Rabbi Leon Klenicki (1930-2008)
A towering voice on Catholic-Jewish relations, Rabbi Leon Klenicki died on January 25 at the age of 78. Rabbi Klenicki spent almost three decades working on interfaith matters for the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’irth. He retired as the group’s interfaith affairs director in 2000. He also continued teaching at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, where he had been professor of Jewish studies since 1978.
A native of Argentina, Rabbi Klenicki began his education in Buenos Aires and in 1959 received a scholarship to study at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he completed his rabbinical studies. After returning to South America, he delivered a major paper at the first Latin American meeting of Jews and Catholics in Bogota, Colombia. Soon after, he was jointly commissioned by the Latin American Catholic Bishops and the Argentine Council of Jews and Christians to undertake a study of Catholic text books for potential revisions of the presentation of Jews and Judaism, the first study of its kind in South America.
Rabbi Klenicki was “a pioneer in the promotion of a vision of Catholic-Jewish relations that drew inspiration from the Second Vatican Council and the vital streams of contemporary Jewish thought,” said Cardinal William H. Keeler, retired Archbishop of Baltimore, who is the U.S. Bishops’ moderator of Catholic-Jewish affairs. In a letter to Rabbi Klenicki’s widow, Myra, Cardinal Keeler said, “One can only look back on Leon’s career with gratitude to God for the paths that he opened for so many religious leaders committed to reversing centuries of estrangement between their own faith community and other traditions.”
He is credited with writing or co-writing 19 books in English and Spanish. Among them are In Our Time: the Flowering of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, co-authorized in 1991 with Eugene Fisher, then associate director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Together the two co-authorized two dozen books and articles, including two volumes of collections and commentaries, of Pope John Paul II’s writings on Jews and Judaism. The Rabbi also co-wrote The Holocaust, Never to Be Forgotten: Reflections on the Holy See’s Document “We Remember” with Cardinal Avery Dulles and president of the Pontifical Commission for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Edward Cassidy.