Praising Cardinal William H. Keeler for his role in improving Jewish-Roman Catholic relations, representatives of Baltimore Jewry presented a silver menorah to him yesterday "as one who has spent his life spreading light to others."
Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, spoke of Jewish leaders' anticipation that Archbishop Keeler would be raised to the rank of cardinal. "We knew it was only a question of time," Rabbi Zaiman said, "and better sooner than later."
Noting "the remarkable changes in relations" between Jews and Catholics in recent years, Rabbi Zaiman said of the newly elevated cardinal, "Our friend is now one of the key Catholic leaders in this area of church life -- so we rejoice."
Speaking of the future of Jewish-Catholic relations, Cardinal Keeler described a global interfaith partnership working toward international peace -- in the Holy Land, for example -- as well as local cooperation aimed at "peace in our own community."
Reminding his audience that "85 percent of the operating costs" of religious education in Israel is paid by the Israeli government, Cardinal Keeler urged Jewish support for Maryland legislation that would ease the financial burden of maintaining Catholic schools in the Baltimore archdiocese.
"We do want to keep working together," the Catholic prelate said, "in areas where we are happy to collaborate -- we who are people of faith."
Making the presentation of the menorah at a crowded reception in the offices of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Richard M. Lansburgh, the group's chairman, spoke of candlelight as a symbol shared by Jews at Hanukkah and Christians at Christmas. "This Hanukkah menorah is central to our Jewish tradition," Mr. Lansburgh said, placing the nine-branch candelabrum in the cardinal's hands. A standing-room-only audience of nearly 150 applauded.
"We are delighted to present it to you," Mr. Lansburgh said. "For just as the Jewish people have been called to be a light unto the nations, so you have been a light unto others. And just as the light of the menorah spreads and grows brighter and stronger on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, so your light will grow brighter and stronger in the coming days and years as you assume your new role in the church."
Cardinal Keeler began his response with a light-hearted apology for "forgetting to bring my yarmulke -- I have a nice red one now." It was a reference to the skull cap of brilliant pink that marks his membership in the College of Cardinals, the rank conferred on him Nov. 26 by Pope John Paul II.
He praised the pioneering interfaith work of Cardinal Lawrence J. Shehan, one of his predecessors, and recalled the warm welcome from Jewish leaders during his own first months as archbishop as having allowed him "to meet many of you for the first time."