A plan for advancing Christian-Jewish relations

Christian-Jewish relations have come a long, long way over the past half century.

But, as we all know, challenges arise from time to time. You never really arrive when it comes to such a complicated dialogue, so you just keep talking.

A group called the International Council of Christians and Jews — an umbrella group for 38 national dialogues — has just issued a new 12-point plan for continuing to build and strengthen the Christian-Jewish relationship.

It’s called A Time for Recommitment.

Anyone familiar with the issues that arise between Christians and Jews will recognize much of what’s written.

For instances, Christians are asked:

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To develop theological understandings of Judaism that affirm its distinctive integrity

  • By eliminating any teachings that Christians have replaced Jews as a people in covenant with God.
  • By emphasizing the common mission of Jews and Christians in preparing the world for the kingdom of God or the Age to Come.
  • By establishing equal, reciprocal working relationships with Jewish religious and civic organizations.
  • By ensuring that emerging theological movements from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and feminist, liberationist or other approaches integrate an accurate understanding of Judaism and Christian-Jewish relations into their theological formulations.
  • By opposing organized efforts at the conversion of Jews.
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    And Jews are asked:

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    To acknowledge the efforts of many Christian communities in the late 20th century to reform their attitudes toward Jews

  • By learning about these reforms through more intensive dialogue with Christians.
  • By discussing the implications of changes in Christian churches regarding Jews and their understandings of Judaism.
  • By teaching Jews of all ages about these changes, both in the context of the history of Jewish-Christian relations and according to the appropriate stage of education for each group.
  • By including basic and accurate background information about Christianity in the curricula of Jewish schools, rabbinic seminaries and adult education programs.
  • By studying the New Testament both as Christianity’s sacred text and as literature written to a large degree by Jews in an historical-cultural context similar to early Rabbinic literature, thereby offering insight into the development of Judaism in the early centuries of the Common Era.
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    The authors of the paper include some Americans who are veterans of this country’s Christian-Jewish dialogue, including Sister Mary Boys, Judith Banki, Philip Cunningham, Father John Pawlikowski and Michael Signer.

    The paper also includes a nice overview of the history of Christian-Jewish relations.

    It includes this:

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    We are learning to better appreciate the different memories and agendas that Christians and Jews bring to their exchanges. We are convinced that authentic dialogue never seeks to persuade the other of one’s own truth claims, but rather to change one’s own heart by understanding others on their own terms, to whatever degree possible. In fact, interreligious dialogue in the fullest sense of the term is impossible if any of the parties harbor desires to convert the other. It is also the general experience of both Christians and Jews that interreligious dialogue provides deeper insights into one’s own religious tradition.

    Who came before Hendrix at Woodstock? A Bible scholar, that’s who

    Over the next week or so, LoHud.com and The Journal News will be running a special package on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock.

    Why would I mention this? Was there a religious element to the festival? None that I’m aware of (although there probably were some “Jesus freaks” there, right?).

    It just so happens that one of the performers at Woodstock plays a significant role in the world of religion today.

    Who could that be, you wonder.

    Sly Stone? Grace Slick? Joe Cocker? Crosby, Stills or Nash?

    Nope.

    Try Alan Cooper.

    He was one of the founding members of Sha Na Na, the next to last band to perform at Woodstock. Right before Jimi Hendrix.

    In the “Woodstock” movie, he sang lead vocals on “At the Hop” (which, in the movie, comes after The Who and before Joe Cocker).

    Today, Cooper is a Bible scholar and provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the main seminary of Conservative Judaism.

    I talked to Cooper yesterday about his time at Woodstock and my article will run as part of the package.

    “It was a lark,” Cooper told me about the whole Sha Na Na thing.

    He joined a singing group at Columbia University when he was a freshmen. It morphed into Sha Na Na, which Cooper and 11 friends (10 at Columbia and one at Brooklyn College) “founded.”

    “We were on the road just about every weekend,” he told me. “Colleges and universities. Mid-sized halls. We had a steady gig. We didn’t make a huge amount of money. But it paid for some of my grad school tuition and we got to take a tour of Europe.”

    Cooper, the bass singer, left the band in ’71 for grad school. He was replaced by Jon “Bowser” Bauman, who became the face of the band.

