Ladies and Gentlemen, I really am most touched and honoured to have received the Bridge Award from the Council of Christians and Jews, you have taken me by surprise and I can’t tell you how flattered I am. It is extraordinary to think I was here only eighteen months ago to present the Award to Lord Rothschild, and little did I think I would be summoned back to Spencer House to be given the Award myself. Needless to say, I am enormously grateful to Lord Rothschild for his very kind message and only wish he was here this evening, and of course his hospitality on this occasion, which from what I gather is one of the first events they have been able to have in Spencer House for the last sixteen months or so.
The Council of Christians and Jews was established, of course, nearly eighty years ago and was far ahead of its time in recognizing how religious and racial prejudice, hatred and discrimination present such a threat to the harmony of our society.
Yet I do think the essence of its mission has never been more relevant than it is today. We must not forget that the C.C.J. was founded in 1942, at the height of the Holocaust, by Chief Rabbi Hertz and Archbishop Temple in order to support Jewish refugees from Europe and combat anti-semitism, and to build a bridge between Jewish and Christian communities at the most dire moment in their long, often troubled relationship. For a long time, C.C.J.’s mission reflected the widespread belief shared by both communities in religious tolerance, in respect for the facts of history and the lessons of World War Two, in our shared hostility to all discrimination equally.
This noble mission and this widely held vision about what is right are now challenged by the vicious distortions of history which attempt to diminish or deny the Jewish experience of anti-semitism over the millennia, but particularly the Holocaust.
The C.C.J. clearly has an absolutely vital role in educating both adults and children in the lessons that history teaches us, especially about the Holocaust. Just months before lockdown I took part in the 75th Anniversary at the Yad Vashem International Holocaust Centre in Jerusalem. I must say I was humbled and greatly moved by the survivors whom I met who shared their heart-rending stories with me on that occasion. Their courage and their grace left an indelible impression on me at the time.
While in the Holy Land, I experienced another of C.C.J.’s priorities as I witnessed some of the tensions between Israel and the Occupied Territories and heard the different narratives and understood afresh, I think, the importance of learning conflict resolution skills to facilitate improved dialogue around the most complex issues.
It is one of the reasons that I am so deeply moved to have been given this Award by you this evening. Trying to build bridges between faith communities and to deepen mutual understanding, has been a major part of my life’s work. So, I cannot tell you how profoundly grateful I am for such a very special accolade.
We here know the vital role that faith communities have played across the world during this ghastly pandemic. Consoling the bereaved, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry and helping people financially. The more we continue to do this, together, across the faiths, the greater will be the harmony in the world as we come out of lockdown.
Never, I would say, has the C.C.J. been more needed in our conflict-torn world.
With God’s help, Christians and Jews – and, for that matter, Muslims – must continue to work together for Peace and Harmony.
Words given to the Prophet Isaiah should perhaps be our inspiration:
‘Thou wilt keep them in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee’.