Friday, July 8, 2011

A Rabbah and A Priest

Today's blog entry is a colloboration of sorts - parts are taken from the July 3rd entry of Living in Jerusalem: 40 Days and 40 Nights written by my friend, colleague and former teacher Wil Gafney  The Reverend Dr. Gafney is an Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Wil's parts of the blog will be written in one font and colour, mine in another font and colour.

From Wil's blog: 
Today I had the privilege of walking the Old City with my former student, Rabbah Arlene Goldstein Berger. She took the very first Hevruta class offered between RRC (the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) and LTSP (The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) in which individual Jewish and Christian seminarians were partnered to study bible and other sacred texts together. It was a wonderful class, happily repeated two more times, each time co-taught with Rabbi Melissa Heller. Those courses were the vision of Rabbi Doctor Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer who invited Arlene and I to write an inter-faith reflection on our time together for her blog, MultiFaithWorld.

Arlene and I had a series of wonderful, rich conversations and a number of "interfaith moments." The two that stood out to us were our time in the Arab Quarter buying her a Palestinian thobe (traditional dress) that she could lead services in and our time in the (Lutheran) Church of the Redemption.

A priest, a rabbi and a couple of Arab salesmen... 

Our eyes caught the same thobe on the same mannikin at the same time. We went into the store and had a grand time oohing and aahing over the beautifully embroidered thobes. She tried on the one we both liked but it was too big. They had a smaller size and yoffi! (It was beautiful!) She spoke a little Arabic with the merchants and we all had a lovely time talking tennis shoes - New Balance - and music - James Brown and Frank Sinatra.

    (My – Arlene’s Comments – We had so much fun in this shop. Imagine two women in an American suburb go shopping at the mall, find a shop where all the salespeople are men, proceed to try on clothing while the men try to guess their ages (totally incorrectly of course),  try to sell them more than they want to purchase (but not too strenuously), and then a conversation ensues that reminds one a bit of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.    
    Except… the two women are shopping in the Arab quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, speaking to each other in English and a bit of Hebrew, and throwing in a bit of pigeon Arabic when entering the shops. With the male shopkeepers (of course the shopkeepers are men  - who else would be selling women’s clothing in the shuk?) we begin to play a game of comparing words in all languages.
    I’ve forgotten the majority of the little Arabic that I once knew – but I retain enough to smooze.  I especially like talking with Arab shopkeepers about how my children both have been learning Arabic for years (okay, my daughter for many years, my son for just 2) at their Jewish schools. This opens a conversation about children and family and values and peace.  Somehow I manage to have these conversations without dredging up too much anger or too many judgments -  just longing and wonder for and about peace – for us, for our children, and our children’s children.
    And when they learned that we weren’t just ordinary women but a Priest and a Rabbah (to be), things got even more interesting.  Where Nike and James Brown come in… I recommend that everyone take their own shopping trips, for the products to be sure but mainly for the conversation.  Words are the first step toward understanding.)

A Rabbah and a Priest Pray...separately, together.

Arlene and I went into the Church of the Redemption. It is a beautiful, quiet, open, light, inviting place. I said the Hail Mary and the Sinner's Prayer for Mercy and she said Ashrei (a prayer based largely on Ps 145). We sat and talked and shared. And when the other pilgrims and pray-ers had left we took some pictures.

    (My – Arlene’s Comments – When I was little I knew with the certainty that only young children have, that if I prayed in a church – if I even walked into a church - I would be struck down and sent to the hell that I was taught that we didn’t actually believe in. And I believed it! For a while anyway. Then I eventually went into churches but I wouldn’t pray, because, well just, because.
    Now, decades later, I will pray whenever and wherever the mood strikes me, in whatever format feels appropriate to me at that moment. For, as I wrote in a post back in February, it is up to each of us to make a Mikdash M’at, a small sanctuary, of ourselves. It is up to us to turn our bodies which are gifts from G-d into containers for the eternal flame of our faith/inspiration and our soaring neshamot/souls.  So on this afternoon, I sat in the back of an amazingly beautiful and peaceful holy space with a good friend who is a teacher of another faith and said the appropriate prayer for my faith’s time of day –– Ashrei Psalm 145, the first prayer of Mincha, the afternoon service.  Devekut can happen anywhere.
    A few lines really jumped out at me:

‎ט To all Your creatures, goodness flows, on all creation, divine love.צ You are just in all Your ways, loving in all Your deeds.
‎ק You are near to all who call upon You; to all who call upon You in truth.
‎ר Responding to the yearning of all those who fear, G-d hears their cry and comes to rescue them.
We will now praise the name of Yah, now and always.  Halleluyah! 

    We ended the day by spending time at The Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies where Wil is staying. It is located on the main road between Jerusalem and Beit Lechem (Bethlehem). It’s a quiet, tranquil space perfectly set up for contemplation with nice rooms, open spaces and delicious healthy organic vegetarian food (according to Wil). 
    Wil and I shared conversation about G-d, faith, being a woman clergy-person, what it’s like to work in congregations, in schools, in community, general things about our lives. Two woman.  A Reconstructionist  Traditional Jew in dialogue with Halacha and an Episcopal priest  who is a member of an historic African Episcopal Church as well as a Reconstructionist minyan.  Two women comfortable with G-d. A Rabbah and a Priest….

Next week…. A Rabbah (or 2 or 3) and A Priest go to Kabbalat Shabbat Services on Friday night and Reconstructionist Minyan on Saturday morning (we hope!)

Baruch Hashem – Blessed is the Awesome One, for giving us such amazing opportunities.

Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

  1. Arlene, I like the way you created a dialogue between you and Rev interesting to see two takes on the same space/experience!