Here was a Judaism far from the one I had previously encountered in my books.
When walking around the city and stopping by synagogues of various traditions, I saw celebrations and commemorations that were so vibrant and bursting with life. The elevated sensations of Rosh haShanah, the stillness and somberness of Yom Kippur, Sukkot with its hospitality, and the joy and dancing of Simchat Torah.
To me, these celebrations, prayers and traditions were very much saturated with life. Spending the autumn in Jerusalem left me with lasting impressions that also allowed me to view my Christian traditions through a new lens.
As you all know, Christians and Jews celebrate Easter / Passover around the same time, and the Christian Easter cannot be understood without its connection to the Jewish celebration of Passover.
In Christianity there is however no direct equivalent of the High Holydays. Sure, we do celebrate a new year of sorts on the first Sunday of Advent, but there is no Day of Atonement besides Good Friday, and we do not have a Simchat Torah!
According to the New Testament, Jesus celebrated Sukkot but that is not something that Christians generally celebrate.
These differences say something about the different paths Jews and Christians have taken, despite sharing so much. The fact that many Christians take an interest in Jewish Holydays indicates that we do recognize the relevance of these traditions also for ourselves. Perhaps we can speak of "holy envy", as Krister Stendahl used to do!
History has shown us misconceptions, animosity, hatred, prejudice and persecution. In light of this, every step taken out of curiosity and a willingness to learn is something we should encourage.
Every door opened between traditions and communities is to be celebrated. Where there is understanding and respect there is a chance for peace and fraternity. "No religion is an island", Abraham Joshua Heschel used to say, and that means we have entire worlds to discover when meeting each other.
On behalf of the ICCJ Executive Board, the ICCJ General Secretary and ICCJ’s staff in Heppeneheim, with these words I would like to wish all of our Jewish sisters and brothers blessed High Holydays.
There is an ancient Jewish notion that the windows of heaven remain open to prayer this time of year, and this is something we can all find comfort in, regardless of our own faith traditions.
May we all be fortunate enough to be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may we find courage and strength for the year to come.
Shanah Tovah u'Metukah – a sweet new year to all of you!
Rev. Dr Bo Sandahl