January 4, 2021
Decades-long event continues online
On Thursday, December 10, the Jewish Community of San Antonio celebrated Hanukkah with the Roman Catholic Community at the 19th annual Catholics and Jews Celebrate Hanukkah. The event committee was determined not to allow the current pandemic to break the nineteen-year tradition of gathering these two communities together. The committee and participants brought together a beautiful virtual program. Father Victor Valdez commented after the event that “Good things come in the midst of challenge and struggle.”
Michael Swanson, Chair of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, welcomed everyone and emphasized how the pandemic has brought to light what is really important in our lives: our relationships. He expressed appreciation for the Catholic and Jewish communities’ willingness to nurture their relationship this year more than ever.
The Most Rev. Gustavo García-Siller, Archbishop of San Antonio, gave an opening prayer thanking God for guiding people through darkness.
Rabbi Sam Stahl, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth-El and one of the original organizers of this event, explained that the strong relationship between these two communities goes back decades. The Catholic and Jewish communities have had an unprecedented harmonious relationship in San Antonio. Rabbi Stahl thanked the staff of both the San Fernando Cathedral and the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, as well as Catholic TV San Antonio and the Catholic and Jewish Hanukkah Celebration Committee for their contributions to the event this year.
Dr. Renata Furst, Associate Professor of Scripture and Spirituality at Oblate School of Theology and Oblate’s Associate Dean for Hispanic Engagement, was the featured speaker. Dr. Furst is a Roman Catholic expert on the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Furst was born in Canada, grew up in Honduras, and recently learned of her own family’s Jewish roots.
Her grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, arrived in Central America in the 1920s. He married a local woman who came from a mixed Christian faith. Her grandfather supported his wife in her Catholic observances by driving her to church and supporting the church financially. Furst grew up unaware of her grandfather’s Jewish background until his death. At his funeral, the local men and women from the Honduran Jewish community filled the Catholic church for his funeral. Furst and her family then discovered that her grandfather had been a founder of the local synagogue, where there is a plaque on the wall with his name on it. Furst closed her remarks with a prayer: “I choose light…I choose joy by savoring each opportunity to celebrate no matter how small…I choose dignity…I choose generosity…I choose connection…I choose community…I choose action…I choose justice. What do you choose?”
Local singer and member of Congregation Agudas Achim, Vicki Adelstein then shared her rendition of Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebarach prayer set beautifully in song.
Congregation Agudas Achim’s Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Sharon Cohen, offered a blessing for Jared Diamond, a survivor of COVID-19, and his physician, Dr. Luis Cisneros. Cohen prayed that all those afflicted with COVID-19 and all those struggling with illness “feel the love of family, the comfort of friends, and the strength of community.” She then recited the Priestly blessing from the book of Numbers and asked that God bless and protect all those who have suffered from COVID-19, their families, healthcare workers and all the medical support staff.
Student Rabbi Samuel Stern from Temple Chai explained Hanukkah and its meaning. He shared some Talmud from Rabbi Hillel who explained we start with lighting one candle on the first night and build to the full menorah because we strive in our own lives to increase in holiness.
Cantor Julie Berlin of Temple Beth-El sang the prayers for the lighting of the Hanukkiah as well as a beautiful rendition of Maoz Tzor.
Jared Diamond and Dr. Cisneros lit the Hanukkiah while the Providence High School Choir led by Elaine Burr sang in the background.
Rabbi Avraham Scheinberg of Congregation Rodfei Sholom closed the event asking all to remember that “a little light can dispel much darkness.” He encouraged us to engage others in conversation so that ignorance and darkness will melt away.
The Jewish Community Relations Council coordinates the Annual Catholics & Jews Celebrate Hanukkah in partnership with San Fernando Cathedral. The JCRC is a program of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio. To learn more, visit jfsatx.org or contact Director Lisa Epstein, PhD, at email@example.com.