In 1940, my father was offered a job and an apartment at a Jewish synagogue as janitor and caretaker, a Shabbat goy, a gentile who performs those things on the Sabbath that Jews may not. As devout Catholics, my parents were concerned about living in a Jewish center. My father visited a priest who said that Catholics have no business working or living in a Jewish synagogue.
Not one to take no for an answer, my father visited another priest.
“It would be honorable to work and live in the house of God,” said the second priest
My parents moved from Juarez, Mexico across the border to Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, Texas where my parents raised six children. I was the youngest.
Rabbi Roth urged my father to provide us with a religious education. On a janitor’s salary, my parents sacrificed and sent us not only to a parochial grade school but also to all-girls and all-boys Catholic high schools.
Religious education didn’t start or end there. We were immersed in two faiths, learning out of obligation to our faith and our parents. Catholicism and Judaism overlapped — Lent, Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukah and Christmas, as well as holy days of obligation, high holy days, baptisms, mikvahs, confirmations, bar mitzvahs, prayer books, prayer shawls, candles, and vestments. Like my siblings, I celebrated Catholic traditions and worked alongside my parents helping with arrangements and cleaning for Jewish services. There was no confusion or conflict. We respected Judaism and the Jewish community respected us.
In high school, after a student joked about God being a woman, Brother Amedy said, “God isn’t a woman. God isn’t a man, either. Men and women are imperfect and God is perfect. Therefore, God can’t be a man or a woman.”
My perspective of God changed forever with that simple, powerful logic. An omniscient, omnipotent and perfect God was beyond anger, jealousy or vengeance.
Later, Brother Amedy asked me to arrange a tour of the synagogue and for the rabbi to speak to our senior class. Rabbi Stanley Herman graciously agreed when I asked him to speak, as I put it, “about the Jewish religion.” Rabbi Herman welcomed the Catholic young men wearing yarmulkes.
“Judaism” the rabbi began, “is not a religion. Judaism is a way of life.”
Once again, simple and powerful words challenged me to think beyond rituals and rules and think about how I lived my life.
I believe in the tolerance of the priest who said it would be honorable to live and work in a Jewish synagogue, in the rabbi who encouraged my parents to provide us with a Catholic education, in the Christian Brother who taught me about God, in the rabbi who taught me that belief was about a way of life. I believe in Catholicism and Judaism.
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