Editor’s Note: San Fernando Cathedral in Main Plaza will host a Jewish-Catholic joint Hanukkah celebration Thursday morning. The following is Raul B. Rodriguez’ prepared remarks for the ceremony. Rodriguez serves as Tom Benson Chair in Banking and Finance and Distinguished Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word. He has also been chairman of the boards of the World Affairs Council and the Free Trade Alliance.

Beyond good reasons to partake in Hanukkah, this event celebrates how we build bridges across a diversity of beliefs and covenant bonds. 

The secular dimensions of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue are significant to our community.  Let me venture six examples:

The dialogue could provide a much-needed narrative of hope for America.

As a Catholic born in Latin America and a product of a Jesuit education, I am particularly moved by the brand of renewal Pope Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. Among other things, we had never seen an Abrahamic dialogue of this caliber endorsed by a Pope. Jews, Christians and Muslim leaders embarked in new models for expanding interfaith commitments on issues that affect our daily lives; just this month, a convening on the persistence of slavery. 

A similar deep sense of religious reference and inclusiveness is a key ingredient of America’s constitutional order and civic DNA.  Think of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of our Declaration of Independence.   At age 27-30 years before elected President – he takes the Bible and irreverently cuts the passages he thought best reflected the essential teachings. He puts together a compilation that becomes his moral code and the beacon and underpinning of our national foundations. 

By contrast, our polity today seems so distant from religious essentials and moderation. Our unique ability to deal with our contradictions, our gift for reasoning together – recognized by de Tocqueville in the 1830s – is declining. We are at odds over the meaning of our own past, let alone any outline for the future. 

Jews and Catholics have a vital imperative in America: to launch together a narrative of common ground and hope, based on shared principles and concerns. Together we can help promote a sense of joint commitment, of fellowship, much needed in our society.

From left: Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, of the Congregation Rodfei Sholom, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and Raul B. Rodriguez. Courtesy photo.
From left: Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, of the Congregation Rodfei Sholom, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and Raul B. Rodriguez. Courtesy photo.

This dialogue represents first and foremost a spiritual convergence.

50 years after the Nostra Aetate declaration within the Second Vatican Council, the bonds between Jews and Catholics are stronger than ever. 

This connection is well represented today by the special friendship between Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka. “On Heaven and Earth,” based on their conversations in Buenos Aires, was published four years ago as an inter-religious dialogue on 29 different topics. They both made history recently, by sharing meals and praying together during Sukkot and Sabbath at the Vatican. 

I regret to say there is ONE disagreement between them that will never go away: the Pope roots enthusiastically for San Lorenzo de Almagro, Rabbi Skorka for River Plate, two rival soccer teams from Buenos Aires! 

By the way, San Lorenzo – after a rather ordinary history – won the South American Libertadores Cup for the first time this year and yesterday earned the right to face Real Madrid in the finals of the Club World Cup. Precisely yesterday, on the Pope’s birthday.

This dialogue has a Latino connection.

The American Jewish Committee has been fostering a Latino-Jewish dialogue for over a decade. Their Belfer Institute is actively promoting links and common agendas on issues from immigration reform to diaspora – homeland ties. Our own Bridges and Pathways in San Antonio is a pioneer forum, with Rabbi Scheinberg and Henry Cisneros at the helm.

I mention this because we are witnessing a demographic tsunami in the U.S. Latinos are growing ten times as fast as non-Hispanics. In 50 years, one third of America will be Hispanic. Before the end of the century this could be the largest Hispanic nation in the world.

There is in fact a direct link. During the last third of Mexico’s colonial period, the rise of the Holy Inquisition pushed the Jewish/Sephardic diaspora to our region. DNA research conducted in recent years in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas shows a clear line of Sephardic ancestry among a good number of Hispanics; some estimate up to 15% of that population. 

