Who is Pinkas Goldschmidt? The Charlemagne Prize of Aachen is considered one of the highest honors in Europe and is awarded to personalities and institutions that have contributed the most to the promotion of European integration. Since 1950 it has been given to the founding fathers of the United Europe, kings, heads of state and government, popes, the Belarusian opposition and the Ukrainian people.

Today (May 9) is the first time it has been awarded to a rabbi. For almost 13 years, Pinkas Goldschmidt has been the president of the European Conference of Rabbis (CER), to which approximately 800 Orthodox Jewish teachers belong. The 60-year-old is probably the most famous rabbi in Europe. “With this award, the Charlemagne Prize committee wants to show that Jews are an integral part of Europe, and that there should be no place for anti-Semitism in Europe,” says the announcement of the organizers.

“Explosion of anti-Semitism”

“Unfortunately, the opposite is actually true,” Goldschmidt tells DW. “Since October 7, there has been an explosion of anti-Semitism.” In many parts of the world there is a hatred of the Jews. Jewish parents, says Goldschmidt, are afraid to send their children to school. Jewish men, youths and children avoid wearing a kippah. Very often the intervention of the police is necessary to protect the Jews.

According to the rabbi, anti-Semitism “became socially acceptable and politically correct again.” And that has to change again. Governments should make it clear that they do not accept anti-Jewish hatred, wherever it takes place: in the school environment, on the streets or at cultural events. As long as there is tolerance for anti-Jewish hatred, “we have a serious problem,” adds Goldschmidt – meaning that it is a problem that not only affects Jews, but also endangers the future of Europe itself.

The Goldschmidt family also experienced this horror of Auschwitz. Pinkas Goldschmidt was born in Zurich in 1963. His maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother died in Auschwitz, as did their siblings, his grandfather’s sisters and brothers, and a total of more than 40 relatives of the rabbi.

From one war to another

From 1993 to 2022 Goldschmidt was chief rabbi in Moscow. A few days after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, however, he left the country because the Kremlin wanted to force religious leaders to align themselves with the government line.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of Jews have left Russia, as the rabbi points out. “The political situation in Russia is getting worse and worse. The country returns to absolute isolation, to a Soviet Union without communism. And anti-Semitism is again becoming part of government policy.”

In recent years Goldschmidt has been living with his wife, seven children and many grandchildren in Jerusalem. In an area that has changed a lot since October 7th. “I went from one war to another,” he says. War is terrible, one of the most terrible things that mankind has invented.” But Israel, like any country, has the right to self-defense. And in Gaza Israel is not fighting an army, but an army of rebels.

The rabbi also refers to the role of Iran, which supports both Hamas and Hezbollah. “This is an important moment for Europe, which must defend itself against these attacks against democracy and freedom, coming from Russia on the one hand and Iran on the other.”

The multilingual rabbi is in frequent conversation with many leading politicians and has visited the chancellery and Pope Francis several times. Since becoming president of the CER, he has established dialogue between leading rabbis and Muslim imams from European and North African countries. Over the years he participated in various meetings and built a framework of trust, which, although rarely mentioned in the media, remains extremely important.

Islam and Europe

“Instead of fighting the radical elements of Islam, one is simply turning against the Islamic religion. And this is a big, very big mistake,” emphasizes Goldschmidt. “Islam could become a valuable part of Europe, as long as its believers and representatives actively share European values ​​such as freedom, democracy and tolerance.”

The rabbi says he is happy to receive the Charlemagne Prize. “It is a beautiful move for me personally, but also for the Jewish community of Europe. Because we wish there was more support for Jewish communities from civil society. Something like that would be very important.”

Edited by: Giorgos Passas