Cantor Steve Shor, who has long held that music breaks down all barriers was chosen to be part of the North American delegation to the Vatican commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Papal decree absolving Jews of the responsibility for the crucifixion. On January 17th-18th, he brought this exciting lyric tenor to an historic convocation “bringing the Jews and the world one step closer to peace.” As readers already know, Steve Shor was chosen with just 14 others by the Cantors Association to represent them at this ecumenical event. He performed the Schechiyanu, a traditional tune to which he adds exciting changes in tempo, to a mixed audience of Catholics and Jews.
The trip was arranged by Pave The Way, a new organization “which was constituted to enhance cordial relations and dialogue between Christians and Jews and between the Vatican and the State of Israel.” Members of the group, before and during the trip, publicly acknowledged that John Paul II is the first Pope “who ever entered a synagogue in Rome, made a pilgrimage to Israel, inserted a note of apology to the Jewish people at the Western Wall, recited a memorial prayer at Auschwitz and established diplomatic relations with the stat of Israel.”DESCRIBING THE EXPERIENCE
The most important room, the “Sistine Chapel,” is an exact replica of the Holy Temple and is “exactly as described in the books of my youth.” The only difference, Cantor Steve points out, Is that “here we walked in whereas in the real Temple only the High Priest, the Cohen Gadol, was allowed inside. There is tremendous excitement in being able to have the same experience as a High Priest. On Yom Kippur, he walked in with a chain around his legs.” Responding to my quizzical look, Steve explains, “Since only the priest is permitted to enter this chamber, plans had to be made in case he died.” When this happened, and it is recorded that it sometimes did, the priest was pulled out by the chain.
The Cantor continues: “When Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Basilica, he painted amazing Jewish stories. Michelangelo studied Mishnayot, Talmud and Tanach.” Small details, not in common knowledge, are reproduced in his artwork. In one story, Eve ate the apple from the forbidden tree. The Talmud describes the fruit as a fig, not an apple as is commonly believed in western culture.
“Twelve paintings or windows describe the twelve tribes. Moshe Rabbeinu’s bris (Moses our rabbi/teacher) is depicted and another painting illustrates the incident where Moses chases the Egyptian who harasses the young girls drinking at the well.” One of these young women become Moses’ wife other pictures, all of which “feel like a live story – they are so powerful,” depict the Jews crossing the Sea Of Reeds, Moses accepting the Torah and David and Goliath. “Only someone who has tremendous knowledge could paint such pictures.”
It is now believed, according to the Cantor, that many artifacts looted from the Second Temple are hidden in the Vatican. A panel on Titus’s arch depicts the Romans carrying the Menorah from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple. “Paintings and sculptures describe real events. There is no question that they took it,” the Cantor asserts. Some believe that the gold decorating the Temple was melted into coins or buried in the Titus River.HISTORIC CONCERT
“Everyone had so much fun. This is when I knew that I made it. The song I sang, that the Temple be rebuilt, was very appropriate and all the rabbis and priests got up and danced.
“Me, I am personally very grateful that Barry and Sheila were there with me. It’s great to know that there is someone there for you. I walked off and almost cried and Barry said, ‘You made me so proud of you.’ He was very excited and gave me great feedback.”
“When I saw everyone get up to dance, then I knew I made it. We left the local people something they will remember forever. The Rabbi from Rome couldn’t thank us enough. That night, we went to a restaurant where we sat and sang until 2:30 in the morning, Barry, Sheila, me, the other cantors and the locals.”
“The next morning we got up and went to meet the Pope. There was a different energy, different feelings, but all positive feelings. We walked into a palace. There was not one cross in the room. Possible they were removed out of respect for the Jews. The Pope was wheeled n. he is one of the Chassidei Olam, Righteous Gentiles, who have a place in heaven.”
“Seeing the person who represents over a billion Catholics and knowing that this Pope has done well by the Jews and me being there and my involvement joining the delegation is an event that I will never forget. The Pope announced that Jews are their oldest brothers and you have to respect your brother.” Cantor Shor concludes, “I am a part of creating History—creating an energy you can’t really describe in words.”
Steve, Sheila, and Barry all returned with a unique souvenir: a picture of themselves shaking hands one-on-onewith Pope John Paul II. Each described that experience as “incredible” and “awesome”.
Sheila and Barry came back with other surprises. They were amazed to see that “Moses is given equal treatment with Jesus in the Sistine Chapel.” Barry describes six panels on either side of the chapel that illustrate similar life cycle events for Moses and Jesus. “And the painting of Jonah is in the most prominent place, a symbol of a troubled life.” They also reported that security was somewhat lax. The photos they displayed on return on Friday night proved beyond a doubt tat they and the Cantor had take part in a pivotal event in world history.
Had Barry and Sheila Weintrob not been on the trip, we would never have known about the leadership role that Steve Shor plays among the cantors and the esteem in which he is held in that community. Barry reposts that the Cantor arranged parts of the trip, that the others looked to him for stage cues and that it was Steve’s voice that rang the clearest in the Vatican and the Great Synagogue.Yasher Koach Cantor!