Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Jewish-Catholic Choir To Perform Sacred Music Concert

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published November 24, 2005

A combined Jewish and Catholic choir will present a Sacred Music Concert of Jewish and Christian Texts on Thursday, Dec. 15, at The Temple, in honor of the 40th anniversary on Oct. 28 of the landmark “Nostra Aetate,” a Second Vatican Council declaration that affirmed a more positive relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions and strongly repudiated anti-Semitism.

The public is invited to the free concert, sponsored by the archdiocese and the American Jewish Committee, Atlanta chapter, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the synagogue. Preceding the concert will be a Scholars’ Symposium including dinner from 4-7 p.m., with registration at 3:30 p.m., for clergy, seminarians, educators and lay leaders interested in furthering Christian-Jewish dialogue. Both the symposium and concert will feature Sister Mary Boys, SNJM, of Union Theological Seminary and Rabbi Michael Signer of the University of Notre Dame.

The music concert will be performed by a combined 20-25 person choir representing the Cathedral of Christ the King’s Cathedral Choir, The Temple Choir and the Archbishop Lyke Memorial Choir and will include pieces in both Hebrew and English, including psalms. Special introductions and liturgical commentary on the pieces will be provided by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Sister Mary and Rabbi Signer. Other commentators include Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin of The Temple; Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, Consul General of Israel to the Southeast; Rabbi Ron Segal, American Jewish Committee Atlanta Chapter vice president; and Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Judy Marx, associate director of the Atlanta AJC, noted the healing and unifying power of the music, which reflects a common faith heritage, not only to celebrate the past but also to move forward in dialogue. The concert “is a celebration and recognition of these 40 years and all that’s been done for Catholic-Jewish relations and for even (other) Christian-Jewish relations and (reflecting on) why were these pieces chosen and what do they teach us,” she said. “It’s about building community.”

Jews have experienced strained relations with and prejudice from Christians for centuries. In “Nostra Aetate,” the church demanded that Jews and Catholics reexamine their relationship and that Catholics begin to fully understand the Jewishness of Jesus. This document rejected the concept that Jews are collectively responsible for Christ’s death and stressed the need for reconciliation and dialogue.

Pope John Paul II was committed to that tradition, and during his tenure, he transformed Jewish-Catholic relations. Among his many acts, he affirmed Jews as elder brothers in faith and their common heritage and brought the Holocaust to the forefront of consciousness as he apologized several times for sins of individual Catholics during World War II, organized a memorial concert and visited Auschwitz. The Holy Father acknowledged Israel as the Jewish homeland and prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. He affirmed that Jews are not guilty of deicide and that there is no supercession of Judaism by Christianity but an ongoing covenant between God and the Jewish people. Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed that the continuation of that legacy is still a priority.

The Dec. 15 music concert was planned by cantor Deborah Benardot of The Temple in cooperation with Dr. Kevin Johnson, the music director of the Lyke choir, and Hamilton Smith, the Cathedral’s music director.

Smith said a combined ensemble will sing some pieces while others will be sung by one or two of the smaller groups, a cappella or with piano accompaniment. Selections reflect a common theme of reconciliation. “It’s reconciliation, hope and God’s presence to humankind through all kinds of adversity.”

Among the highlights, the Cathedral Choir’s men will sing a Gregorian chant setting of the psalm “De Profundis,” and The Temple choir will join them in singing the English choral version of the psalm, “Out of the Depths I Cry.”

“Gregorian chant owes some of its origins to Hebrew chant,” noted Smith. The Lyke choir will sing a spiritual and a closing piece on Psalm 150 that is “a fantastic Gospel setting of the psalm…that will send everybody out of there humming.”

Smith said the archbishop wanted the concert to be held at the synagogue “because so few Roman Catholics have ever even been inside a Jewish place of worship, and he really wanted them to experience that.”

The music director said that The Temple has a large golden Ark of the Covenant, comparable in religious significance to the Catholic tabernacle, on an elevated area also with a lectern and ambo. He noted that “it’s a beautiful site and the acoustics are wonderful.”

Smith grew up in Atlanta and has been active with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, through which he has developed many friendships with Jews, most of whom have been active at The Temple. Having directed CTK’s music program for over 39 years, this is the first Jewish-Catholic concert he’s participated in planning, and he has found the experience edifying.

He said, “It’s very meaningful for me to do this because of my many Jewish friends. I’m a believer in the unbroken continuity between the Old and New Testament and our roots we owe to the Jewish people.”

Marx also finds the experience edifying and is glad that one of the most popular traditional Jewish folk songs will be included, “How Pleasant and Wonderful It Is When Brethren Sit Together.”

She recalled how Archbishop Gregory, after speaking at an interfaith hunger awareness service this summer at Ebenezer Baptist Church, had told the AJC director that they needed to celebrate “Nostra Aetate” together with music, and Msgr. Gracz recommended the inclusion of an educational component. She said that the Jewish community in the past has dealt with issues of diversity amongst Jews and significant growth, which the Church is facing through immigration today, and that the two faith communities have much to learn from one another.

The symposium that afternoon will address both practical and theological issues and “be about beginning dialogue and moving forward.” It will involve small and large group scholarly discussion and lecture, and will address the history and future of Jewish-Catholic relations and other topics including Judaism in pop culture and in the film “The Passion of the Christ.”

Marx commended how Rabbi Signer, who is “such a visible and important Jewish leader,” has chosen to work at Notre Dame, and how Sister Mary is “building bridges” with Jews as well. Sister Mary, in addition to serving as the Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union, is an adjunct faculty member of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Teachers College, Columbia University. After receiving her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia, Sister Mary studied in Jerusalem and has received an honorary degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is also the author of five books, the most recent published in April entitled “Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation.”

Rabbi Signer, in addition to serving as the Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture, is director of the Notre Dame Holocaust Project, interdisciplinary faculty group. Prior to joining the faculty of Notre Dame in 1992, he served as professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. After ordination at the Hebrew Union College, he received his doctorate from the University of Toronto, Centre for Medieval Studies. He was an American Jewish Committee Scholar at Catholic institutions of higher education in Poland, which led to organizing international seminars at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Auschwitz and at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. He’s also the author of five books on topics ranging from medieval Latin biblical commentaries to contemporary Jewish-Christian relations.

“Both are sort of the yin and yang of the world,” Marx said. “We need to be very, very strong in our own beliefs and faith and traditions, but at the same time, reaching out to others really strengthens our own faith and connections to other people. They are the perfect examples of that.”

The Temple is located at 1589 Peachtree St., Atlanta. The cost for the scholars symposium is $15 for materials and the dinner and RSVP is required. To register, visit or send check to American Jewish Committee, Six Piedmont Center, Suite 510, Atlanta 30305. Include e-mail to receive pre-symposium material. For more information call (404) 233-5501.