New York

12 March 2020

Secretary-General's remarks at lunch honoring Rabbi Arthur Schneier on his 90th birthday [as delivered]

I want to thank High Representative Moratinos for bringing us together today in honour of our good friend Rabbi Arthur Schneier.
 
One of the first major engagements of my tenure as Secretary-General was the annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Park East Synagogue. 
 
Rabbi Schneier welcomed me to New York not only with great warmth, but with a sense of shared purpose. 
 
He has long been a friend of the United Nations, and now I count him as a good personal friend as well and I’m very proud that you consider myself as your friend. 
 
More than that, he has been for me an inspiration -- in the work he does, the wisdom he shares, and the commitment he shows to equality and human dignity for all.
 
Rabbi Schneier is also a frequent presence here in this building. At this year’s United Nations Holocaust memorial ceremony, he recited a moving mourner’s kaddish prayer.
 
So this gathering today is special indeed.
 
To reach the age of 90 is a wonderful achievement. 
 
To reach that age having witnessed so much death and loss while still a child is especially poignant.
 
Rabbi Schneier has spoken eloquently about having lived through Kristallnacht in Vienna, and about the impact of the Holocaust on his life and on our world.  He has shared with us his lament at having no place but Auschwitz to visit should he want to commune with the spirit of his grandparents.
 
But he turned that tragedy into a life of civic and religious engagement that has enriched us all and advanced the work of the United Nations.
 
As he told the New York Times decades ago, ''I can say that if anything, as a result of the Holocaust, I have been strengthened. Instead of just taking my energy and being bitter and resentful, I was able to harness this energy for positive bridge-building, with people of other faiths, with people of other ideological persuasions. That is the price I must pay for my survival.''
 
We all know that strength.
 
It is there in his voice, which needs no microphone to reach the farthest seats and up into the balcony at Park East Synagogue. 
 
But more important than volume is the message – and Rabbi Schneier’s voice is needed today more than ever.
 
This is a time of rising anti-Semitism.  I also joined Rabbi Schneier at his synagogue at an interfaith solidarity event following the horrific attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
 
This is also a period of growing hatred of many kinds, as we see violence and vile views targeting Muslims, Christians, Jews, migrants, refugees and so many others.
 
In the face of these disturbing trends, Rabbi Schneier has stood strong, as he has for decades.
 
I wish to thank him for his many contributions.
 
The organization he founded, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, remains an essential force for peaceful coexistence.
 
He has met with political leaders and popes; with patriarchs and priests; with lamas, imams and monks; with nuns, elders and so many others – serving as a permanent bridge between religions and traditions.
 
And Rabbi Schneier continues to support the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and its work for mutual respect and understanding.
 
I never forget that it’s not for tolerance.  One of the things I learned from Rabbi Schneier after making a speech in which I mentioned tolerance, he said tolerance is a terrible thing because we are not here to tolerate each other, we are here to respect and love each other and develop mutual understanding. 
 
We have these and other key tools with which to fix our world.
 
Last year I launched a first-ever United Nations plan of action against hatred, as well as a first-ever United Nations initiative to promote the safety of religious sites.
 
We also have the enduring values of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Two weeks ago I launched a Call to Action for Human Rights so that we can stop the erosion in respect for equality, the rules of war and fundamental freedoms.  
 
We have laws, plans and principles.  What will make the difference is engagement. We need people everywhere to say “no” in the face of discrimination and dehumanization.  And we need people to unite behind a vision of dignity for all.
 
That is the cause that was impressed upon Rabbi Schneier at an early age – and to which he has dedicated his life. 
 
As we celebrate this milestone, allow me to offer a few words of Hebrew appropriate to the occasion: “Kol ha-kavod”.
 
Rabbi Schneier, we are pleased to share this moment with you. 
 
We are honored to be here with you. 
 
Thank you very much.