On Friday evening I attended the Sabbath Eve service at Boston Jewish Spirit. Boston Jewish Spirit is the progressive reform congregation that shares Emmanuel Church in Boston. This sharing between the Episcopal and Jewish congregations is one of the reasons I joined Emmanuel; even so I surprised myself by actually attending their service.
I have been hearing my mother's voice: "you can not be a good Christian unless you are a good Jew first."
How she came to this I do not know. I always accepted her view on things and this resonated. Perhaps it was under the influence of her Jesuit cousin Father John, although I haven't heard anyone else in the family express the sentiment.
"Mom, why do the nuns at school say it's wrong to have Jewish friends?"
"The nuns are good women, and good teachers, but they are not free of the prejudices they grew up with in Ireland. Remember- Christ was a practicing and committed Jew."
I am reading James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword" In it he describes the ferment in catholicism that led to Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the early stages of that movement their was much discussion of the Jewishness of Christ, could that have been her source? My mother, though devote, was no theologian.
We were taken to Temple Beth El in Providence, were conversant with the differences between orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism, and went to friends' houses for Chanukah and Passover; even visited the Port family while they were sitting shiv'ah after Mr Port's death. My Brother was named Joel- imagine a little Irish Catholic cherub with that name. And he was always extremely proud of it's Jewish associations.
My childhood was filled with Jewish friends. Some of my best friends really were Jewish- really best friends. And by the way that is still the case, but except for the Bar Mitzvahs of my dear friends Michael and David, who were not found under a rock but are the children of my dearest friends, I have not been in a Jewish house of worship since my childhood.
Until last night. Theoretical reasons usually stimulate only theoretical action, and so I was dependent on a growing respect for Rabbi Berman to motivate me. His sermon to the Emmanuel congregation on the anniversary of Kristallnacht was austere, factual, and incredibly affecting. His comments last weekend on the "Seafarer" were incredibly wise and perceptive. This was at a "Talk Back" event for Emmanuel Center. He and Rev. Werntz moderated this discussion after the performance. I must say that while they have rather different styles, Rabbi Berman and Rev.Werntz are as impressive a pair preachers as I have ever come across; both combine a keen intelligence with humility and compassion- exactly as clergy ought to do.
So Friday evening I listened to my mother's voice and went to Sabbath Eve service. It was held in the parish hall, a small group, and was the most intimate worship service I have ever attended. Intimate, welcoming, simple and warm. I was struck by the similarity between their prayers and our own. We all pray to the same God, with very much the same words, from the same scriptures, and yet our communities have seemed so alien to one another. It is so strange to me. There was minimal Hebrew so I was able to appreciate this in a more immediate way than before.
The congregation was so warm, gracious and welcoming, and I look forward to new friendships growing from this. But what most impressed most me was this:
Beside me sat a father, mother, and their son. I would guess the son to be 10 or 12 years old. I won't disrespect him by trying to guess the nature of his affliction, but in his body and voice was clear evidence of an affliction of some sort. He talked through the service, yet his parents gave him only patient love. And the congregation as well- no impatient shushing, no critical looks. It was the single most impressive display I have ever seen of a group of adults accepting the responsibilities of love and tolerance that are the very essence of adulthood; of honoring the presence of this young man in the worship of our God.
After the service, at a table provided generously with wine and food, I watched him with his father and could only think that truly God was present with these people.