Jewish leaders and rabbis in the United States have joined together to back Pope Benedict XVI on his current trip to Israel, signing an open letter of welcome and support.

The move, which was initially to write a letter signed by only a small number of rabbis, snowballed very quickly, soon becoming a project involving some two hundred rabbis from America and leading figures in Jewish communities of all denominations from all over the world.

The signatories of the letter include Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland; Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, the president of the U.S. Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute; Cory Schneider, president of the Women's League for Conservative Judaism; Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York; and Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of the Hebrew Union College.

The project was the brainchild of Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who heads the Center for Interreligious Understanding, and Angelica Berrie, the president of the Russell Berrie Foundation, who wished to show support for the pope as he reached out to the people of Israel, and his efforts for peace. The letter was published in the name of the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

In writing the letter, which was published in the Haaretz English print edition on Sunday, Bemporad and Berrie aimed to boost interreligious dialogue and foster understanding between the two faiths.

"This experience shows that there is recognition among Jewish leaders that dialogue is essential," said Bemporad. "A strong commitment to open dialogue can forge a relationship between Catholics and Jews that can become a model for people of all faiths."