Pope visits synagogue, historic NYC parish

April 18, 2008 4:49:19 PM PDT
Pope Benedict XVI made two very important visits, to two very different places of worship Friday evening. And in doing so, he made some history.The pope visited a New York City church with a long history in the archdiocese. Before that, he stepped inside a New York City synagogue, the first pope ever to do so.

We have two reports, starting with Eyewitness News' Phil Lipoff at Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side.

Historic irony abounded in the visit today. The pope was born and raised in Nazi Germany. The rabbi of the synagogue he visited is a survivor of the Nazi-led Holocaust.

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    "It's a first," says Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

    And he has good reason to be excited. He convinced the Vatican to make his synagogue an official stop on the pope's trip to the U.S. It's something no other pope has ever done.

    "On the eve of Passover," says Rabbi Schneier, "the pope will be visiting a synagogue."

    And visiting a rabbi who survived the Holocaust is important, because Pope Benedict was forced as a child in Germany to be part of Hitler's Nazi Youth.

    Rabbi Schneier has spent his career, much like the pope, trying to heal those old wounds and move both religions forward together. It's something not lost on those who call Park East home.

    "Just the fact that there's such great dialogue between the two religions, I think that's something," Congregant Carole Garber Feldman said. "We all want the same thing. We all want peace."

    The small, 20-minute gathering was an intimate experience for Park East congregants, an exciting moment.

    Both men have been working their entire careers to bridge the gap in a Judeo-Christian spirit, and I read recently that the pope a few years back said this, "Jews and Christians are pretty much alike. We're both waiting for the Messiah: Jews for the first coming, Christians for the second."

    Pope Benedict's next appearance was at Saint Joseph's church in Yorkville. It's a German parish with a long history.

    Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Rossen went to Yorkville to talk with people who live in the neighborhood.

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    Raymond Perlet remembers growing up in Yorkville, except that back then it was called Germantown or Little Germany. It is a part of Manhattan where at one time the German population equaled that of Munich.

    Kathy Jolowitz is Yorkville's unoffical historian. She says New Yorkers of German decent began moving north from the Lower East Side in the late 1920s. Up until the 1960s, Yorkville boasted seve German theaters, scores of restaurants and beer halls. Today, there's little left on what was called German Broadway--86th Street between Second and Third avenues.

    Today, there are a handful of holdovers. The Heidelberg restaurant still serves up plenty of beer and traditional German dishes. Today's menu featured a pope special.

    Many in the neighborhood are grateful the pontiff is acknowledging the area's rich history by visiting St. Joseph's Church.