Amid the international bloodshed at the hands of ISIS upon Christian and Jews, Catholics and Jews in New York gathered to pray for peace and direction in defending the religious liberties of their respective faith traditions.
Cardinal Dolan served as special guest speaker at the Feb. 20 Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. The event was billed as an effort to further interfaith dialogue.
“The advances in friendship between us Jews and Catholics this past half century prompts all of us to praise Almighty God,” the cardinal told the congregation who convened in the temple’s Fifth Avenue sanctuary between 65th and 66th streets. Also on the bema were Senior Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson and Senior Rabbi Emeritus Dr. David M. Posner.
“It’s a providential friendship,” the cardinal continued of Catholics and Jews, “that is especially cherished and appreciated here in New York.”
Cardinal Dolan cited “evidence of our enhanced friendship these recent decades,” such as theological conversations and agreements; respected interreligious organizations; cooperation in community and international initiatives, in service of peace and justice; diplomatic relations between Israel and the Holy See; and the celebrated visits of four pontiffs to Israel.
In a reference to the temple’s name, Emanu-El, the cardinal underscored his appreciation of the name Emmanuel at age 7. He recalled being proud he already knew the Hebrew word and even better, he said, he knew it meant “God is with us.” He also recalled as a young boy being struck by the name of a visiting priest to his hometown parish in Ballwin, Mo., Father Emmanuel, and at that time wished he had such a name.
“Might I suggest that perhaps our most telling exhibit of friendship comes in our mutual awe at the truth behind that word ‘Emmanuel,’ and our conviction that both the Catholic and the Jewish families are bonded most intimately by our faith in the confession that yes, you bet your life ‘God is with us,’ Emmanuel.”
Rabbi Davidson said, “It is good to be in sacred community tonight. We live in frightening times. World leaders are struggling to coordinate an international response to a planet awash in violence. And many of us are reaching for a personal, spiritual response. I know I am.”
Rabbi Davidson recalled how, shortly after ISIS’ “horrific immolation” of a Jordanian pilot, a congregant urged him to denounce the atrocity “as antithetical to every core principle Judaism stands for.” He conceded to being bewildered.
“Why would such a superfluous proclamation—hadn’t the whole world decried the act, one more in a series of murders prompting international censure and now military action—what more could my voice add?”
But then, he said, he read Cardinal Dolan’s “pointed condemnation of another ISIS atrocity, the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians.”
“The Cardinal,” Rabbi Davidson continued, “brought into sharper relief a threat often obscured by the bloodshed. In the wake of religious fanaticism, religion, too, becomes a casualty.”
At some point, every member of the clergy is called upon to defend the efficacy of organized religion as a force for good, Rabbi Davidson said. “How many skeptics conclude, from the holy wars of the past or the terrifying threat of Islamic extremism today, that faith, far from revealing a path toward harmony, only generates strife?”
The evidence, they claim, is on their side, Rabbi Davidson continued, citing as examples: ISIS and its barbarism; Europe’s radicalized Muslims and their assault on Jews and Western ideals; Boko Haram’s massacres and enslavements.
“This past week we witnessed the murders of Christians and Jews only because they were Christians and Jews,” Rabbi Davidson said.
That congregant who asked him to speak up was justified, the rabbi said. “For religion’s sake, we must condemn the atrocities committed in its name. Churches and synagogues, temples and mosques, offer a Gospel the world needs to hear,” he said.
In introducing Cardinal Dolan, Rabbi Davidson cited the cardinal’s “empathy and clarity, commitment and love” in shepherding not only New York’s Catholics but in convening “that critical conversation on religion’s role in society.”
“This is obviously an historic night for us,” Rabbi Davidson said. He noted that the cardinal’s presence coincided with the approach of the 50th anniversary of the completion of the work of the Second Vatican Council, “a watershed moment that brought Jews and Catholics together in partnership as never before.”
“Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”) is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on Oct. 28, 1965.
To be in the “venerable, historic temple for Sabbath is a gift for which I am most grateful,” the cardinal told the congregation. He acknowledged how the Jewish community has welcomed him since his arrival as Archbishop of New York six years ago. “I have found the embrace of the Jewish community to be extraordinarily warm and cuddly, most appreciated during weather like this evening’s,” he said with a gentle laugh.
Dr. Leonard Stone, 98, a member of Temple Emanu-El since 1943, braved the bitter cold temperature, he said, to attend the Shabbat service and to hear Cardinal Dolan’s remarks. “It was a nice talk, and appropriate,” he said.
Eight-year-old Nathaniel Helpern, accompanied by several family members to the temple to which he belongs, said, “It’s good hearing other religion leaders talk about how their religion shouldn’t be in fights. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. You should just pretend like evil is not there and just have peace.”
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