Death of Beloved Archbishop


OHN CARDINAL O’CONNOR, who just died at age 80, was celebrated by the Jewish community at an Anti-Defamation League dinner three years ago at the New York Hilton. Rabbi Ronald Sobel of the prestigious Emanu-El Temple on Fifth Avenue hailed America’s most influential Catholic leader as “a true friend of the Jewish people while remaining steadfast to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Rabbi Sobel told how Cardinal O’Connor, archbishop of New York since 1984, could be relied upon to help a Jewish cause – and do more than asked. He remembered calling cardinal O’Connor and asking him to convey privately to President Ronald Reagan that he not go to Bitburg, where Nazi storm troopers were buried.

“The letter is on the way to the White House,” Cardinal O’Connor replied. “It’s not only a private communication – it will be in the press tomorrow.”

In his eloquent style, Cardinal O’Connor, resplendent in his ecclesiastical robe and the crimson satin skullcap of his station, pleaded with the Jewish elite gathered at the ADL dinner to be proud Jews.

“We are all in your debt, certainly Catholicism, which is totally rooted in Judaism,” he said. “Be Jews. Don’t yield to the passion for respectability. Continue to support your spiritual homeland. Don’t ever feel embarrassed; don’t feel you have to hide. To me your homeland is the embodiment of Judaism itself.”

Rabbi Sobel, the first Jewish spiritual leader to preach from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, was fair game for the cardinal’s humor.

“I always like to embarrass my good friend Rabbi Sobel by wearing a yarmulke when he never wears one,” the cardinal said. “Even when he invited me to speak at his temple, I was the only one to wear a yarmulke.”

Gift Fit For A Cardinal

n the wake of John Cardinal O’Connor’s death, stories about the New York archbishop abound.

Fanya Heller says she had in her possession a cross that was 150 years old, inlaid with mother of pearl and appraised at $6,000. She can’t remember how she got it, possibly at an estate auction, but it’s been in her East Side home for three decades.

“Every time a rabbi came over,” she said, “my husband made sure to hide it.”

When Yad Vashem two years ago honored the Christian family who saved Fanya in the Holocaust in Poland, she had a private audience with Cardinal O’Connor.      

“I brought the cross with me,” she said. “I gave it to him, and he was touched to tears.” 

It Pays To Know the Cardinal

he death of Cardinal O’Connor prompted Dr. Ernest Birnbaum, a retired professor of chemistry at St. John’s University, to recall an appropriate story I’d written 11 years ago.

Father Flynn, the head of the university, needed  $30,000 to acquire a rare Hebrew manuscript for the school’s Catholic library.           

He called Rabbi Samuel Belkin, then president of Yeshiva University. Flynn was quite aware of Belkin’s skill for separating wealthy Jews from their money.

“No problem,” Belkin assured the priest. “Give me a week.”

Less than a week later the rabbi called the priest: “I got you $30,000. Congratulations.”

“Gee, rabbi, that’s wonderful. Tell me, how did you do it?”

“That was easy. I called Cardinal Spellman.”


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