“Love your Neighbor as Yourself”

A message from our founder, Rabbi Slomovitz/Dr. Abraham- Hello all. For the past few years, I have been making the point that one of the main themes that links the Hebrew and Christian faiths is the concept of, “Love your Neighbor as Yourself.”  The origin of these words is the book of Leviticus. The sentiment is universal and most likely extends back into pre-Biblical periods of civilization. Its essence is on display daily as the entire country and much of the world struggles mightily to confront the Covid 19 virus. The virus knows none of the artificial boundaries that we spend much of our life reinforcing: gender distinctions, racial separations, differing nationalities and creeds, are subject to its harm.  Our response must be a human one. People, expert in the fields of medicine, nursing and infectious diseases, have been wonderfully forthcoming with their wisdom on how best to fight this modern day plague.

Neighbors are helping neighbors. Advice and help of all sorts is being given freely one to the other. The irony about all this is that while we give of ourselves we are forced to do so at a distance. Social and physical distancing doesn’t mean that we have to be emotionally or spiritually apart. We give and help each other because it’s the right and humane thing to do.

Coming next week are the spring holidays of Passover and Easter. Both represent the a new season of hope, a belief in God acting in history and a desire to begin a new season of growth and new life. Let us hope and pray that we survive through April and are able to experience a more peaceful May and June and step back to our normative lives.

The Four Chaplains

            During the first weekend in February an anniversary will occur without receiving much attention or recognition. The Story of the Four Chaplains however, is a fascinating account of unparalleled bravery, dedication to a higher calling and remarkable examples of true interfaith beliefs and practices. The story touches on many contemporary themes: the courage and heroism of our military personnel, the unique role that chaplains play, the amazing sense of interfaith awareness that was exhibited and finally the powerful morale boost that their sacrifice offered to the entire country engaged in a fight for survival. 

            There was much anxiety aboard the US Army Transport Ship the Dorchester,  sailing from the United States to Europe.  It was early February 1943 and America had been in the Second World War a little over a year.  The outcome seemed distant and uncertain.  The nine hundred soldiers aboard knew that the Dorchester, an old transport, was entering an area in the northern Atlantic that made them vulnerable to a German submarine attack.  This sense of impending doom was heightened by the fact that they were ordered to sleep in full uniform and life jackets. 

            At one o’clock in the morning on the third of February, their worst nightmare became a reality.  The ship was torpedoed.  Some were immediately killed and injured in the initial blast.  Most, had been jarred awake by the explosion.  Smoke was everywhere and the ship began to list.  Within minutes, the order to abandon ship was given.  The only option was to struggle through the darkness and smoke to the upper deck and get into a lifeboat.   

            Into this maelstrom of chaos and fear stood four Army chaplains, George Fox, Alexander Goode, Clark Poling, and John Washington.  They acted with heroism and holiness offering prayers and words of encouragement to the soldiers, helping them into lifeboats.  The chaplains had on their life-jackets and survival gear.  They would survive.  In their haste and panic,  many of the warriors had forgotten their life jackets and other equipment.  Without these items, they would die within moments in the frigid Atlantic water and bitter cold.  Without any forethought, the chaplains began giving their life-jackets, gloves, and survival gear to the frightened men.  In doing so, they ensured their own demise.  One of the lasting memories of  the survivors was the chaplains gathering together, offering final prayers and holding on to each other as the ship sank beneath the waves. As the Chaplains gave away their gear they said,  “Take this my son, you need it more than I do.”

            Each of the chaplains had their own life accomplishments. George Fox , a Methodist minister, had served in the First World War as a medic and had been wounded.  receiving a medal for bravery.  He was not required to serve again in the military.  However, when his son enlisted in the Marines, he signed on with the Army as a Chaplain.  Alexander Goode was a rabbi and scholar.  He had earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and was a successful pulpit rabbi.  Prior to entering the chaplaincy he wrote, “The new world, held together by the bonds of religious idealism, is the goal of democracy through the ages.”   He left behind a wife and young daughter.  Clark Poling came from a prominent religious family.  His Dutch Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York had told him that his primary responsibility during the war was to his wife, young son, and their church.  Nonetheless, he volunteered for service.  In a final letter to his congregation he wrote, “Our goal is not to gratify our pride and human desire, it is to hold high the light of our Savior in a troubled and confused world.”  John Washington’s lifelong goal had been to become a Roman Catholic priest.  He, along with two brothers, reflected their love of America by serving in the armed forces.  During his last visit home, he asked everyone to say prayers for him.  He sensed that he was going into a new and dangerous reality.

