Independent Catholic News, August 31, 2007

Leon Klenicki

Rabbi Klenicki and Cardinal O'Malley


Rabbi Leon Klenicki, the Anti-Defamation League's Interfaith Affairs Director Emeritus, has been knighted by Pope Benedict XVI for his historic contributions in creating positive relationships between Catholics and Jews around the world. Rabbli Klenicki was made a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great at a ceremony at the Vatican's Mission to the United Nations, presided by Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston. Rabbi Klenicki becomes the second ADL interfaith official to receive a papal knighthood. In 1986, the late Dr. Joseph L. Lichten became the first American Jew to receive the honor, from Pope John Paul II.


A renowned scholar and theologian, Rabbi Klenicki joins a select group of living Jews, and only a handful of rabbis, who have been so honored by the Vatican. Klenicki is the author and co-author of hundreds of books and papers dealing with the theological and practical aspects of improving relations between Catholics and Jews. 

"I am deeply honored by Pope Benedict XVI for my nomination as a Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great," said Rabbi Klenicki, who recalled his many meetings through the years with the future pope - then Cardinal Ratzinger - whom he praised for "the depth and breadth of his knowledge." "I cannot describe how much this honor means to me," he said. "It is recognition of the importance of the interfaith dialogue that has been my vocation and my passion for more than thirty years."

Rabbi Klenicki, a native of Argentina, thanked his high school and university teachers, his family, and his wife, Myra Cohen, whom he called his inspiration. He also thanked ADL "for the opportunities it has given me to spend more than thirty years in the field of interfaith work." "We are extremely proud that Rabbi Klenicki's decades of work to help reconcile the Catholic and Jewish people has been recognized by Pope Benedict XVI with this special honor," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Leon is a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and education. I can think of no better person to deserve this honor."

Leon Klenicki received a Rabbinical diploma in 1967 from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. In September 1967, Klenicki returned to Buenos Aires, where he accepted the position of Director of the Latin American Office of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. He helped develop Reform Judaism in Latin America and lectured widely at the main Latin American Jewish centers. Rabbi Klenicki served as an advisor on interfaith affairs for the DAIA, the main Jewish organization in Argentina.

In 1973, Rabbi Klenicki joined ADL as head of the Jewish-Catholic Relations Department. He became Director of ADL's Department of Interfaith Affairs in 1984, and ADL's Co-Liaison to the Vatican. He held this position until his retirement in January 2001.

Myra Klenicki

Klenicki's wife, Myra,

reading from the prophet Micah

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended to all US bishops and cardinals that they observe Holocaust Memorial Day by using as a liturgy the service prepared by Rabbi Klenicki and Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, "From Desolation to Hope: An Interreligious Holocaust Memorial Service." In May 2001, Rabbi Klenicki was honored by the Holy See's Commission for Interreligious Relations with Judaism for his contributions to the interfaith dialogue.

Attending Saturday's ceremony at the Vatican Mission were leading Catholic and Jewish interfaith officials including Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations and Father James Massa, Executive Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.