LEND US THE WIT, O God,
to speak the lean and simple word;
give us the strength to speak
the found word, the meant word;
grant us the humility to speak
the friendly word, the answering word.
And make us sensitive, God,
sensitive to the sound of the words
which others speak
sensitive to the sound of their words
and to the silences between.
-Sheldon H. Blank, Mishkan Tefillah p.166
Today was a wondrous day of words, both spoken and sung. Our day began at the Pontifical North American College. The non-cantors in our group had discussions with the seminarians while the cantors went into the auditorium for our first rehearsal. It will be a stunning achievement to pull together so much beautiful choral music with only two days of rehearsal time, but this was a room full of amazing talent. The sounds of the voices of 20 cantors, no matter how jet-lagged, was really exquisite. It was strange to sing all of this Hebrew music in a room colored very blue in honor of the Virgin, and with rather prominent crosses and statuary. In generations past, we would almost certainly not have been welcome, we would have been targets for attack! Today we were welcomed in to sing and rehearse, to converse and to dine.
After our rehearsal, we joined the seminarians for lunch. They said grace. I understand that we said motzi, but I missed it and so said it quietly to myself. Again, a strange experience to engage in prayer under the cross. This lunch was, by far, the highlight of my day. The food was okay, the company was spectacular. I sat at the table with Cantor Roz Barak, who has an amazingly beautiful soprano voice, a non-Cantor whose name I cannot remember right now (sorry!), and with a priest and two students: Matthew, Luke, and… Richard. (It would have been so funny if his name had been John!). Because it was quite noisy in the room, Roz, Richard and I had our own conversation. We discussed what lead each of us into this field, what the processes of study were to become ordained as priest and invested as cantor, how the various Jewish movements differed and what was the content of our worship, and the role of language in prayer. Roz and I were particularly interested to hear how seminary students felt about the loss of the Latin mass (which is actually still done sometimes, if not in full than at least in part). We talked about how Latin and Hebrew can serve as both barriers to prayer and as tools that can connect people. A Jew can go anywhere in the world and recognize the Hebrew in a service. The same is true of a Catholic when it comes to the Latin mass. We did not delve into any controversial issues. Is was just lunch, after all. It was a time to meet, to talk, to connect on our commonalities, rather than our differences. It was fantastic!
After lunch, we went to meet the chief Rabbi. Regarding yesterday’s post: either I misunderstood, or nobody else was listening. When I brought up the topic of tallit for meeting the Rabbi at breakfast, everyone was as perplexed as I had been about why we would wear a tallit for that occasion. Nobody brought one, nobody wore one, and it simply didn’t come up. The Rabbi was quite cordial. The synagogue was incredible! We had a tour of the Jewish ghetto and then returned to the North American College for another rehearsal.
Two things really struck me today. The first was how amazing it is that we live in a time of such open and kind dialogue. We went from lunch with the priests to the tiny ghetto where Jews lived in too-close quarters, with constant threat and pressure to convert. We rededicated a holocaust memorial IN the seminary. The seminarians were as eager to learn about us as we were to learn about them, not because they wanted to convert us, but because they saw themselves in us.
The other has to do with kashrut. One of the effects of the laws of kashrut is that it keeps communities separate. It sounds like a strange thing to say, but being prevented from breaking bread with others helped keep Jews from assimilating. Reform Jews keep many different levels of kashrut. Reform Judaism is all about making informed choices about our traditions, and doing those things that are inspiring and meaningful to us as individuals. Obviously, we could not expect to be served a kosher meal when eating at a Catholic seminary. They didn’t serve us pork, but they did serve pasta with cheese followed by meat. I just didn’t eat the meat. The priest was fast to offer to see if he could get me fish, but I was perfectly content with pasta. It’s Italy! I could eat pasta for every meal!! Because my level of kashrut didn’t prohibit me from eating the pasta from the non-kosher kitchen, I had the chance to get to know this wonderful priest. I was also able to do that without compromising my own religious convictions.
Tomorrow is concert day, so I will sign off for tonight. Thank you for all of yesterday’s wonderful and thoughtful comments! I’d be especially interested to hear your views on Hebrew and Latin prayers. Do you find that they unite people from different communities or alienate those who do not feel that they can access the language. Have transliterations of Hebrew in the new Reform prayerbook changed your opinion at all? How have you felt attending synagogue or church (if you are Catholic) in other cities and countries?