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NJ rabbi is guest at cathedral in San Juan
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NJ rabbi is guest at cathedral in San Juan

Norman Patz delivers remarks celebrating Catholic-Jewish ties

Rabbi Norman Patz lights the menora surrounded by members of the Knights of Columbus.
Rabbi Norman Patz lights the menora surrounded by members of the Knights of Columbus.

Rabbi Norman Patz, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom of West Essex, was a guest of honor at a ceremony in Puerto Rico marking Hanukka and the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the landmark document that inaugurated historic changes in the Catholic Church’s relations with the Jews and other faiths.

At the invitation of Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Juan, Patz, along with leaders of the Puerto Rican Jewish community, lit Hanukka candles in the Cathedral of Old San Juan on the last night of the holiday, Dec. 13. 

The cathedral, built in 1540, is the second-oldest cathedral in the Americas. 

Since his retirement from Temple Sholom in 2006, Patz has been part of a rotation of Reform rabbis who serve Temple Beth Shalom of Puerto Rico, officiating there for the High Holy Days and for several months during the winter.

Because that Sunday was the opening celebration of the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, the cathedral was filled with over 1,000 worshipers, with the archbishop in his purple robes, a great many priests in full vestments, nuns in habits, Knights of Columbus in dress regalia (complete with swords and black velvet hats topped with white ostrich plumes), and tourists crowding the pews. 

The Jubilee ceremony coincided with the observance of the Nostra Aetate anniversary and the immediate aftermath of “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable,” the latest in a series of papal documents implementing the teachings of Nostra Aetate.

After the conclusion of the mass, the archbishop invited Patz to the cathedral’s chancel, or “bima,” along with his wife, Naomi Patz; Diego Mendelbaum, the community director of Congregation Shaare Zedeck in San Juan; and other community leaders.

Mendelbaum and Patz addressed the gathering on the significance and impact of Nostra Aetate (see sidebar). When Patz offered the sentence from the prophet Malachi, “Have we not all one Father…,” the assembled congregation burst into spontaneous applause. 

Gonzalez Nieves and Patz read Psalm 67, line by line, alternately in Spanish and Hebrew, and Patz led the blessings over the Hanukka candles as they were lit by Mendelbaum. “The small hanukkia, bright with nine candles — pinpoints of light centered before the altar of the cathedral, itself blazing with enormous lit tapers and chandeliers — was a powerful centerpiece of this emotional, historic moment,” wrote Patz. 

After the conclusion of the ceremony, hundreds of people came forward to hug and kiss the Jewish participants, to say shalom (or paz), in a few cases to boast that they knew some Hebrew or had traveled to Israel, or had participated in a church production of Fiddler on the Roof, and to photograph — or be photographed with — the hanukkia in the cathedral.

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