I live in Hoboken, a town of churches (and 1 synagogue – hi, Rabbi Scheinberg!) This small city’s Catholic character is obvious to any casual visitor, and certainly struck us strongly when we were scouting the place out and toured many apartments for sale above whose pristine beds, plumped up attractively for prospective buyers, sat crucifixes large and small. In fact, one of my neighbors has in her living room two huge portraits: one of Frank Sinatra, and one of the Pope.
Beyond Hoboken’s fabulous Italian bakeries and delis, another small reason to love it is the notice I get every year that Ash Wednesday is upon us, because the church across from the park I frequent with my children tells the faithful so on its electronic billboard.
And because I am also of the faithful, although not the Catholic faithful, I am glad.
Every year, I revel in that day’s feeling of kinship with the Christians (it’s not just Catholics who observe Ash Wednesday) who out themselves as such by walking around with smeary foreheads on that first day of Lent, which is an entire 40-day season of repentance.
I’m sure there are as many reasons for the observance as there are observers. Some probably do it for their mothers. Some because they have real reason to repent this year; some because they are regular church-goers.
And aren’t we Jews just the same, publicly practicing our religion for a confusing welter of reasons and despite our knowledge that many of the people we interact with while doing so think we are a bit silly, or irrational, or weak in the head?
Every year, I applaud these Christians’ brave statement of, if not faith, at least identity. Until now, in silence.