A Fellowship Grows in Brooklyn

(America) As a faith-sharing group, I’m not sure it would pass muster. In fact, the members of our ad hoc assembly—all three of us—don’t even share the same faith. And yet every month our trio—a rabbi, a Jewish painter and a Catholic musician—gathers for breakfast in Brooklyn and talks about God.

It sounds like the start of a bad joke—admittedly, we look out of place at Le Pain Quotidien in Park Slope surrounded by mothers and baby carriages—but our get-togethers are among the most profound fellowship experiences I’ve had. I don’t understand exactly why that is, but I think it involves the fact that each of us is uniquely uncomfortable in our chosen vocations precisely because we feel compelled to talk about God in the first place. We are bound together by stubborn persistence and willful irrelevance.

Rabbi Dan Ain, 37, is the director of tradition and innovation at New York’s 92nd Street Y, a 140-year-old Jewish cultural institution. We met years ago when he asked me to speak at a Shabbat on Tap series about “The G-d I Believe In.” It was a great evening of conversation in a bar with a very smart group in Lower Manhattan. After a while it was pretty clear, though, that Dan and I were the only people present who actually believed in “G-d.” We were chock-full of Jewish psychologists, psychoanalysts and people in the arts, but the clearest statement of faith I heard was from one participant who identified as a “non-theist” instead of an atheist.

This confounded me until Dan told me a story about a respected rabbi he studied with at Jewish Theological Seminary who had escaped from Poland but lost his family in the Holocaust. Dan asked him how he could endure so much and yet continue, at an advanced age, to show up at the seminary everyday to study Scripture and commentary alone in the basement. “There are three pillars in Judaism: God, Torah and Israel” the rabbi explained. “I love Torah. I’ve spent my whole life studying and debating Scripture. I love the Jewish people (Israel). I love our history, our traditions. God? Well, two out of three ain’t bad.” [more]