Why Yom Kippur Is Sacred To This Priest — Guest Post by Father Brian Jordan

Father Brian Jordan is a Roman Catholic priest, a Franciscan formerly of St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, where everybody, just everybody, knows him. He does most of his work in labor, particularly with immigrants. He is now a resident of Capitol City.

While growing up in Brooklyn during the late 50’s and 60’s, my siblings and I were taught at a young age to be never anti-Semitic. It was tough to do so while growing up in the Cypress Hills section near East New York, Brooklyn.

It seemed that the Jews were the common source of derision among the Irish, the Italian, the Polish, the African American and the new influx of Latinos in the neighborhood. You heard anti-Semitic comments walking back and forth from school—both parochial and public. You heard anti-Semitic comments in the subways, in the ice cream parlors and mostly heard these atrocious comments by people walking in and outside banks. You would think the Jewish people were literally holding everybody up and their life savings with these vicious diatribes!Father Brian Jordan

However, religious discrimination against the Jewish people was forbidden in my family household. Why? My maternal grandparents lived with us in a two story home on Nichols Avenue. They were married in 1915 and lived in an apartment on South 4th St. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

For over 40 years, this Irish Catholic couple were the clear minority among the predominantly Orthodox Jewish residents. They felt so welcome and at home with their neighbors that they decided to stay and raise four children, among them my late mother Eileen. They shared meals together. They shared the Prohibition together (including some bathtub gin). They shared the Great Depression together. They shared the agony and the hope during World War II. They shared their great affection for the Brooklyn Dodgers. They shared social times together including the introduction of many Orthodox Jews to a hallowed Catholic practice called bingo due to the persistence of my grandmother.

My Irish grandmother convinced the local Catholic pastor to change Friday night bingo to Thursday night bingo. Why? So Grandma’s numerous Jewish neighbors can enjoy both bingo one night and then attend Holy Services such as Yom Kippur on Friday sundown to Saturday afternoon. Grandmother Murphy was way ahead of her time when it came to interfaith dialogue and the Vatican II document where Christians and Jews were called to be spiritual brethren and Catholics to be spiritual semites.

Back in Cypress Hills, our parents taught us to respect Jewish people because the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph were born and raised Jewish. My mother recounted from her own upbringing that the Jewish people always shared with her family especially during the hard time of the Great Depression. She thanked them many times including inviting many from her old neighborhood for her wedding reception in 1948 which Grandfather guaranteed an equal amount of schnapps, matzo ball soup along with beer plus corned beef and cabbage.

My father recounted that after the war, it was the Jewish merchants who helped him the most while he was a Teamster truck driver on his bread route so he could provide for his wife and children. Later on, when he joined management, he was promoted due to his great rapport with his Jewish employers. Therefore, my mother and father did not submit to the constant anti-Semitic religious prejudice we heard as children. Rather, they challenged the buffoons who constantly harangued the Jews and asked them to look inside themselves for expiation.

During the years 1965-67, there was a great turnaround of antipathy towards Jews in my neighborhood. First in 1965, I vividly recall Catholic, Protestant and Jewish residents in Cypress Hills all chimed in with great respect and awe for Sandy Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodger pitching standout, who refused to pitch in a World Series game that year because it fell on the holiest day of the year on the Jewish liturgical calendar, Yom Kippur. My father opined that although the Dodgers left Brooklyn, Koufax never left his faith! Grandfather Murphy countered “That ain’t nothing!” he proudly smiled, “Hank Greenberg did the same thing in 1947 and he never got the praise Koufax is getting!”

In 1966, my father became the first Irish Catholic to receive the coveted B’nai B’rith award from the Jewish food merchants who comprised the influential Harvest Lodge of greater New York. This was formally announced on the day before Yom Kippur. Shock waves went though our neighborhood when a rabbi and members of Harvest Lodge came to our home and personally escorted my entire family to the then Statler Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan for this monumental occasion.

Finally in 1967, on the eve of Yom Kippur, my father took me and one of my brothers to a synagogue near Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, to show solidarity with his beloved friend, David Karin of Waldbaum Supermarkets. We prayed with the Jewish community to give thanks to God that Israel led by Moshe Dayan, was victorious in the famous Six Day War.

Years later when I decided to become a Roman Catholic priest, it came at no surprise that 90 percent of the New Testament had roots in the Jewish Old Testament and that the Roman Catholic liturgy and priesthood has had many influences from the Jewish tradition. In fact, when I was ordained in 1983, one of my ordination gifts came from a dear Jewish friend. It was a coffee cup engraved with the saying “Jesus saves but Moses invests!” I still cherish that cup after all these years. From personal experience, I cannot emphasize enough that Jews and Catholics in New York have more in common that we care to admit.

Each year, I normally give up drinking alcohol for the season of Lent for reasons of abstinence and sacrifice. This year, I decided to give up alcohol during the high holydays from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur for two reasons. First, for personal expiation of my past and present sins. Second, as a sign of solidarity with my Jewish sisters and brothers that the world will expiate itself of the social sin of anti-Semitism both here and abroad. Jesus Christ taught us to love both God and our neighbor. He was definitely influenced by the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The sobering reality is that this Day of Atonement is not only for Jews. Rather it is for all people to expiate their sins of hatred and prejudice!

