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    A blessing for the pope

    I am not the first rabbi to meet the pope, but I might have been the first to bless him. It was when John Paul II visited Australia in the 1980s and had a meeting with Jewish leaders.

    As he entered the room he walked straight up to me, held out his hand and said “Shalom!” He met all the members of the Jewish delegation and then, in the presence of the world’s media, speeches were made by the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and by the pope himself, gifts were exchanged, and after half an hour the meeting came to an end.

    As I had been first in the receiving line, I was last as he left. One of the Jewish leaders had a few words with him in Polish, his native tongue. I had not planned what to say as he left, but I quoted the words from this week’s portion, “The Lord bless you and keep you”. I said them in the original, to which the pope responded, “That is Hebrew?”

    “Yes, Your Holiness”, I said, “and it means, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you!'”

    He was an outstanding human being whose wish for the Church to be reconciled with the Jewish people was heartfelt. He deserved our blessing.

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