbering slightly more than those in Sydney.
When the Second Vatican Council passed its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate on 28 October 1965, towards the end of its final session, it included in that document a comparatively brief but very important statement on the Jewish people.
This statement reminded the Church of its roots in Judaism and called for the complete rejection of certain erroneous ideas about the Jews which, for centuries, had been only too common amongst Catholics and other Christians. Specifically, "Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the Holy Scriptures"; nor can the Passion of Jesus "be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today" (NA n.4).
Over the last quarter century, Pope John Paul II has used every opportunity to promote dialogue between the two faith communities.
Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit a death camp, Auschwitz in 1979, the symbolic center of Jewish remembrance of the Shoah. Pope John Paul again made history in 1986 by being the first since St. Peter to visit and pray in a synagogue (though his gesture had precedents in visits by American bishops to synagogues). The pope has condemned anti-Semitism as "sinful."
The Victorian Branch of the CCJ was founded in Melbourne in 1985 and in Sydney in 1988. In Melbourne there is a strong ecumenical movement amongst the churches, whereas in Sydney a strong evangelical strain within some sectors of the Christian churches makes ecumenical and interfaith dialogue more difficult. Canberra has an interfaith dialogue group and a youth group, and Adelaide and Perth have Councils.
The Australian Council of Christians and Jews was inaugurated in December 1991.