    Anyway, here’s Cooper’s semi-famous turn at the Woodstock Music & Air Fair (that’s him in the vest, with the sideburns and glasses):

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    God on the links

    This being Golf Country and all, I thought I’d mention a new book — And God Said, Tee It Up!

    That’s right, a book about connections between the game you love and Christianity.

    The book, by Gary Graf, an advertising exec from Seattle, is meant to be amusing, but also “thought-provoking.”

    He opens the prelude with this: “As most anyone who plays the game will tell you: Golf is a religious experience. After all, other than at a place of worship, you won’t find God’s name evoked more often or with such passion than on the links.”

    That’s funny.

    Chapter titles include: Grand Slams and Gospels, Saint Andrew — Course and Man, Augusta and Apostles, and Valley of Sin, Death on a Cross.

    At one point, Graf compares Jesus to…Lee Trevino.

    He writes about Jesus’ humble beginnings and that “out of such beginnings great things may come.”

    Then he talks about Trevino’s hardscrabble upbringing in Texas. Graf writes:

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    Impoverished. Cotton Fields. Eighth grade education. Caddy. Self taught. Not quite the pedigree one would expect of one of the greatest golfers of his time. Perhaps it’s not so hard then to imagine a young baby being born in a manger some 2000 years ago overcoming threats on his life to teach, preach and redeem the world.

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    A couple of years ago, I wrote something about The Golfer’s Bible, which mixes in inspirational messages and devotions for golfers.

    Numbers of religiously-identified Jews falling

    The number of Americans who consider themselves to be religiously Jewish has fallen to about 3.4 million, down 750,000 since 1990.

    This is not good new for the American Jewish community.

    Two professors from Trinity College in Hartford, who oversaw last year’s much-discussed American Religious Identification Survey, will share their updated Jewish findings this week at a conference in Jerusalem. Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar will present their work at the 15th World Congress of Jewish Studies.

    What else will they say? That the percentage of American Jews who consider themselves to be “Cultural Jews” — who identify by ethnicity, but not religion — has grown from 20 percent to 37 percent since 1990.

    “I attribute the shift to a combination of disaffection from Judaism and intermarriage,” Kosmin says. “Since 1990, half of all marrying American Jews have married non-Jews, with the result that there are two new mixed households for every homogeneous Jewish one.”

    Of those who consider themselves to be religiously Jewish, about one-quarter are Orthodox. The rest are divided between Conservative and Reform. The Orthodox portion is bound to be growing…

    Counting Jews is always tricky because studies don’t always adhere to the traditional Jewish definition of who is Jewish: people who are born to a Jewish mother.

    According to Kosmin and Keysar, about 3.6 million American adults were born to a Jewish mother. But about a half-million of them belong to another religion.

    The driver was drunk

    A lot of people have asked soul-searching questions about last week’s nightmarish accident on the Taconic that took eight lives.

    I thought I ought to mention that we now know that the mother who was driving the car the wrong way on the Taconic was drunk and had smoked marijuana.

    Four children died. Three strangers from Yonkers. And the driver — Diane Schuler.

    So now the questions we ask will be different ones; questions not about fate, but about individual responsibility.

    European Union measure would ban discrimination based on religion or belief — or would it?

    The European Union is considering an “Equal Treatment Directive” that would prohibit discrimination “on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation outside the areas of employment and vocational training.”

    The United Kingdom is collecting opinions.

    What would the directive cover?

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    This directive would ensure equal treatment across the four strands (age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and disability) in the areas of social protection, including social security and health care; education; and access to and supply of goods and services which are commercially available to the public, including housing and transport. This applies to both public authorities and private sector bodies providing goods and services.

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    But Catholic bishops in several countries are concerned about “possible unintended consequences which would have the effect of limiting the right of the Church and its members to act in accordance with Catholic belief…”

    The Christian Institute in the UK warned that the directive could interfere with religious liberty and free speech, and could stop churches from restricting membership to those who share their beliefs.

    If passed, the directive would take precedence over domestic laws in all 27 EU countries.

    ‘Independent’ Stepinac H.S. announces first board of directors

    At the start of the year, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it was spinning off 10 Catholic high schools that the archdiocese has run.

