IT MAKES SENSE TO ME
By Larry Peterson
When I was growing up in the Bronx we lived on the third floor in a five story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four room apartment. In the apartment below lived Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Quite often, in the middle of the night, blood-curdling screams filled the back alley and our apartment and the hallways outside. The screams were coming from the Rabinowitz’s. It was Sophie. She was having recurring nightmares. But Leo was the landlord and no one dared complain about the eery howls that constantly reached the ears of so many. There was one man, however, who could not leave this alone. That man was my father.
I remember that Friday night long ago very well. The screaming started about midnight. It was September and the windows were still open because it was hot and the screaming seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”
We got up and followed him and, without hesitating, Dad walked up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened. Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who had buried his head in Dad’s chest crying unashamedly. My brother and I crouched down, and peeking from the landing above, were stunned. Then Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo Rabinowitz and did not leave for several hours.
Sophie Rabinowitz was having nightmares all right, recurring nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis as they made her and Leo watch. Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their very own children as godless people clubbed them to death simply because they were Jewish. The Nazis tortured the parents further by allowing them to live. Such evil can only come into people and be accepted by them if coming from the very bowels of “Hell” itself.
My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12—aka The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
I remember that Friday night long ago. I remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbor and how they became friends. My father became their ‘comforter’ who initiated the mourning process for Leo and Sophie. They had never mourned their boys. They had “stuffed the nightmare” and tried to go on living. This was the first time they had ever confronted what had happened. Reliving the sadness and horror also released a sense of beauty that shone through it for it united them in a renewed marital bond that had been missing for close to twenty years. They now became each other’s strength.
We Catholics read and hear during the Mass what is called the Roman Canon (aka First Eucharistic Prayer). The following words are said by the priest prior to the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, —–and all your saints.”
I ask you, were not all of those mentioned, Jewish? Yes..they were, ABSOLUTELY. There is no denying this fact. They are all canonized saints and their Judaism was always part of who they were and it all extrapolated into who we Catholic/Christians are today. We Jews and Christians are joined forever by Spiritual DNA.
Finally, let me mention our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The Pope is very good friends with one of the primary Jewish leaders in Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka. In October of 2012, he presented to Rabbi Skorka an honorary doctorate degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina. It was the first time such an honor had been bestowed on any Jewish man in all of Latin America. Upon presenting the award to Rabbi Skorka, the Pope (then Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio) said, “You cannot imagine how long I have waited for this moment.” We all should learn from this for it was a genuinely profound moment in history.
It is now 2015 and Judaism and Christianity are under attack all over the world including in the United States of America. It is in our face. We have had the the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so chose for as long as any of us can remember. There have always been those who hated someone for being Jewish or Catholic or a Jehovah Witness or a Quaker for that matter. No matter, we had the law on our side and it was called the First Amendment to the Constitution. All of us, Jews and Christians alike, need to pray and work together that it remains just that.
©2015 Larry Peterson All Rights Resereved