The reverend and the rabbi

As the reverend and the rabbi stood upon the altar at Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher and looked out at the filled pews, they complemented and acknowledged each other with every word and every gesture, however subtle.

The men, women and children assembled to honor the memory and life of Patricia Brinkley Shulimson (1940-2008) were witness to a perfect paradigm of two religions combining to yield an amalgam of mutual respect, understanding, cooperation, acceptance and love.

Whether in English or in Hebrew, from the Gospels or the Torah—and despite a personal grounding in one—not for a moment did I embrace one reading more than the other. The vision, the sounds, the aroma, the feelings and, yes, the taste that permeated the air was akin to manna. When the final hymn was movingly sung and the final prayer offered, the people filed out of the church and many elected to travel several miles to the Lou Pollack Cemetery, historically reserved for interment of this area’s Jewish population. That day in late October, for the first time, a plot was dug in an area to be reserved for interfaith couples.

Again, the reverend and the rabbi faced the two families gathered beneath the canopy and friends surrounding it and seamlessly combined to conduct the burial service. Jewish custom suggests that immediate family, followed by extended family and then friends, disperse a shovelful of earth upon the lowered coffin. As each mourner participated in this final phase of the service, my wife and I turned to observe Patricia’s 93-year-old mother seated in a wheelchair. After Patricia’s husband, daughter and brother each returned from the graveside, we were unsure if Mrs. Brinkley would be physically capable of wielding a large shovel, or whether she would be inclined to participate. As she approached the graveside, stood and tossed a hefty shovelful of earth upon the coffin, our doubts were erased.

Leaving the cemetery, I remembered that Patricia had orchestrated all that had passed that day. She anticipated the diversity of the people who would gather and the possible reluctance of many to accommodate unfamiliar beliefs and customs; however, in her foresight and wisdom she trusted that a greater purpose and common emotions would transcend all else and prevail.

I hope that all who attended realized the simple yet profound lesson taught and how germane it is to the difficulties that plague our country today. Only by putting aside our petty differences, respecting and appreciating our diversity and working together toward a common and greater good for all can we ultimately prevail.

The reverend and the rabbi know it; Patricia Brinkley Shulimson in her wisdom knew it. Let us hope that the rest of our great nation will realize it and embrace it before too long!

— Edward T. Wolfsohn
Asheville

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