In Your Midst

Yom HaShoah: Remembering the Holocaust

April 2009

 

          Monday morning in a Catholic elementary school is usually a slow time of starting up again in the office of the school principal.  At least it was for me on that bright morning in 1968 when I welcomed Rabbi Hebert Morris at the front door of St. Thomas More School in San Francisco.  Jewish rabbis are not frequenters of Catholic elementary schools in my experience!

         Rabbi Morris was warm, friendly, and had a clear goal as he spoke with me.  The nearby Hebrew School would be doing some remodeling.  Would it be possible to use our classrooms for the Hebrew School on Sunday mornings over the next few months? In those days, when there were few relationships among Catholics and Jews at the local level, the principal did not charge head-on into such decisions.  I approached Monsignor Carroll regarding the request.  He spoke very directly and decisively, “Yes, that is possible.”

         What followed over the next few months was hardly noticeable to many in the parish, the Temple and the neighborhood.  But, remarkably, a relationship began to develop between St. Thomas More School and Temple Judea.  Rabbi Morris offered to give presentations to our eighth graders on Hebrew Scriptures.   And there was no exchange of rent requirements or even damage fees!

         After several months an invitation arrived in the mail requesting my presence at Temple Judea for their Friday evening observance.  I was a woman religious in a long, black habit with not many facial features showing—I was unaccustomed to visiting any other Christian churches, let alone a Jewish temple!

         That evening was one I will never forget.  When I arrived at the Temple, I was led to a seat in the front row.  During the service I was beckoned forward to receive a beautiful, hand-made mosaic of the Star of David and the Christian cross.  I received the mosaic and then spoke from the podium.  I had never spoken from the ambo in a Catholic Church, so this was a startling moment in my reality!  Somehow, I said something, then turned and joined arms with Rabbi Morris. We walked down the aisle together and approached a table with a large loaf of bread at the end of the hall. We broke bread together and the congregation joined us.

         The memory of that evening is forever within me.  Many years later, as I journeyed to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, I realized that a connection with the Jewish community still blazed within me.  Stumbling along the path of the Children’s Museum in the dark, my eyes searched the ceiling where small, white lights dazzled while a recording called forth the names of children who had died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It was wrenching and bone-chilling.  Two years later, I would visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and stare at literally thousands of pairs of shoes—stark reminders of those who had died in the gas chambers.

         Over these last years as I have served as the Archbishop’s Delegate for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, I have participated in commemorations of the Shoah at both St. Mark’s Cathedral and St. James and at the Jewish Temple on Mercer Island—standing in the cold rains of April and hearing the piercing lament of shrill pleading in the Hebrew prayer—and recognizing that the Shoah must never become a mere memory, for “those that do not remember are doomed to repeat the same horrible actions.”

         In our own time we have been confronted by the genocide in Rwanda, the Bosnian annihilations, the Cambodian death camps, the mass murders of Darfur, all innocent human beings created and loved by God.  We are also confronted with the reality of people who callously deny the Holocaust or minimize its depth and breadth of horror.  But we are called to remembrance, to hold high the horrifying realization of these events, so that they may never be repeated.

         And so we come together, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, members of the human race together.  On April 16, at 7:00pm, we will gather at St. James Cathedral to read the stories, sing the songs, and once again breathe in the Spirit of the Living God.  We will share and exchange the deepest moment in our common humanity—the Divine Spark that lives within each of us.  Together, we will affirm our reverence and our compassion for the precious memory that can be forgiven but never forgotten. 

 

Sister Joyce Cox, BVM is Archbishop Brunett’s Delegate for Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue.  She is also the Spiritual Formation Director of the Palisades Retreat Center in Federal Way and a Cathedral parishioner.
 


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