On this Feast of Pope St. John XXIII

I can’t think of a better tribute to this charming saint:

““When I was a child, my ambition was to be pope. I remember watching the funeral of John XXIII and asking my mother, “Who was that man?” I understood very little about him, but I did learn from the television coverage that he lived in Italy, had a very nice white suit and a great hat, and everyone seemed to love him. My mother responded, “That’s Pope John XXIII.” She, like most Jewish parents, was familiar with then cardinal Roncalli’s efforts to save Jews during World War II as well as with his convening of Vatican II, the gathering that finally condemned the teaching that all Jews, everywhere, were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Thus she added, “He was good for the Jews.” I immediately decided I would be pope: it meant lots of spaghetti, great accessories, and the job was good for the Jews. “I want to be pope,” I announced to my mother. “You can’t,” she replied. “You’re not Italian.” Clearly, for a variety of reasons, I was in desperate need of instruction regarding the relationship between church and synagogue.

“When I was seven, this early fascination with Christianity came to a head with two events. First, I became insistent upon making my First Communion. All my friends were preparing for this special event, and I didn’t want to be left out. My desire was not motivated by religious fervor or even religious understanding; I lacked both. Rather, I wanted the dress with the matching white patent-leather shoes. To provide me some consolation, my mother bought me a wedding gown for my Barbie doll. I’d dress Ken in his groom suit, with the jacket on backwards and with white construction paper for the clerical collar. Then, practicing what I learned from my friends, I’d have Barbie, in her bride dress, take Communion from Ken every morning before school.

“Second, that year a friend on the school bus said to me, “You killed our Lord.” “I did not,” I responded with some indignation. Deicide would be the sort of thing I would have recalled.” —Amy-Jill Levine


8 Responses

  1. I was 6 or 7 years old the first time I got called a dirty Jew— 65 years ago. It was a regular epithet that didn’t disappear for another 10 years. I was probably 10 the first time I was told “you killed the baby Jesus.” I was 27 when F. Bailey Smith of the southern baptists declared that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a jew.”

    Not the first time nor the last time to hear this from a sanctimoniously religious Christian.

    I won’t go into the other loving, generous epithets that have been lovingly, generously applied by The People Who Love the Lord.

  2. When I was a kid, this nice Jewish man built a gigantic estate nextdoor to us. We were allowed to come over whenever we felt like it to swim in his amazing pool. It was designed to look like a natural lake with a waterfall. I’d never seen such a thing before and couldn’t believe our good fortune. He had a Hanukkah Bush every year that looked just like a Christmas tree. Professional people with ladders decorated it extravagantly. We were graciously invited to his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Later in life, I was told that he technically wasn’t allowed to build that house because the HOA had a rule forbidding Jews and Blacks. But they wouldn’t allow him to become a member of the country club which literally bordered his property. The gossip wnt around that his kid filled all of the keyholes of the club with superglue to retaliate. I didn’t blame him. It hardly evened the score.

    When one of my boys (nephew?–I can’t remember) was going to Bishop Garcia High School some of the kids would give the Jewish kid some flak for being Jewish. One day he laughed back and said, “you’re laughing at me for being Jewish? You *worship* a Jew.”

    Haha Burn.

    When we were growing up we were jealous of the Jewish kids for getting a big haul on their Bar Mitzvah. We’d get a holy medal for confirmation and they’d get an epic party and envelopes of cash. My kids thought they were being original by trolling me and saying, “Haw-come WE don’t get a Bar Mitzvah?”

    My daughter attended a Bat Mitzvah a couple of weekends ago. There was a DJ, a wood burning pizza truck, a *donut* truck, a photobooth and those lights they use for movie premiers. It seems like Catholics aren’t very good at throwing a good Catholic themed party in this country–unless of course you’re a Bishop or higher.

    My husband has a smidgeon of Jewish in him. I find that particularly satisfying when considering all of the fascinating ingredients that make up who he is. We thought it was Spanish Jewish but surprisingly it’s the Ashkenazi kind. He makes fun of my DNA report by saying that it’s kind of a bore. To this I responded, “well yours looks like your relatives really got around.”

    1. @ taco

      I used to work for and bat mitzvahs like that. I like them because I would usually make a pile of money, but I thought that they were way too over the top for a kid that age. As St. Oscar Levant (also Jewish) said, nothing exceeds like excess.

      I remember one bar mitzvah I did maybe 35 years ago. It was for a very wealthy local family whose name you probably might know. The caterer was a friend of mine, and told me they spent $100,000. Remember, this was 1986 perhaps. But that wasn’t the story. The story was that the kid complained about it. He wasn’t happy.

      I was appalled. $100,000 can buy several truckloads of entitlement.

      1. @ Ben,
        Yes, the money thing is very fraught. Sigh.

        We finished “The White Lotus” on HBO Max last night and I admitted I loved it after my husband said “I feel dirty”. (The gay guy is not portrayed well, but it’s not because there’s an agenda.)

        Someday I will write my own version of that story with a nom de plume. I will pretend it’s fiction.

  3. I recall an old old movie made in Argentina. I was a kid so I did miss the context then. But it had to do with a girl raised by her father to be a thief. She has a friendship with a Jewsih storekeeper who gives her advice. When the priest realizes what happens with this child he goes to the storekeeper, who first becomes defensive, until the priest says that basically he is not the problem but the solution. Between the two they rescue the girl (the father is killed by other thieves) and the priest will arrange for the storekeeper to raise the child.

    The movie ends with the quote “Pease on Earth to all men of good will”

    I do wish I recalled that movie…

  4. “On 17 October 1960, he met with a delegation of 130 American Jews associated with the United Jewish Appeal. He greeted them with words from the Bible “I am Joseph your brother” to establish that he and they were starting a new relationship despite what may have passed between Catholics and Jews before, as Joseph reconciled with his brothers in Book of Genesis.

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