            This incident, which became known as the story of The Four Chaplains, gave the country an enormous morale boost during the beginning months of the Second World War. We were fighting enemies who envisioned a world based on prejudice, hatred, and evil. This story reflected another vision. A courageous nation devoted to its ideals of freedom and liberty.  The soldiers knew that this America was worth fighting for and if need be, making the ultimate sacrifice for future generations.

            As we acknowledge the 77th anniversary of this event, we reflect upon its relevance. We recognize and appreciate the unbelievable sacrifices made by generations of men and women who take an oath to protect America and its liberties with their lives. The amazingly unselfish actions of the chaplains speak volumes. Not one of the clerics asked the soldiers rapidly moving toward the lifeboats their specific faith. A Catholic soldier was saved by the Rabbi’s lifejacket.  A Jewish Private survived wearing the gloves of the Protestant minister. Where did they find the courage not to get into the lifeboats with the survivors? Only 200 soldiers survived out of the 900 men. As a Navy chaplain for twenty years, I have often asked myself what I would do in a similar situation.  

            For me, the image of the Four Chaplains holding on to each other and quickly offering their final prayers as the ship sank, is one of enormous Holiness. These men of faith found God in the grasp of each other. There was no place for intolerance or prejudice. People of faith should support each other. We need to learn about the countless historical and religious connections that we all have. In a moment of pure spirituality, the Four Chaplains reminded us that we are at our strongest and finest when we put the needs of others before our own.

Dr. Rabbi Albert I. Slomovitz

Founder-Jewish Christian Discovery Center

Learning New Ideas in Allentown, PA.

Recently, I attended a wonderful conference of like-minded people. The annual conference of the Council of Centers on Jewish Christian Relations was held in Allentown, PA. There, scholars and clergy dedicated to the idea of promoting Jewish Christian relations came together for  speeches and dialogues. For me, as the Founder of the Jewish Christian Discovery Center (JCDC) it was a wonderful and enlightening experience. Allow me to share with you a few of the high points that I took away from this gathering.

One of the scholars spoke about his study of Pirke Avot (An early rabbinic collection of life-lessons), I refer to this document in my book as well. I think this is an important point that needs to be constantly made: We can all learn from each other’s traditions. After all, if Judaism is the parent faith of Christianity and Islam as well, there will be elements of faith that link the traditions together over the millennia. The speaker shared that his faith had been strengthened by this study of Jewish sources.  It is truly an amazing experience, to have Jews and Christians come together and study various elements of their faith. An awareness occurs as people realize that their beliefs can be understood in vastly different ways by people of honorable and spiritual intentions.

A major point that was made by a number of speakers was one that I think needs to be repeated in loud voices around the world: Jews and Christians are covenanted people. This is of enormous significance. It means that Christianity does not replace Judaism, but rather that Christianity is a representation of a holy connection with God as is Judaism and one could argue, other faiths as well. For so long, countless conversations have focused on which faith has the primary relationship with the Almighty. It seems appropriate to say that God is certainly capable of having different believers at the same time. By beginning to articulate an idea of differing covenants we open ourselves to a totally different spiritual world-view. In this perspective, we are all indeed creations of God, equally blessed and equally in a relationship. One of the main principles that I express in my book, now being published, is that we are all spiritual siblings. 

A final fascinating aspect of this conference was to hear from various Church leaders. In this instance,  Catholic and Lutheran clergy shared that many prayers are being rewritten to change the focus away from anything close to anti-Semitism to one that embraces the faith without the intention to denigrate Judaism. This is especially true when the liturgy revolves around the Passion of Jesus and Easter centered prayers. It is so essential that all people of faith review their liturgy and ask themselves if the prayers seem to be degrading or discriminatory to another faith. 

In the end, this conference was quite worthwhile.  It is so very important to realize that there are many committed people around the country and world who are advocating a positive, equality-based religious view. How wonderful our world would be if this ideology prevailed as the norm.

