DON’T YOU THINK?

Forgive me if I come off as being less than enthusiastic. The recent visit of the Pope to the synagogue in Rome leaves me cold. Please don’t misunderstand; it makes no difference to me whether his Holiness pays a visit to a synagogue in Rome, Jerusalem or Munich. But if the Pope truly wishes to reach out to his “elder brothers” (his terminology, not mine), it seems to me he might want to reevaluate the Vatican’s travel agent as well as the Vatican’s events planner.
Don’t you think that a visit to a mosque on the part of the Holy See would accomplish far more than a visit to any synagogue anywhere on the face of this earth? His Holiness might address his Moslem audience by saying: Although we are of different faiths, we share a common root. Both our religions are an outgrowth of Judaism. Over the centuries, our leadership as well as our laity did a terrible injustice to the doctrines of the Church as well as the teachings of our Lord in the way we mistreated our elder brothers. We beg of you, our holy brethren, followers of Mohammed! Please do not commit the same sinful acts that we have committed in the guise of religion! Recognize as we have, that the Jewish people are a good and noble people. They wish you no harm. Much can be gained by accepting their offer of living in peaceful coexistence.
Don’t you think that a visit to a monastery or a convent in Poland on the part of the Supreme Pastor would be a class act? Rather than resorting to yet another mea culpa, His Holiness could take an entirely different and fresh tack. With more than a modicum of pride, Pope Francis could give a big Yasher Koach to the monastery or convent that sheltered Jewish children at great risk to the Catholic Church as well as other Christian children at that monastery or convent during the Nazi onslaught. In doing so, the Pope could strengthen Christian-Jewish ties in ways most have yet to realize. Every now and then, Jews need to be reminded to put away their hurt and anger against the Church for its complacency during the Holocaust. True, the Church could have done more, but let’s be grateful for the random acts of kindness on the part of Christians, who placed their own lives in peril to save Jews. Let us never accuse the Church for standing idly by and doing nothing.
Don’t you think that a visit to the former location of Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie, better known as IG Farben would “hit it out of the ball park” for His Holiness? With an eye on Iran, the Pontiff could share with the world that the infamous IG Farben, producers of the poisonous, yet highly effective Zyklon B used in the gas chambers of Extermination Camps, morphed into highly respected pharmaceutical companies. The head of the Catholic Church could have pointed out that the very same chemical company that produced products that destroyed lives, ended up spawning chemical companies that produced products that save lives. Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I would like to believe that the leaders of Iran will understand that while the Pope is talking about IG Farben, he really has the Iranian nuclear centrifuges on mind. Put differently, by standing at the site of IG Farben, the Pope would implicitly tell Iran that you can use your nuclear capabilities for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes – the choice is yours. While it’s highly doubtful that Iran well take the Pope’s to mind, at least the democratic world will know that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is one pope who doesn’t bury his head in the sand when it comes to enemies of peace and victims of extremism.
Whether or not more papal visits to synagogues are in the offing, is anyone’s guess. Don’t you think however that if the Pope were to go and speak at a mosque and a convent or a monastery as well as IG Farben, the next time he does visit a synagogue, he will be welcomed as a true hero as well as true mentsch?

PAPAL MENTSCH

A week before Rosh Hashanah, Pope Francis made headlines that most leading newspapers were either unaware of, or simply chose to ignore. Pope Francis made headlines that had nothing to do with his upcoming trip to the United States. Pope Francis made Jewish headlines.
Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin, President of Israel, was in Rome on official business. He was paying a visit to the Pope. Rubi (meaning no disrespect, the Prime Minister of Israel is referred to as Bibi) was accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Rivkah Ravitz. Dr. Ravitz is a 39 year old mother of 10, who would blend in perfectly in any Orthodox neighborhood around the world. She dresses modestly, wears a sheitel (a wig designed to cover her own hair) and avoids physical contact with men.
Protocol dictates that upon meeting the Pope, one genuflect (bends at the knees). The Pope will then extend his hand. If the individual is a Catholic, he will then kiss the Pope’s ring. A non-Catholic can opt to shake the Pope’s hand. One is to address the Pope as Holy Father or Your Holiness.
Halacha or Jewish law dictates otherwise. In the eyes of an observant Jew, halacha trumps protocol. Always! When it was Rivkah’s turn to meet the Pope, she explained that she could not offer her hand. Rivkah also explained that because of the Cross, she could not bow down either.
Had this been a different time as well as a different Pope, there would have been a moment of awkward silence. Under the best of circumstances! But this was in the here and now. This was not a different Pope. This was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whose middle name is humility. This was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who is neither threatened nor offended by those of a different faith. This is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who embodies the epitome of respect for all people from all different religious backgrounds. And because of this, the Holy See did not miss a beat. Quite casually, the Pope covered the Cross with his hand, so that it would not offend a halachically observant Jewish woman. And then, the Pope proceeded to bow to Rivkah!
Please understand. From a social, political and even theological standpoint, the Pope and I share little, if anything in common. One would have good reason to maintain that the Pope and I are from different planets, when it comes to the way we view this world. Quite frankly, I find many of his views to be out of bounds for a religious leader and downright dangerous for this country and maybe even the world. And even as a Jew, I find it difficult to believe that the Pope is a constant source of naches to the Catholic Church when he says or does things that past nisht or don’t square with tradition. One thing I will say however. Based on what took place on September 7th however, Pope Francis is a real mentsch!