Friday, July 22, 2011

Representing Humanity

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik has no problem with putting a cross at the soon-to-open September 11th Memorial & Museum. ‘I have great respect for the religious symbols of all people,’ he said, standing in the late morning sun beating down on East 39th Street. But as the Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis, Mr. Potasnik has fielded innumerable calls and inquiries from the Jewish community. What about our symbols? What about those of our faith who died that day? Noting that ground zero is now the most visited site in New York City, he states he ‘would like to see other symbols represented on an equal level.’

Unfortunately no I-beam Star of David was found in the Trade Center wreckage.

But it is a well-taken point that between four and five hundred of those lost on 9-11 were Jewish. Add to this approximately thirty Muslims (not counting the attackers though many would argue they were not real Muslims anyway). ‘I would like to see a place where we are all represented to show we are united,’ Rabbi Potasnik goes on to tell us. ‘I’d want symbols of all different people, of all different faiths; multiplicity combined with unity. Put them all out there so people can say My God we can stand together.’

This same concept, says Jon, is incorporated in the St. Peter 9-11 Cross: different people coming together as one, just like we did that day. Rabbi Potasnik remains unconvinced.

‘We have to look at a symbol and say This has certain meaning…The cross will never mean for Jews what it means for Christians.’ Mr. Potasnik quoted one Catholic priest as saying the I-beam cross is a symbol for all people. ‘It is not,’ he argues. Just as he does not want to dictate what is important to Christians, he does not see the cross as a universally inclusive symbol. Thus asking people of all faiths to place their prayers inside Jon’s cross is, in his view, an ill-conceived idea.

Still, he believes in a fundamental commonality among all of humanity. ‘There is a universality that brings everyone together.’ The particulars may differ – the prayers, the rituals, and the symbols. ‘But,’ he says, smiling in the sun, ‘we all have the same spiritual birth certificate.’

Which makes for one heck of a potluck spread at the family reunion.