    These included three in Westchester — Stepinac H.S. in White Plains, Maria Regina H.S. in Hartsdale and Kennedy Catholic in Somers.

    The idea was to let each high school form its own board of directors, which could oversee marketing, fundraising, budgeting and everything else that goes into a school’s success or failure.

    The schools have rushed to set up boards of directors and to get organized for a fresh start this fall. As I wrote a couple of months ago, there have been a lot of questions about the hiring of teachers, teacher tenure and seniority, and the future of the union that has long represented teachers at the 10 high schools.

    Now we know who will be answering such questions at Stepinac.

    The school has announced its first nine-member board, which will be led by the well-known Westchester lawyer William F. Plunkett Jr. Plunkett, a Tarrytown resident, graduated from Stepinac in 1958 and has been a big supporter of all things Catholic in New York.

    In a statement, Plunkett said: “Already there has been an outpouring of alumni support for the school that will provide a solid foundation upon which to build. Independence is a challenge that our board joined by our administration, faculty and staff are well prepared to meet.”

    Other officers on the board: Thomas B. Martin of Scarsdale, vice president; Jim Scully of White Plains, secretary; and Kevin J. Keane of White Plains, treasurer.

    Also on the board are Monsignor Anthony Marchitelli, the president of Stepinac, Father Thomas Collins, a former Dean of Students at Stepinac who joined the school’s Office of Development in 2007, Maggie Kolman-Mandle of Briarcliff Manor, George Kahayas of Yonkers, and Sister Lucille Coldrick of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion.

    She loves Jesus and rock & roll

    Carlene Bauer, a 20-something writer, has a new memoir called Not That Kind of Girl.

    You may wonder what a 20-something writer could write a memoir about. A reasonable question, I think.

    Apparently, she was raised an evangelical Christian in New Jersey and much of her story has to do with balancing her upbringing with the sights and sounds of living in NYC.

    A description says: “She finds it hard to let go of the ideals she’s been raised with, and to rebel as she knows she should. She loves rock and roll, but politely declines offers of sex and drugs; she thinks the Bible and the Norton Anthology of American Literature are equally authoritative guides to life.”

    Salon.com, for which Bauer often writes, has put up an excerpt from the book that describes Bauer’s decision to convert to Catholicism. Among other things, she writes about attending the Rite of Election at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Cardinal Egan.

    The whole excerpt is really nicely done.

    She writes, in part:

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    A few summers before, my sister and I had taken ourselves to Europe, and when in Florence, we visited the baptistry. We stood under the dome, under a bearded, dark-eyed Christ looking down on us from the ceiling, seated in judgment, surrounded by angels, saints, evangelists, and prophets. His face gave me a start. I recognized this face, although it had never been made visible to me by the churches I’d grown up in. This was the Jesus of the lover’s sigh. Of the mother’s sigh. The Jesus I had been praying to all my life, whose open hands offered infinite mercy. There he was suspended above us, arms outstretched, suffering everyone to come unto him, whether indifferent, curious, hostile, or humble. He had been sitting there for centuries, wanting really only a few things from us while people came and went below him. Come unto me, if you want to, everyone down there flipping through guidebooks, taking pictures, arguing about where to have lunch, tugging your children on to the next sight.

    That day I saw that I could not be anything other than a Christian.

    New Anglican group sets up Northeast District

    The new Anglican denomination for mostly former Episcopalians who bolted from their old church home has set up an Anglican District of the Northeast.

    It’s quite small. For now.

    The new denomination — the Convocation of Anglicans in North America — concluded its Annual Council meeting in Virginia over the weekend. CANA was set up in 2005 to provide a new Anglican home for those who had had it with the Episcopal Church’s progressiveness in general and its policies regarding homosexuality, in particular.

    CANA now includes 85 congregations and 179 clergy in 25 states. Fifteen congregations and 30 clergy signed up in the last year.

    The new Northeast District includes seven congregations: Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, Conn., Christ Anglican Church in East Haven, Conn., Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Bristol, Conn., St. George’s Anglican Church in Helmetta, N.J., St. Andrew’s Church in Vestal, N.Y., Holy Trinity Church in Syracuse, N.Y., and Anglican Community Church in Batavia, N.Y.

    None from the LoHud so far, but I’ve heard about a congregation or two that is thinking about joining.