Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, sat down with a Jewish Journal reporter for a post-Shabbat interview last week at the Chabad Lubavitch's National Jewish Retreat.
The six-day program at the Hyatt Bonaventure in Weston featured Jewish scholars and authors and was attended by more than 900 Jews from around the United States.
Lau and his two brothers were the only members of his family to survive the Holocaust. He was eight years old when he arrived in Palestine in 1945.
He attended a yeshiva and became an ordained rabbi. Lau was the chief rabbi of Netanya and then Israel's chief rabbi, a position he held from 1993 to 2003. He currently is chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.
Lau's new book, "Out of the Depths," recounts his experiences in the Holocaust, including his internment in Buchenwald, and his arrival in Palestine.
He tells how he became chief rabbi of Israel and discusses his meetings with world leaders including Pope John Paul II, U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Jewish Journal: You met with Pope John Paul II more than once. What sort of relationship did you have with him?
Lau: He was a pope who understood very well the situation of the Jewish people because he faced the Holocaust with his very eyes. He understood the tragedy.
He was the pope who brought a diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and the state of Israel. It happened in 1994.
I met the pope of today also, in Yad Vashem, Benedict XVI. But there is quite a great difference between them. The pope of today was a child in Hitler youth. As a young man, he was in the Wehrmacht, in the Nazi army. I don't blame him for that. He was born in Germany. In those years, everyone should join those movements but he was brought up on the other side of the barricade. CONTINUE...