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Jew in a Church

I’m up for a few days in Northern California, visiting my old college romping grounds, catching up with long-missed friends, and enjoying a the passing moments of a cool Pacific winter.

I went for a walk this afternoon with a friend around a lake here in Oakland. As as we neared the end of our stroll, we happened upon the local Catholic church, a monstrous cathedral of epic proportions. It was completed only this year – a massive modern structure of concrete and glass.

And something inside me pulled towards the building. I have always shied away from churches. I feel mildly uncomfortable inside of them – a little bit outside, and little bit persecuted Jew. Generally, with all due reverence and respect, they don’t interest me.

But this time, something was different. The old, dormant, architect inside of me bubbled to the surface with curiosity. I yanked at my friend, and we walked up the ramp, ascending towards the Temple of God like the staircases in Jerusalem once ascended to God’s home. We walked up to the door, and peaked through the window at its side.

I could see in. Barely.

So, with much angst and equal excitement, I pulled at the door and entered.

The space was empty, save a few other souls, some praying, others praying that they could soon leave; some in awe, others awe-struck by the millions and millions of dollars the structure must have cost.

I expected to be wowed by the engineered steel and wood; once inside, I was most moved by the engineering of soul and spirit. I generally think of churches – at least the big, beautiful kind – as things that are in Europe. This one was a twenty-first century creation; but a space that evoked the spirit of humans as well as any first-century construct. Every inch of the space had meaning, every line significance, ever curve a story. I wanted to cry out, with tears, not voice. I wanted to shout, to pray, to celebrate, to smile.

Such beauty. Such meaning. And I don’t even do that Jesus thing.

Once upon a time, I dropped out of architecture school because I realized that I don’t like to draw. I turned instead to the field of spirit, of God and belief. But I never left behind my reverence for the ability of the buildings we create to display the greatest things about humanity – for architecture to not be about walls and a ceiling but, rather, telling the story of man, to evoke emotions with the delicate use of space.

And I found that, again, finally, tonight, here in Oakland, in the Bay, in the land of my former school.

And last night, after dinner with a friend I have not seen in many changes of the trees, we returned to his apartment and lit the holiday lights. One candle, one helper, burning brightly against the dark of the Winter Solstice. Without prompting or cues, we both sang the day’s blessings, one after another, after another. Same words, same tune. Two men from far different worlds, separated for years from each other.

I could not help but appreciate the divinity of that moment. Of sharing in celebrating the miracle together. And what was that miracle after all? What is that Hanukah thing all about?

So the Macabees one a war. Who cares?

The miracle is in the oil. In the smallest of mundane objects, a physical thing no less mortal than ourselves, which had the power to inspire hope and awe in people throughout centuries.
In the most unexpected of objects, an entire season of celebration was found. The oil like so many other inspiring creations, helps us rise to a higher occasion, to remind us what is important, to remind us what it means to believe, to hope.

That is what Hanukah is about – it is about the ability of man to succeed, to surpass, and in that success redirect one’s thoughts back to the Divine.

In this time, in those days, the miracle befell us. It seems to come alive before my eyes every day of this festival.

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