Menorah to help bring Catholics, Jews together

Annual lighting to share memories of Holocaust

April 12, 2000|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Recognizing his contributions to the Catholic-Jewish accord, a New Jersey-based group yesterday presented Cardinal William H. Keeler a menorah symbolizing the estimated 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The presentation, made in Baltimore by officials of the Center for Inter-religious Understanding, comes two weeks after Pope John Paul II's landmark pilgrimage to Israel, where his gestures, many observers believe, set a high-water mark in Catholic-Jewish relations.

Religious leaders hope to use the 13-inch-tall menorah -- identical to the one given last year to the pope -- as a tool in bringing Catholics and Jews together to reflect on the Holocaust's meaning and impact, said Rabbi Jack Bemporad, executive director of the Center for Inter-religious Understanding.

A 4-foot version of the brass menorah, crafted by Israeli sculptor Aharon Bezalel, was placed last April at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, a seminary for Americans studying for the priesthood.

Another 4-foot copy of the menorah will be placed within the next six months at St. Mary's Seminary and University in North Baltimore. Other menorahs will be installed in New York, Miami and Philadelphia, and later in other communities with large numbers of Catholics, Bemporad said.

The intent is to bring Catholics and Jews together annually to light the menorah at Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, which will be held next month.

"It will be an opportunity in a ceremonial way for Jews and Catholics to come together and remember the Holocaust," Bemporad said during yesterday's ceremony at the Basilica of the Assumption.

Keeler said the menorah he received yesterday will be placed in a permanent exhibit at the Basilica to help teach Catholics about the Holocaust. It will be on display Saturday when the youth of the Archdiocese of Baltimore gather for their annual Holy Week pilgrimage.

"They will have an opportunity to see it here, and I will point out its significance to them," Keeler said.

During his pilgrimage to Israel, Pope John Paul denounced anti-Semitism while visiting Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial there. Later, he prayed at the Western Wall, where he left a card imprinted with a prayer asking God to forgive Christians' sins against Jews.

When Pope John Paul did these things, "he did something on a world level that touched Catholic people as well as Jewish people," Bemporad said. "This is extending to our community something John Paul did in Israel two weeks ago."

The menorah includes seven figures, six of them holding candles with the central figure, a rabbi, holding a prayer book. Two of the women have children with them, representing the estimated 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.

The base is a cracked Star of David, with two dates imprinted on it, 1933 and 1945, the span of the Holocaust. There also is an inscription in Hebrew, a verse from the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead: "That God's name be exalted and sanctified."

The power of this menorah, said its sculptor, lies in its simplicity.

"I'm a sculptor," Bezalel said. "I think in these days, we have so much information all around. To understand, you have to make it simple, so you can communicate its message."

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