It’s Yom Kippur in New York City’s Park East, the USA's flagship shul. I’m surrounded by the serried ranks of many of The Big Apple's good and great. And lo and behold, a miracle! Henry Kissinger, Nobel laureate, and the world’s most influential Jew since 1973, rises, staff in hand, like a modern Moses, in front of the Ark of the Covenant. He surveys the Promised Land of Manhattan, and gives us an impromptu sermon. At 94!
This father of shuttle-diplomacy, this oracle of Realpolitik, is still courted by world leaders. Henry told Trump recently that as Daesh declines, a “radical Iranian empire” must not be allowed to take its place. “In today’s Middle East,” he says, “the enemy of your enemy, can also be your enemy.”
Serving Presidents Nixon and Ford as Secretary of State, this Harvard professor helped end conflicts in Vietnam and Israel and opened up relations with Mao’s China. Recently, Mao’s successor Xi Jinping invited Henry to meet him on Yom Kippur. Henry politely explained he couldn’t attend, because, as a Jew, he had religious duties.
Chairman Xi replied: “The people which have produced Marx, Einstein, and Kissinger, should be honoured.” And so Xi, unable to change his own schedule, instead organized a shul and kosher facilities for Henry and other Jewish achievers, so that Xi could meet them all after the Fast.
It’s Henry’s pal, Park East shul’s Arthur Schneier, who schmoozed our Henry to speak before our very eyes. Arthur is the tireless Rabbi who persuaded Benedict XVI to come here for the first papal visit to a shul in the Americas. It was Passover eve when Benedict came, so Arthur greeted the Holy Father with a hearty “Good Yom Tov Pontiff” and a box of Matzos!
Today it is Yizkor, the prayer remembering the dead, that is Arthur’s cue for introducing Henry. They’re both Holocaust survivors. Arthur tells us that all Henry has achieved is despite arriving here as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1938. “Let us remember all who perished.” Heldentenor Hazzan Helfgott lifts the neo-Moorish roof with his El Maleh Rachamim. Henry then moves steadily towards us, a star-spangled banner between us, and we’re on the edge of our seats, our ears eager.
Thus spake Henry with that incomparable bass voice, as deep as Chaliapin’s. “Our world of ever-increasing complexity presents extraordinary challenges.” Nonetheless, the enormous problems besetting us all are for him opportunities, an ideal message of hope for the New Year. He noted the “special dangers to the Jewish people… but we will overcome them... We suffered terribly during the Shoah and I personally lost many friends. But the Jewish people survived then, and will survive now.”
The congregation sighs in relief. The Prophet has spoken, and his words they do comfort us.
I accompany Henry out of shul. Last Yom Kippur, I tried to persuade him of the folly of Brexit, and was saddened when he disagreed. Today, I raise Brexit again, and, lo and behold, he’s changed his mind. He now believes Brexit dangerous! Henry has seen The Light! Hallelujah
But why this change of mind? “I had hoped strong administrations in the US and UK would be able to establish a far-stronger Atlantic alliance,” he reveals. “But that’s not the prospect we see today.”
Andrew M. Rosemarine runs an international law office, and is in New York to address the United Nations