A Rabbi and Priest Stand Together and Pray for Reconciliation


In a Jewish community that has been forced to address the growing reality of anti-Semitism and on the
first anniversary of the shootings in Pittsburgh, two clergy came together with a unique service held in
the Catholic Church of St. Ann’s in East Cobb. Rabbi Albert Slomovitz, the founder of the Jewish Christian
Discovery Center, a non-profit devoted to educating Christians about their Jewish roots and Father
Robert Lwin of the Church held a program focused on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
The service was prepared jointly by both clergy members and was a combination of Catholic and Jewish
sources. Fr. Lwin spoke about the sacrament of reconciliation and the process undertaken to achieve
understanding with members of other faiths. As the program proceeded, he specifically mentioned
events from the past such as the Crusades, Inquisition and the Holocaust which decimated the Jewish
people. Fr. Lwin also spoke about the religious connections between Jews and Catholics. He described
the Catholic ritual of Confession as having its origins in the Biblical Ten Commandments. He also shared
with the audience that when Catholics begin the Confessional prayer, they strike their breasts in a
similar fashion as Jews do when they recite the Al-Het (For the sin we have committed) prayer at Yom
Kippur.
Rabbi Slomovitz led the congregation in two prayers from the High Holiday Conservative Mahzor. The
first dealt with Biblical figures who turned to God for help in times of trouble. The second one entitled
“Gone” poignantly described the Jewish population of Spain that was forced from their way of life in the
1492 expulsion from that country. A few stanzas help capture the raw emotions involved when an entire
community is forced to leave their ancestral homes.
Judah and Israel, know how bitter I am;
as I tremble, for my sins, shuddering and shaken.
For gone is my song, or any possible joy,
replaced by memories of Seville, now lost and forsaken.
Gone God’s congregations and students of the Law.
Rise then, Judah; for Israel, it is time to mourn.
Gone is sweetness from the people of God,
They are left with this bitterness coming nigh.
We will not hear the call of Elijah, God’s prophet;
for Heaven has restrained him and he is told, “Stand Fast!”
Two songs from the Catholic tradition were sung which originated from the Hebrew bible. One stanza
from the second song reflects its message, taken from Isaiah, Chapter 6 and I Samuel.

Here I am Lord, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin, My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, It is I Lord.
Rabbi Slomovitz spoke about the reality of a reconciliation process. “We cannot go back in time and
change the past. Nor can we eliminate the pain and suffering that people experienced.” The goal of the
evening was to jointly acknowledge the atrocities of the past and to develop strategies to ensure that
the future would be different. One of the principles that the Rabbi articulated was that people of faith
need to agree about certain standards of belief. One such shared value is found in the book of Leviticus
19:18, repeatedly referred to in Christian scripture, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge
against your countrymen. Love your neighbor as Yourself: I am the Lord.” It is a wonderful vision about
the future to imagine a society that accepted and practiced this significant social and religious ideal.
The concluding prayer was the Mourner’s Kaddish with the words projected on screens throughout the
Church. It certainly was a remarkable scene with Jews and Christians together, be they strangers or
friends, saying this memorial prayer on behalf of those who died in generations past due to prejudice
and hatred.
After the Kaddish, Rabbi Slomovitz and Father Lwin asked the congregation to hold hands and offer a
silent prayer for all the victims of anti-Semitism. Memorial candles had been lit on the altar and those
present reflected on the candles and what they represented.
The hope of Rabbi Slomovitz from the perspective of the Jewish Christian Discovery Center as well as the
priests from St. Ann’s was to have a religious program that could serve as a template for other such
services around the region. Having Jews and Christians together acknowledging the sins of the past and
working to ensure a better future is a necessary response to the prejudice and hatred infecting our
country and world.

How a Rabbi Found Affirmation in A Church

Recently, my wife and I took a cruise from Montreal to Boston. As with most vacations, one of our goals was to leave work behind and focus on relaxing. My work is different than most. I am the founder of The Jewish-Christian Discovery Center. The goal of this non-profit organization is to educate Jews and Christians about their shared religious traditions. The ultimate aim is for people to realize that we are, in my opinion, spiritual siblings.

We arrived in Montreal a few days early to enjoy this beautiful city prior to our cruise. On our first day we took a walking tour of the historic Jewish area of Montreal. We explored a number of buildings from a century ago and learned of the many sacrifices that the first immigrants to Canada endured. That experience was parallel to that of many new immigrants around the world. 

It was on the second day that I had two, almost revelatory experiences. Near our hotel is the stunning and ornate Church of the Notre-Dame Basilica. A Basilica is a Catholic Church which has been accorded special privileges by the Pope.  Our hotel host told us that while it is a functioning church, every day, hundreds line up to come in for a formal tour. We did exactly that. Our visit, led by a guide, began with the church’s history. Built in 1672, Notre-Dame Basilica has had a long spiritual connection to this grand city. The altar contains a massive panorama of Biblical figures depicted by life-size, wooden carved statues.  In the top- center is Jesus with Mary and John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.

It was the figures,  however, that surrounded this centerpiece that caught my attention. All around Jesus are the Biblical figures of Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Melchizedek. Each of these beautifully created works of art were chosen because of their spiritual connections to Jesus and Christianity. Each figure was represented with a scene from the Bible. Abraham is shown on Mt. Moriah following God’s  commands about his son Isaac. Aaron, the high priest, is shown offering a lamb to God. Similarly, Moses and Melchizedek are featured based on their Biblical stories. 

