Talking Catholic-Jewish relations, popes and holidays

Here’s hoping you had a good holiday.

Just before Holy Week and Passover, Archbishop Dolan and Arnold Eisen — chancellor of the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary — had a conversation about Catholic-Jewish relations at the seminary in NYC.

Actually, Dolan spoke. Then the two religious leaders chatted.

According to Catholic New York and the Jewish Week, Dolan said that Catholic-Jewish relations were characterized for a long time by “grievances” but could now focus on a “a dialogue of mutuality,” which I believe means issues of mutual concern.

One issue that Jews and Catholics face, Dolan said, is “stopping the leakage of faithful.”

Dolan acknowledged Jewish support for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, who may have done more for Christian-Jewish relations than anyone. “I’ve been moved by how many of you have expressed your desire to join with us Catholics in thanking God for the gift of John Paul’s leadership,” he said.

On the always emotional question of Pope Pius XII’s record of condemning the Holocaust, CNY reported that Dolan said this:


“As a trained historian, I very much look forward to the opening of the Vatican archives at the earliest possible date,” he said. “The Catholic Church cannot fear the truth.” But he added, “I do resist the circular argument being advanced by many that says the purpose for opening the Vatican archives is to prove the guilt of Pius XII. We must remember that it is impossible to judge moral responsibility when the facts themselves have not yet been clearly established.”


On the same question, Eisen said: “I’m going to leave it to the experts and activists on the Pope Pius XII matter. He [Archbishop Dolan] said he wants to start without preconceptions and with openness. I welcome the initiative.”

On the possibility that Pius could be beatified before the historical record is clear, Eisen said: “I think there will be a certain amount of disappointment if that turns out to be the case. I understand the Church is also moving ahead with the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and people will welcome that.”

CNY also reported this exchange:


During the informal dialogue between the archbishop and the chancellor, Eisen asked, rhetorically, what lesson should be drawn from Easter and Passover, and Archbishop Dolan answered, “The towering necessity of hope” symbolized by Israel’s escape from bondage in Egypt and Christ’s resurrection from the dead and promise of eternal life.

Bloody good revenge showing at Jewish seminary

I’ve never been a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies.

With few exceptions, they strike me as the work of 13-year-old boy who really likes action movies (especially bloody ones) and has some talent with a camera.

I mean, “Kill Bill?” What was that?

So I was surprised to see that the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, long the home of some of Judaism’s top scholars and deep-thinkers, will screen Tarantino’s latest, “Inglourious Basterds,” on Wednesday.

tjndc5-5sa2l1wndckca7y781h_layoutThe screening will be followed by a panel discussion: “Jewish Persecution and the Fantasy of Revenge.”

I haven’t seen IB. But as soon as I read about it, I figured that the movie was easy to imagine. In it, the Jews not only fight back against the Nazis, but break heads and match the bad guys in overall nastiness.

We all know Tarantino is really good at violence, and I know some movie buffs who think he’s a genius. The movie’s been called a “Jewish revenge fantasy.”

The panel will include Lawrence Bender, the producer of “Inglourious Basterds.” Also on board: Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS; Dr. Amy Kalmanofsky of JTS; and Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia.

If it goes over well, maybe the seminary will screen “Grindhouse” next?

Check the JTS website for ticket info. Space is limited.

(AP Photo/The Weinstein Co., Francois Duhamel)

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

Over the next week or so, 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?


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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Teaching the art of pastoral care

Many people need clergy most during times of suffering.

That’s why the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC has opened the Center for Pastoral Education — to “teach the art of pastoral care.”

The center will train clergy and seminarians affiliated with several Jewish and Christian institutions, including Auburn Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and UJA-Federation of New York.

A four-year, $500,000 grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation was key to starting the center, which opened its doors July 1. The center is a satellite of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Clinical Pastoral Education Program.

Rabbi Mychal B. Springer, the center’s director (that’s her), explains: “The center will bring clergy and clergy-in-formation into regular contact with people who are asking tough questions about their lives’ meaning. Students will receive in-depth supervision to help them to care for people, drawing on Judaism and other faith traditions as powerful resources for cultivating hope in moments of crisis.”

Springer has served as director of Pastoral Care and Education at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and associate director of the Jewish Institute for Pastoral Care at the HealthCare Chaplaincy in Manhattan.

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen says: “Rabbis and laypeople around the country have identified expert pastoral care as an essential need in their communities. This is true in non-Jewish communities as well. The center will have a transformative effect on the Jewish community and well beyond.”

I’ll aim to write more about the center down the line, after I can pay a visit…

Leadership of Conservative Judaism continues to change

Much has been written in recent years (including by me) about the challenges facing Conservative Judaism — the “moderate” Jewish movement that seeks to reconcile tradition with the modern world.

It’s no easy task in an increasingly partisan culture, where most religious groups are identified as being with the right or left.

The incoming leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, an organization that represents Conservative synagogues, has a lot of work to do.

“I wanted this job because I think we are at a critical moment in the life of the movement and because the synagogue is the locus of Jewish life in the United States,” Rabbi Steven Wernick told the Jewish Week.

He’ll soon by taking over for Rabbi Jerome Epstein of New Rochelle, who has led the USCJ for 23 years.

This is a real period of change for the leadership of Conservative Judaism.

In 2007, Arnold Eisen took over as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the intellectual center of the Conservative movement. He replaced the long-serving Rabbi Ismar Schorsch.

And in a few months, Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains is retiring after two decades as executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis. He’ll be replaced by another White Plains-based rabbi, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.

I hope to write something about Schonfeld before she takes over this summer.