Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Through Jewish Eyes

Easter through Jewish eyes
Just the aromas awaken comparisons
Daily News Staff
April 9, 2007

My roommate was surprised to see me up so early Sunday morning. The reason for the early start, I told him, was because I was going to church.

He looked surprised, which was entirely justified; after all, I am Jewish.

But I was curious to tackle this assignment, which required I choose a Lutheran or Catholic (or other congregation) church in order to cover the Easter services. I wanted to see the differences between Catholics and Lutherans, and I wanted to see what, if any, commonalities I would find between those two faiths and my own.

I cannot deny that I felt a little trepidation. Not too long ago in history, church on Easter Sunday was not the safest place for a Jew. Whereas Christmas is practically a secular holiday that almost anybody can take part in, Easter week is the religious story of Christianity.

But I was soon to learn that my trepidation - all right, my Jewish neurosis - was unfounded.

As I entered Holy Angles Catholic Church in West Bend I was immediately struck by what I recognized as the scent of frankincense. The smell took me back to the Old City of Jerusalem, the place where I first encountered that ancient fragrance.
As I marveled at the familiar smell and reminisced about Israel, a woman on the altar spoke of "the country of the Jews" in reference to the Holy Land.

I can dig that, I thought to myself. I can say "amen" to that. In fact, on a few occasions I almost did join in on the amens, which in Hebrew means "I believe," and which Jews repeat as well.
"Jesus is our Lord and Savior!"

"Ame-" Oops, I’m not supposed to say that, I had to remind myself a few times. But chiming in with an amen is a natural reaction when hundreds of people around you say it in unison.

While the Catholic church smelled of a classical fragrance, the Lutheran church, specifically Trinity Lutheran Church one block over, smelled of coffee.

What’s a synagogue smell like? The one I attended as a boy smelled of pungent old lady perfume and musty books. Perhaps the Lutherans and Catholics have us beat in the aroma department.

In any event, the service at Trinity seemed a bit more informal than the Catholic service. However, both required their flocks to "all rise" and "please be seated" over and over again, just like at a Jewish religious service. I noticed the Catholics one-upped Jews and Lutherans because they also knelt. I was wondering why there were padded foot rests curiously designed for short people behind the seats at Holy Angels.

Like Jews, Catholics and Lutherans also include red wine in their ceremonies, during communion. It was clear they weren’t drinking Mogen David or Manichewitz wines, however, because nobody made a face after sipping. And there was no kiddush, or prayer over the wine, as there is in Judaism.

As in Reform Judaism - the largest stream of Judaism in America - I noticed that both congregations seemed progressive and liberal. Holy Angels had a number of alter girls helping Rev. Richard Wendell, and Pastors Cristy and David Schoob both led services at Trinity.

When it came to sharing the bread of Christ, the Lutherans offered gluten-free wafers for coeliacs.

I was surprised when ushers collected donations at both congregations. We Jews raise money for the synagogue in a different way; people bequeath parts of the synagogue in honor or memory of somebody. That is why you hang your jacket in the "Lillian and Irving Goldberg Memorial Coatroom" before making your way into the "Lester and Miriam Cohen Family Atrium."

In the end, I discovered that all of our faiths are really not that different when it comes to the important things, like appreciating life, health and happiness, and doing to others as you would have them do unto you.

Happy Easter and l'Chaim!


Blogger airforcewife said...

zak, that was awesome!

Our Palm Sunday prayers included on that said this (quoting directly), "And may we be inspired to greater faith by the faith of our Jewish brothers; who through centuries of persecution continued to faithfully celebrate Passover."

7:06 AM  
Blogger zak said...


That's really cool, and touching.

2:09 PM  
Blogger zak said...


That's really cool, and touching.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Melanie said...

Your history is our history, Zak.

More Christians should realize this.


9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article!


11:10 AM  

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