These stunning works of art were placed in this church because they represented actions or ideas that were significant to Christianity. God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is not ultimately done, is seen as a precursor to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Aaron sacrificing a lamb is a spiritual precedent to the sacrifice of Jesus, the Paschal lamb, during Passover.

Recently, my wife and I took a cruise from Montreal to Boston. As with most vacations, one of our goals was to leave work behind and focus on relaxing. My work is different than most. I am the founder of The Jewish-Christian Discovery Center. The goal of this non-profit organization is to educate Jews and Christians about their shared religious traditions. The ultimate aim is for people to realize that we are, in my opinion, spiritual siblings.

We arrived in Montreal a few days early to enjoy this beautiful city prior to our cruise. On our first day we took a walking tour of the historic Jewish area of Montreal. We explored a number of buildings from a century ago and learned of the many sacrifices that the first immigrants to Canada endured. That experience was parallel to that of many new immigrants around the world. 

It was on the second day that I had two, almost revelatory experiences. Near our hotel is the stunning and ornate Church of the Notre-Dame Basilica. A Basilica is a Catholic Church which has been accorded special privileges by the Pope.  Our hotel host told us that while it is a functioning church, every day, hundreds line up to come in for a formal tour. We did exactly that. Our visit, led by a guide, began with the church’s history. Built in 1672, Notre-Dame Basilica has had a long spiritual connection to this grand city. The altar contains a massive panorama of Biblical figures depicted by life-size, wooden carved statues.  In the top- center is Jesus with Mary and John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene.

It was the figures,  however, that surrounded this centerpiece that caught my attention. All around Jesus are the Biblical figures of Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Melchizedek. Each of these beautifully created works of art were chosen because of their spiritual connections to Jesus and Christianity. Each figure was represented with a scene from the Bible. Abraham is shown on Mt. Moriah following God’s  commands about his son Isaac. Aaron, the high priest, is shown offering a lamb to God. Similarly, Moses and Melchizedek are featured based on their Biblical stories. 

These stunning works of art were placed in this church because they represented actions or ideas that were significant to Christianity. God directing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, which is not ultimately done, is seen as a precursor to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Aaron sacrificing a lamb is a spiritual precedent to the sacrifice of Jesus, the Paschal lamb, during Passover.

However, there are additional ideas to be considered.  These four mentioned Biblical figures also symbolize the faith that Jesus lived. They represent the two thousand year history of beliefs, holidays and religious traditions that he was born into, preached about and practiced his whole life. Jesus, as a highly educated Jewish leader, was well versed in the stories of these Biblical patriarchs. 

These stunning works of art reflect the powerful relationship between Jews and Christians: Judaism is the mother faith to Christianity.  I suggest that we are inexorably bound together by a common history of faith, the Bible, religious leaders, prayers and spirituality. Unfortunately, over the last two millennia, this has not been the case. Jews and Christians have had a sad and often painful past. 

As I was thinking about the relationship between the faiths, the tour of the Basilica was proceeding. Our guide showed us a magnificent and ornate two story pulpit. This elevated platform was built in the 1800’s. It gave the priest a raised stand to deliver his sermons.  While admiring the artistry and practicality of the raised pulpit, the guide drew our attention to the base of the pulpit stairway. In this area were two life-like statues: The Biblical prophets of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

These two prophetic figures were deliberately placed at the foundation of the pulpit-stairway. I presume they were placed there as symbols of spiritual inspiration and holiness. I imagine that anyone about to give a sermon would pass these figures and perhaps pray about offering meaningful messages. 

All of these Biblical leaders were placed in prominent positions to emphasize the connections between the two traditions. Indeed, the Church has an informational pamphlet which it offers to its thousands of visitors. One sentence stands out: “Like the altarpiece, the pulpit represents how the Bible’s Old Testament is the basis of the Christian faith.”

In effect, the Church is acknowledging my contention: Judaism is the spiritual parent of Christianity and we are spiritual siblings. In my upcoming book, “A New Look at Rabbi Jesus,” I show the numerous faith, Biblical, and historical connections that Jews and Christians enjoy. I invite you to read it, listen to our podcasts, and stay connected to the Jewish Christian Discovery Center. Our ultimate goal is for all of us to realize that we are linked together by thousands of years of spiritual DNA.

The next time you are in Montreal, visit the Basilica and let me know what you think!

Dr. Abraham (Albert)Slomovitz.