February 4, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Gaining a good understanding of Judaism

In a Loyola Press catalog, a book jumped off the page at me: What I Wish My Christian Friends Knew about Judaism by Dr. Robert Schoen, a triple-degreed California writer, composer and semi-retired optometrist. My husband and I wish we’d had it decades earlier because our oldest friendship in Indianapolis is with a Jewish couple. We’ve also had other dear Jewish friends and colleagues through the years without clearly understanding their faith.

However, we did not realize how uninformed we were until our eldest daughter, Donna Marie, converted to Judaism in 1999. She and her husband, Roby (Dr. Robert Simons, a professor), and their pre-school son, Sam, now practice a Jewish Orthodox way of life.

Because this is difficult for us, Schoen’s easy-to-understand book has been a godsend. It will also be a tremendous help for other families like ours whose sons or daughters now follow the faith that Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, practiced.

Msgr. Tom Hartman (of TV’s “The God Squad”) says Schoen’s book is “a must-read for anyone who wants to understand a Jewish friend.” Dr. Eugene Fisher, executive secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,” writes, “With wit and wisdom, Schoen takes the beginner through the basics. … Highly recommended.” (For more information, go to ­ www.loyolabooks.org).

Another good source in understanding Judaism’s role in Christianity is the Church and Israel Forum ­( www.churchisraelforum.com), where readers can find enlightening essays by Jim Gerrish, who has a Master of Divinity degree from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky.. He is the author of Does God Play Favorites: Exploring God’s Plan for Israel. (One chapter is titled “How Did a Nice Jewish Church Become Gentile?”) The author and his wife worked for 14 years in Israel with “Bridges for Peace” in Jerusalem and The Galilee Study Center near Tiberias, which they founded. They now live in Colorado.

Both Schoen and Gerrish are among the many whose work brings better understanding between Christians and Jews. Another widely recognized example is The Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies ( CCJS ) at St. Leo University in Florida, where Jesuit Father Michael Cooper and Rabbi A. James Rudin are the senior religious advisers. At a later date, I will write more about CCJS and this topic. Meanwhile, readers can get information at www.centerforcatholicjewishstudies.org.

The best representative for good relations between Roman Catholics and Jews is Pope John Paul II. Last month, about 160 Jewish leaders, rabbis and cantors thanked the pope personally for his exemplary efforts. It was the largest papal audience with Jews ever. In 1986, Pope John Paul II was the first pope to visit a synagogue (Rome’s main synagogue), and, in 2000, he visited Israel, establishing diplomatic relations there.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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