Even today, many of the cultural expressions you find in our region — particularly in Monterrey — display a Jewish lilt. From cabrito to pita-style tortillas de harina. The fig tree, the pomegranate, and the lemon tree in the central patio, as a symbol of wisdom, family, and temperance. And frugality, instilled by tradition and circumstance. 

Last year I met in Madrid with Mauricio Toledano and Isaac Querub, the leaders of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities. They were actively engaged in supporting legislation to repeal the edict from 1492 by Isabella and Ferdinand to expel the Jews from Spain, after more than 1,000 years in the Peninsula. The revoking law was signed last June by President Rajoy; it was moral reparation, long overdue.

This dialogue underscores our similar condition as diasporas.

Israel has excelled in its creative links to its diaspora communities. The American Jewish Committee as a hub was founded at the height of the Jewish immigration over a century ago.

Father Virgilio Elizondo, Lorena and I were hosted in Jerusalem by Rabbi David Rosen for Shabbat at his home by the Green Line, with the old city, his faith, and his lineage spreading below his beautiful terrace.  Rabbi Rosen is the key representative of the world Jewry in its relations with other religions, a champion of Jewish-Catholic reconciliation. Not surprisingly, after Kiddush, our conversation revolved around the many intersections of our histories and traditions, the experiences of migration and exile. The displaced and dispossessed at the roots of both our faiths. 

This dialogue shares perspectives on our propensity to give.

I had the chance last year to moderate a panel on philanthropy in Washington, convened by the AJC. David Harris and Henry Cisneros were the keynote speakers and launched the exchange. 

Jeffrey Solomon, the President of Bronfman Philanthropies — key in creating Birthright Israel, aimed at connecting young Jews to their tradition — gave us an in-depth rendition of the meaning of tzedakah, that unique blend of caring and justice. At the center of Judaism for the past millennium, it is intriguing to contrast that concept with our Catholic notion of charity.

St. Paul and Maimonides give us two narratives of giving, two valid rationales. Tzedakah is giving, not as benevolence, but as an ingrained obligation from cradle to grave; and doing it in a dignified, productive and mostly anonymous way. It comes with the idea that you don’t truly own what you possess; all you have is entrusted to you, under the assumption of sharing. 

As David Brooks puts it, this notion is evidenced in the amazing disproportion of Jewish giving: Jews – 2% of the U.S. population – account for 38% of the leading philanthropists. At the University of the Incarnate Word, the largest Catholic university in Texas, six of the main buildings bear Jewish names: Grossman, Rosenberg, Barshop, Dreeben, Saidoff … My Jesuit high school in Tampico was built on land donated by the Fleishmans and assistance by the Grossmans. 

Finally, this interfaith dialogue feeds our business code.

This year I was honored to serve as co-chair of the City Government’s committee for a new global trade and investment strategy under the guidance of Brookings Institution. At the presentation last Friday we had Peter French, head of Café Commerce, and Lorenzo Gomez, head of Geekdom, in a panel; two bright and articulate young leaders. 

The three of us ended up discussing the business startup nation Israel has turned out to be. A Jewish mindset and ethos at the core: dissatisfaction, questioning of authority, resilience in the face of failure, always a sense of urgency. Latinos love to discuss and disagree too, but Jews tend to have a commanding advantage: a clarity of interests, a sense of purpose. A thing to learn or two, as we conceive our own local brand of entrepreneurship.

In their etymologies, “iglesia” and “synagogue” have very similar meanings: meeting places.  Truly, this is today a meeting place, an ecumenical place of belonging, un lugar de encuentro

As Pope Francis puts it, this conversation is a “testimony of our path together, from our distinct religious identities … We can look up in concert to find transcendence.” As we celebrate Hanukkah, we walk as one, “in our reconciled diversity…” 

*Featured/top image: Just before the opening night of “The Saga” video art installation on San Fernando Cathedral in Main Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Raul Rodriguez

Raul Rodriguez has been a resident of San Antonio since 1995. He is chairman of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and a founding member of the Latino Jewish Leadership Council.