Father Brian can be reached at stftheborder@aol.com.

15 Comments

  1. My thanks to you and Fr. Jordan for a very heartwarming article.

    Methinks the way things are going as regards efforts to increase antipathy to the state of Israel, it may not be very long before Jews everywhere will need all the friends they can get.

  2. I grew up in a mostly jewish neighborhood. During the holy days the public school combined grades k-3 to fill one classroom. I though the world was jewish and I was a minority.

    My parents never told me otherwise. Great parents.

  3. There’s some serious hypocrisy going on that a “true” monotheistic faith of love is the springboard for so much violence & hate. There’s three with the very same God (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) and history, still being written, shows these to be the basis for spectactular amounts of war, genocide, etc. — often defining entire historical epochs — all stemming directly from their respective belief systems. And that includes violence & hate from within the core belief system such as between Christians in N. Ireland, until recently.

    Curiously, history doesn’t show anything even remotely close to similar religious-based intolerance & violence with polytheistic religions (sure, one army would appeal to its gods as did the other army going into a given war/battle, but such polytheistc faith(s) are not recorded as the basis for significant conflict, predjudice, genocide, etc.).

    Think about that.

  4. Ken,

    OK, let’s think about it. But let’s pass over the monotheistic religions and consider polytheistic, as you suggest. Take, just as a for example, China and Japan, two countries that were at constant war with various enemies, many of which were internal. Organized mobs, rebellions, clan skirmishes, the flow of blood was steady–and all while their citizens were paying heed to religious duties. When Japan looked outwards, it was in the name of the divine emperor, etc. And this was all before the early twentieth century, where the slaughter began in earnest. Japan duking it out with Korea, Russia, then China and those poorer small countries bordering the South China Sea. China moving into Tibet, warred with India, etc. And all this is before considering when thing really took a turn for the worse. (And what about what the Indians did to themselves in the name of caste religions!)

    I think Westerners are convinced Western religions are so awful because they take a steady diet of one-sided examples which do not include morsels from the East.

  5. Those polythesitic Romans sure were nice to their neighbors.

    It is easy to find conflicts that begin over a religious context, and say how many poeple have died in the name of god. But, how many confilcts begin over secular issues and are ended by the spirtual folk?

  6. Father Jordan’s youthful recollections are heartwarming and telling. His parents sound classy, with strong values similar to those of my own folks.

    It never ceases to amaze me how those expressing strong racial prejudices in doing so expose their own paucity of character and self-value. It’s such a lazy and twisted way to view the world, and in most cases expresses delusional and hidden self-hatred rather than constructive dialogue.

  7. Terrific story.

    One ought to be aware that traditional Judaisim, like the Christian faiths, is under assault by secular forces that are aligned with other social change movements of the modern era. As a generalization that is more true than it ought to be, the Orthodox continue to stand for traditional values, including those of giving to the community, while the Reform folks look more to government and assimilation into the broader secular community.

  8. Briggs, Doug M.,

    There’s wars where the parties involved have their unique religions & go to war for various reasons NOT religiously motivated…and there’s wars & conflict that derive DIRECTLY from religious factors. These are radically different things. Pretty much all societies invoke their respective god’s support once they’re in conflict (just as pretty much all engage in instinctive propagandizing to de-humanize thier enemies)–but that does not by itself indicate that some religious conflict is at work. Japan often went to war & fighting for the emperor-is-living-god was a strong inducement to the soldiers….but….I don’t know of any war with Japan in which a religious-slight or offense was the basis for going to war. To make the leap from a society having a religion & going to war & then applying the religion to help support the cause is the same as a society having a religion & going to war specifically for the religion is a basic (apples to oranges) logical fallacy.

    The essay here describes two allegedly tolerant religions, for the same God, Judaism & Catholocism (both with precisely the same God), and much is being made of how tolerant & accommodating someone’s experience was in accommodating those of the other faith.

    Clearly those groups were not, as a general rule, accommodating/tolerant/inclusive – -if they truly were there’d be no story to tell. The mere fact that there’s this story indicates that the social inclusiveness described was/is abberant. Which illustrates that in that location & time Judaism & Catholocism were, in & of themselves, a basis for in-vs-out group prejudice & in/actions that go with prejudice.

    In polytheistic societies genuine inclusiveness was standard — lacking any inspiration for an essay such as this. That’s not to say some groups, or some group rituals, were disliked, etc. — but the record for that shows such dislikes & prejudices were based on specific merits rather than generalized “in” vs. “out” group stereotyping (e.g. the Roman Senate banned the Bacchanalia celebrations, or some parts anyway, due to their “disruptive” nature on passers-by, which often got accosted during the heights of the ritual by involved revelers).

    There’s ample academic study on the fact that monotheism is in & of itself a primary instigating factor for the conduct of war & related atrocities. Both polytheistic & monotheistic societies initiate & go to war & commit atrocties. It so happens that religious motivations are seldom an instigating factor, or a significant one, with polytheistic societies.

