A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

On the pleasant train ride from Florence to Venice, my wife Laurie and I began to piece together a relaxed itinerary for our final days in Italy: the Jewish Ghetto—definitely; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—pretty sure; the Doge’s Palace—we should (but haven’t we had enough history?); the Basilica di San Marco, the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari—haven’t we seen enough churches?

As it turns out, we did make it into a church (more than one) in Venice, but it was only at Santa Maria della Salute—a church on which we stumbled while rushing to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection so we could see it and have plenty of time for the famous Jewish Ghetto in Venice—where I felt the tenacious need to maintain my separate, external, egotistic will relax.

There was a prayer to be said and I said it in this church built to honor the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from a plague that in 1629 to 1630 killed 47,000 residents; a third of Venice’s population.

In the presence of the Madonna of Healing, my eyes fixed on the sculptures above the main altar, fixed on one sculpted figure in particular: a woman below and to the right of the Madonna, her body turned away from the Madonna, her arms outstretched beyond the “frame” of the sculpture, into the void, in anguish, afflicted, her neck twisted so she could look back and up at the towering Virgin holding an infant in one arm.

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A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 1

In Venice, in the Santa Maria della Salute church, in the presence of Madonna della Salute (Madonna of Health), I sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach, Jewish prayer for healing, quietly to myself.

Before entering the area of the church roped off for prayer only, I hesitated. Should a pretty good Jewish boy enter a spaced designated for Catholic worship?

My wife and I were near the end of our first trip to Italy. In the months leading up to the trip, I had been reading Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, a book I had owned for years but had never read or had read only a little of, probably in my late twenties, and had forgotten.

Grounded in his experiences as a Trappist monk and drawing on his deep interest in Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, Merton’s essays on faith, detachment, egoism, dualism, God, and related topics awakened in me an interest in and openness to Catholicism that I had never before experienced.

“We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God,” Merton writes, “but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.”

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A Baby and a Book Burning

broomI’ve always wanted to have class by the fireplace, she said.

Great, let’s do that. We can burn our books in the fire, I said. We can decorate the room with swastikas, I said.

It was the last day of classes.

It was a week past my stepdaughter’s due date.

The class was droopy. Then I suggested we burn books and adorn the hallowed walls of the Laurel Forum, home of the honors program, with banners bearing swastikas. Surprised, shocked—entertained—they perked up. Was that my Sarah Silverman moment?

You’re Jewish, she said. You can get away with saying that. [Read more...]

Goy Children and Fallen Torahs

Reflections on the Jewish High Holidays 5774.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I checked my “Good Letters” post of the day before, “Today’s Child Sacrifice,” to see how my numbers were looking.

(Yes, I check—obsessively. Thank you, kind readers, who share my posts with others, you whose approval I seek with every refresh. Practice opportunity: restraint.)

I found this: a new comment! I scrolled down.

From Concerned Citizen: “40 million children have been killed since Roe vs. Wade, but the author is silent about this type of child sacrifice. Why? Because all Jews are Obama-loving liberals, and they are glad the goy children are being killed.”

You probably didn’t get to see Concerned Citizen’s comment. I read it on my iPhone, in my driveway, early afternoon, just after returning from services where I delivered the d’var Torah, an expanded version of the very post on which this “concerned citizen” commented while I was at synagogue.

My first personal experience of anti-Semitism! But what if it isn’t, what if it isn’t anti-Semitic? My middle name: doubt. For a moment, I hesitated. Then I wrote to Greg Wolfe (“Good Letters” editor in chief). A few minutes later: vanished! Silenced! (Thank you, Greg.)

You probably don’t hear that silence, you who didn’t get to read the comment posted briefly, but I do.

Concerned Citizen, too, heard a silence, a silence in my essay that I didn’t hear. And, giving voice to the voiceless, Concerned Citizen roared, an ancient, malicious roar: Jews kill Christian children, Jews killed Christ.

They tumbled from the Ark.

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Confession: Yom Kippur 5774

I rise with the congregation.

I form a fist. They form a fist. We form a fist. The fist is personal. The fist is communal. We have sinned. The fist knocks on my chest. We have sinned. The fist knocks on their chests. We have sinned. The fist knocks on our chests. The fist knocks.

I chant, they chant, we chant:

We have sinned, betrayed, robbed, and deceived.

We have acted basely and caused evil;

We have acted maliciously, violently,

And have spread lies.

We have given bad advice, we have misled;

We have mocked, rebelled, and scorned;

We have acted stubbornly and perversely;

We have transgressed and acted hostilely;

We have been obstinate.

We have acted wickedly and corruptly;

We have committed abominations;

We have gone astray and have led others astray. [Read more...]


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