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The Woolf Institute sends its condolences to the Sternberg family at the passing of Sir Sigmund, who died on 18th October.

21 October 2016

Siggy Sternberg

Siggy was a pioneer in interfaith relations, as Ed Kessler explains:

"Sir Sigmund Sternberg's contribution to fostering better relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims is the stuff of legends.

As co-president he energised the Council of Christians and Jews before becoming Chairman of the International Council of Christians and Jews.

He was co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum with Revd Marcus Braybrooke and the late Zaki Badawi, which, for arguably the first time, extended the interfaith imperative to Islam as the third Abrahamic religion.

He was also vice-president of the World Congress of Faiths, which took interfaith engagement even further, looking to find common values between religions.

Siggy was also a businessman; one who believed that commercial success required social stability, and saw social stability as dependent on good relations between communities.

As he said in a talk he delivered at the Woolf Institute many years ago, but which remains relevant today, "Global healing cannot be left to the politicians and the generals alone".

I first got to know Siggy in 1990 and realised immediately that much of the energy he devoted to Jewish causes and inter-religious understanding were connected with his background in Hungary, his childhood fears of fascism, and the death of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who perished at Auschwitz. Acting on this experience of the Jewish people, he felt that peace and social justice could only be realised in inter-religious partnership.

His pragmatism was renowned and I remember this piece of advice: "If you can't go through the front door, go through the window in the back".

It was this approach that made him vital to providing resolutions when controversy arose, for example, between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community. He helped defuse tensions arising from the appearance of hundreds of crosses near the grounds of Auschwitz in 1998 and contributed to the pragmatic solution that only one cross, the Papal Cross, should remain.

He was as much at home in the citadels of the Vatican as he was in the offices of the Chief Rabbi.

Most of all, Siggy was a man of action for whom dialogue was not a mere exchange of words but a means of movement, change and the founding of a happier order. He realised that relations between the faith communities was not an optional extra but essential".

Dr Ed Kessler, Founder Director, Woolf Institute, Cambridge

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