    If you don’t like that, or want to argue it…take it up with the academics that have researched it & written about it. The historical record, however, is exceptionally clear on this, so its easy to research.

    That aside, what isn’t clear to me is if societies go to war at different rates or propensities relative to mono/polytheism. What is clear, however, is that monotheistic societies with a noble value of love & ‘turn the other cheek’ go to war for reasons exclusively based on religion. Which, at a macro-level, indicates some hypocrisy.

  9. I loved this piece! Thank you, Briggs and Father Jordan.

    I was reared in an area where many people were unfriendly toward Jews. It heartens me now to think of how young I was when I realized such attitudes were utter BS.

    And BS it was. Generally speaking, the Jews in my community and nearby communities were among the most civic-minded people there, and were always ready to lend a hand where needed. Hatred for Jews is deplorable, not to mention just plain crazy, whether the hater is an ignorant redneck farmer or one of the crowd running our government today.

  10. @Ken

    It’s not true that religiously motivated wars are in essence different from other wars. Whether it’s religion, race, cultural “supremacy” etc. etc. it’s largely the same tribal thinking, “us against them”, where “them” are dehumanized and evil, and religion is just used as a totem, a sign to distinguish “us” from “them”. Even when the war is pre-calculated by powers-that-be, the gun fodder needs to be rallied into the age-old war frenzy.

  11. I was raised as a cultural Jew in the 60’s on Long Island, NY and was harassed by Catholics of various ethnic persuasions. I understand that religious hostility has been a theme throughout history. I suffered from it.

    However, the best of human civilization came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition: the university, science, principles of justice, charity, and hospitals. The standard of living we enjoy (and which the Green religion is trying to destroy) came from a belied in unalienable Rights given by a Creator God. The slander about the violence surrounding Judeo-Christian monotheistic religion simply exaggerates the all too human failing called sinfulness that religion aims to reverse — but cannot always avoid. But ask: Who fought against and ended slavery? Christians. Who were in the American civil rights movements? Christians and Jews.

    And the Crusades? Read Rodney Stark’s book, God’s Battalions, to see how the Christian world reacted to the slaughter of pilgrims in the Holy Land by Muslims. Many gave up their fortunes for no gain in order to keep the Holy Land, a civilized land. Excesses? For sure. And one may argue it is against Christ’s teachings to war. (A tricky point, for sure.) But so many wars said to have been fought in the name of religion were simply wars of political power and greed with hardly a religious element in it (even if rationalized by pleas to religion). The glaring exception is Islam whose whose wholesale conquest and slaughter in the name of their religion goes back many centuries across many continents — and seems clearly to be supported and justified in their holy books.

    Anti-religious commentators way too often repeat a stereotyped, nonsensical, viscerally-based history, not one demonstrated and supported with fact or with any sense of proportion. The secular socialist-communists have yielded many more deaths and horrors, which we can easily support with evidence.

  12. @mcbabbit

    Actually, the university and science wouldn’t develop the way we know them were it not for the Arabs. Christian popes were busy burning libraries and destroying last remains of the pagan ancient culture at the same time when the Abbasid caliphs, in the million-populated metropolis of Baghdad, founded the “Bait Al-Hikma” — House of Wisdom — as a library, research institute, and translation project that preserved Greek, Persian and Indian texts which were used as the basis for the development of the scientific method by Arabic scholars such as Al-Khwarismi, Al-Kindi, or Alhacen. Their work preceded by centuries the achievements of Judeo-Christians, which simply wouldn’t be possible without it. Think for a moment about the origin of words such as “zero”, “algebra”, “alchemy”, “algorithm”, “elixir”, “soda”, “camphor”, “alcohol”, but also “mattress”, “sofa”, “the guitar”, “the lute” etc. The cultural and scientific influence of Arabs spurred the European Reneissance, and cannot be overestimated.

  13. Grzegorz Staniak
    Please read Rodney Stark’s well documented work, God’s Battalions (he has many other books) and find that most of the great advances in knowledge associated with Islamic culture really came from either India or from dhimmi Chistians and Jews (second class citizens) and not from Muslims, as is the popular conception.

  14. @mcbabbit

    The knowledge came from ancient Indian, Persian, and Greek texts. The people involved in preserving them and advancing the knowledge were, for example, of Persian origin like Al-Khwarismi, Sindhian like Ibn Ali-Musa (who introduced the decimal notation), or (Syrian) Christian like Hunayn ibn Ishaq (who was put by the Abbasid caliph Al Ma’mun in charge of the translation project — not exactly a sign of being a second-class citizen).

    That’s exactly the point. Christian Europe destroyed the same ancient legacy that was preserved under the Abbassid rule — and hugely advanced. A few centuries later, mainly through the caliphat of Cordoba, that knowledge and the new achievements were passed to European Christians. The Islamic world revived the Aristotelian philosophy in the 9th century, while the Pope and the bishop of Paris still condemned his teachings in the 13th century (together with parts of the work by Thomas Aquinas).

    I’m afraid it’s never been as black-and-white as “the best of human civilization came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition” vs. “Islam whose wholesale conquest and slaughter in the name of their religion goes back many centuries”. I think you overestimate the importance of the religious tradition anyway.

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