As a fitting end to this past week’s intense focus on religion and faith in modern life, I joined a wonderful group of friends for Seder on the first night of Passover on Saturday. This group of Jewish and Christian friends — in our secular lives we are lawyers and academics and nonprofit leaders and colleagues in many professions — has gathered for many years in the lovely home of our hosts, and together we pray and reflect and discuss and enjoy the ritual meal guided by the ancient words and instructions in the Haggadah. Few rituals remind me so profoundly of the deeply entwined roots of Judaism and Christianity; few prayer books so accurately reflect the timeless themes of faith and humanity as the ancient psalms and tales of flight in the first Passover remind us of the terrors we face even today, and our common yearning for charity and hope. The need for faith to illuminate our convictions, the imperative to work for justice and peace, are powerful themes that link all of us across many faith traditions and generations.
As we opened with the traditional greetings last evening, our host reminded us that yesterday, April 19, 2008 was the 65th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Too bad that this important historical moment did not receive more prominent national press attention. The Warsaw Ghetto began in 1940 when the Nazis forced more than 400,000 Jews into a very small and crowded section of the Polish city. Polish Jews were nearly half of the victims of the Nazis in the Holocaust, and the Warsaw Ghetto was an early signal of the truly evil intentions of the Third Reich. The “uprising” that began on April 19, 1943 was the first true armed resistance to the Nazi horror against the Jews. A small band of courageous young people led the revolt, whcih the Nazis soon crushed violently. The Holocaust Encyclopedia on the Holocaust Museum website is a good source of basic information on this terrible moment in human history.
The Holocaust was much on Pope Benedict’s mind yesterday as he made an historic visit to the Park East Synagogue in New York. This was the first time a Pope ever visited a U.S. synagogue. Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who invited Pope Benedict, is a Holocaust survivor. In the simplicity of his greeting, “Dear friends, Shalom” the Pope made a large symbolic step toward improving his relations with the Jewish community.
Reflecting on all of the significant events of the past week, I hope that we will find the time during our busy days on campus to think and dialogue even more constructively about the witness that Trinity can give to the world through our own work in social justice, in the celebration of the many faiths we share on campus, in our profound commitment to making the virtues of charity and hope more present to all whom we serve. I welcome reader suggestions for ways in which we can carry these themes forward on campus and in the larger communities we inhabit.