Last night Jews and Catholics, some two hundred of us, sung together around a bonfire ‘Hinei mah tov umah na’im – How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together’. Last night we prayed Ma’ariv, the traditional Jewish evening service, together; this morning we joined Christian singing of the Psalms and Shema Yisrael, with an excellent sermon by Cardinal Bassetti of Perugia stressing how love, love of nature, of animals, of people, of one another, is the essence of God’s word for us all.
All this has taken place in the Domus Galilaeae, home in Israel of followers of the Neocathecumenal Way. To previous generations, such an encounter, marked by generosity and respect, would have been unthinkable.
I have by no means found myself in agreement with everything I have heard during these three days of meetings. I am far more of an egalitarian, less critical of the secular world and have greater sympathy with those who struggle to find faith or understand if there is indeed a God in whom we can believe. I miss wider, more progressive spiritual voices. I have felt uncomfortable with certain judgements and assumptions I have heard, or think I have heard. There could also be further opportunities for closer reflection and study which a future gathering might explore.
But I am moved by the very generous welcome extended to us by the Catholic community here. I am conscious of the profound change this represents for so many, from a history containing shameful and painful periods of contempt and persecution, to the sincere affirmation of Christian indebtedness to Judaism and the commitment to a close future partnership between our faiths and communities. I appreciate deeply the courage, openness and invitation which an encounter such as this represents.
The statement of representatives of the orthodox rabbinate is a deeply important response, including as it does official representation of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel: that Jews and Christians must see in each other honoured partners in the sacred work of striving to fulfil God’s will for our torn and broken world. This is a significant legacy of Nostra Aetate, on which representatives from across the Jewish world worked closely with Pope Jean-Paul II and their Catholic colleagues together.
What touches me most, though, is the spirit of humility and service I have found in some of the Christian participants I have got to know, people who will return to the slums and impoverished estates of the big cities across the world to work with the poor, the homeless and those who find no place in a world of so-called progress by which they have been largely forgotten.
I shall take away from here a deeper awareness of the importance of hearing God’s Torah and teaching from all other human beings, of all faiths and none, and from the natural world also, because ‘leit attar panui minei’, – ‘There is nowhere where God is not’ – so long as our hearts are open to allow God in.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
Senior Rabbi to Masorti Judaism