Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side this month celebrated its 120th anniversary and the 80th birthday of Rabbi Arthur Schneier who has served since 1962.
Rabbi Israel Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel, told the 800 dinner guests that "80 is just a beginning. Moses began his mission as leader of the Jewish people at 80. So don’t give up."
Schneier said he’s not slowing down, especially after Dr. Ruth Westheimer urged him, "Rewire, don’t retire."
That kind of advice from Dr. Ruth resonated with the 800 dinner guests at the Waldorf-Astoria. The audience included 20 diplomats and religious leaders, among them Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C.; Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin who presented Schneier with a medal from the ministry of foreign affairs.
Cardinal McCarrick spoke of Schneier’s countless trips on behalf of the Appeal of Conscience. The rabbi founded the foundation to promote religious tolerance in the world.
McCarrick compared Schneier to Elijah in that "he is never afraid to talk to the powers of this world. But there is a difference.
"Elijah fled when Ahaz sought to kill him. Schneier stays around and tries to change things."
Ronald Lauder, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, recalled when, as U.S. ambassador to Vienna, he had dinner with Schneier in Vienna. "The rabbi convinced me that the future of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe was through education."
As a result Lauder opened Jewish schools, community centers and camps in several locations, including Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw. "More than 70,000 Jewish children have gone to our schools in the past 25 years, due to Rabbi Schneier," Lauder said. "It was an expensive dinner."
Schneier, a native of Vienna who was liberated in Budapest by the Red Army, came to the United States in 1947.
"I came with a heavy German/Hungarian accent," he said. "I’m sorry I lost it. Henry Kissinger, with his accent, became secretary of state."
Tim Boxer is editor of 15MinutesMagazine.com.