2007-03-16 / Columnists

Addressing The Issues

By Geraldine M. Chapey Democratic District Leader
A Blessing to One Another: The Catholic and Jewish People

When I was growing up there was a flyer in St. Francis de Sales church stating that "I am a Catholic because I am a Jew." It clearly stated that both Catholics and Jews follow the faith of Abraham. According to the late Pope John Paul II, "Christians and Jews are caled upon to be a blessing to the world. This is a common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us as Christians and Jews to be first a blessing to one another."

The Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council, chaired by Dr. Geraldine Chapey and Renee Freeman, sponsored a trip to the Museum of Jewish Heritage to view the exhibit entitled: "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People." Rabbi Marjorie Slome from the West End Temple had recommended this trip to the museum as one that would be of interest to the Rockaway Catholic Jewish Council members. A special thank you to Rabbi Slome for suggesting this outstanding event. Over 50 people from our area joined in the trip to the museum and this informative exhibit.

The exhibit contains photos, video tapes, papers, documents and personal items outlining the Pope's (born Karol Wojtyla) special contributions to promoting a strong interfaith relationship between Catholics and Jews. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to enter a synagogue, and to recognize and officially visit the State of Israel. The exhibit has an interactive perspective that allows visitors to walk in the footsteps of Pope John Paul from his childhood through his elevation to Pope.

One of the major points in the exhibit was that in John Paul's world, growing up "there was little distinction between Jewish and Catholic friends, other than their forms of worship. The Wojtyla's, like most of the town's Catholics, patronized Jewish businesses and along with their Jewish neighbors attended the same state schools, enjoyed the same sports and even shared social events. Ginka Bier, who shared the spotlight with Karol (the Pope) in the drama club, was the daughter of the local banker. The Pope's father was an officer in the Polish army as was Dr. Kluger, whose son, Jerzy, was a lifelong friend of the Pope's. Dr. Kluger was the President of the Jewish community who ran a prominent law firm and was the first Jewish member of the town council and the vice mayor. Dr. Goldberger was a dentist whose son Poldek was a classmate of the Pope's. The Balamuths, the Wojtyla's landlord, ran a glass and crystal shop and a bicycle business. Lieutenant Wojtyla bought the Pope's tricycle there. All of these individuals played a significant part in the future Pope's early life and were Jewish.

The above clearly shows that in the Pope's formative years Catholics and Jews lived side by side, worked, socialized and went to school together. These interactions and friendships played a significant role in the Pope's upbringing and throughout his life. The museum exhibit was divided into four parts reflecting the four periods of the Pope's life: Wadowice, Poland- the Pope's childhood; Occupied Poland from 1939- 1945 which included "somber reminders" of the Holocaust; 1946 - 1977, the Pope's ministry; and 1978- 2005, Pope John Paul's papacy.

Everyone on the trip was moved by the exhibit. On the way in we met a group of youngsters who attend a Catholic school on Staten Island. They were also touched by seeing this exhibit. This presentation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust promotes interreligious understanding and cooperation.

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC) also sponsored an interfaith event. As a member of its Board of Directors of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, I was pleased to attend the Emerald Isle Immigration Center's 14th annual Robert Briscoe Awards on January 29, 2007 at the 21 Club in Manhattan honoring two outstanding Jewish individuals: Gabe Pressman, a senior correspondent for WNBC and Mark Brossman, a partner in Schulte, Roth and Zabel LLP, New York, NY. This is another example of strong interfaith relationships.

Robert Briscoe, after whom the awards are named, was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland's capitol. He was the son of Lithuanian parents who had immigrated to Ireland and was raised in a strict Orthodox tradition. Briscoe gave a life of service and devotion to his country, Ireland. He had a leadership role in Irish political life as a founding member of the Fianna Fail party, and was first elected to the Irish parliament in 1927. Although his election to the position of first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin Ireland made news around the world, the Irish people were not surprised because of his outstanding record of service to his country. Each year Robert Briscoe's son comes from Ireland to attend the Briscoe Awards.

Gabe Pressman, this year's honoree, is "recognized in the New York journalism community as the 'reporter's reporter.'" Pressman has been a fixture at NBC for over 40 years. His probing investigative reporting on politics and social issues is highly regarded by all New Yorkers. I know firsthand that Gabe Pressman is a good friend to working men and women in New York and to labor unions.

Mark Brossman, another honoree, has distinguished himself as a partner in the New York Office of Schulte, Roth and Zabel LLP and as its co-chair of the Employment and Employee Benefits Department. Brossman is an outstanding attorney who was also honored as an advocate for the aging by the Council of Senior Centers, received a special recognition award from the Home Care Council of New York City and has received awards for his pro bono services from the Lawyers Alliance for New York.

The Emerald Isle Immigration Center serves the needs of all immigrants in New York City. Brian O'Dwyer, the chair of its Board, is an outstanding advocate for all New Yorkers. He and his family, including his late father Paul O'Dwyer, have given generations of public service to New York. O'Dwyer is a vibrant, resourceful, inspirational and dynamic attorney who strongly supports workingmen and women in our city.

Material and information for this article was obtained from the pamphlet distributed at the Jewish Museum, facts gleaned from the exhibit itself and internet material. Material on the EIIC Robert Briscoe Awards was obtained from material distributed at the EIIC function.

Please join Trinity Services at its 5th annual luncheon at Russo's on the Bay in Howard Beach on Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12 noon. Tickets are $70 each. Senior citizens get discounted tickets at $50. Tables of 14 are available. Please call 718-474-1641 to obtain tickets. We hope that you will be able to join us for this festive occasion.

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