Jews and the Vatican: Thoughts about Spirituality and Love

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Inbal Freund-Novick is an organizational consultant and co-founder of The Unmasked Comics Project, a social change comics venture with comics artist Chari Pere. After spending a year as a visiting fellow at JPPPI (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute), she currently serves in the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress.

inbal freund-novickFreund-Novick is a participant in Discovering Common Values: The Catholic-Jewish Leadership Conference, hosted by the Vatican and held at the Pope’s summer palace of Castel Gandolfo. She’ll be blogging about it all week, only at MJL.

Today, we were going through the streets of Rome trying to learn together about Jews and Christians who lived and still live in this city (and yes, the Christians’ museum is bigger than ours…). Did you know that the tiny Jewish quarter of Rome was surrounded by about 15 churches from all sides serving as a very sophisticated way of trying to convert Jews? If Jews wanted to go out of that tiny crowded ghetto that was situated at the worst part of town back then -– the first thing people saw upon entering was a church with inscriptions in Hebrew calling them to repent and convert. An ongoing reminder to their status as the others in Rome — and the Christian plan to wait patiently or not (depending on who ruled) until they convert, which they hardly did.

During today we got some massive “corridor time” to just talk and try understanding together what we are doing here. At the end of the day a group of us went to eat some authentic (and kosher) pasta, pizza and, most importantly, fried artichoke -– the culinary symbol of Jews in this city. The origin of this fried dish contains the same reason for the creation of many Jewish foods — poverty, probably. Apparently, fried artichoke became popular when artichokes were lying loose in the fields, unwanted, and therefore free. Poor Jews fried them — a technique that can also make a shoe taste well (according to our tour guide, at least). Well, this was far from a fried shoe — and that nice restaurant and Italian scenery we sat in provided the best background to talk about love.

The concept of love as a key term in Christian theology and especially in relation to dialogue was explained in one of these informative frontal lectures we had yesterday on the topic of dialogue. The concepts are: Love is the golden key for dialogue because the relationship between the father (G-d) and his children are those of love. The awareness of having one father for everybody makes us have to love each other like brothers and sisters and this is the secret to interfaith dialogue.

We are obviously talking about love very differently. When Christians say “love,” they mean a Jesus kind of love — a way to relate to the other that they learn from the actions of Jesus. As G-d is love (St. John, the gospel) each definition of love comes from G-d. The way G-d interacts with humanity highlighted by Jesus Christ himself is the way they understand love -– it’s basically a methodology, not a description of a romantic feeling.

So we had all those thoughts and discussions at the restaurant and the end result was missing the last train to Castel Gandolfo by apparently 10 seconds. We actually saw it leave early, and with not being on it, we were mostly sharing the mutual feeling for both Jews and Christians of frustration -– a term we all agreed on. So again, we got some serious corridor time by climbing the dark alleyways towards the Pope’s summer residence and our hostel next to it in hope that the big ancient doors might still be opened despite the nightly curfew of this place.

I had a late late night conversation with Rori Picker Neiss, who has a tremendous head start in this whole interfaith dialogue thing. We came to a realization that Christians have a strength at understanding concepts through feelings, and Jews mostly understand by talking. We analyze everything as if everybody were uttering Talmudic texts each time we speak, and they just try and feel what is going on a in very different method. In fact, Christians were not as reactive as us in the discussions held formally — possibly because of language barriers (most of the Focolarinos come from non English speaking countries) but maybe also because their method is to experience a feeling of what was going on before putting their opinions out there.

I guess that’s our next challenge here — to understand how we talk about love and other things in such different ways to be able to create a meaningful encounter amongst us.

Read the previous entries about the Jews and the Vatican Conference.

Posted on June 24, 2009

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