Saturday, September 22, 2007

True Atonement

In 1966 Gary Lowenmensch* turned 13 and, of course, his family celebrated the event with the traditional rite of passage, his Bar Mitzvah. The Lowenmensches lived just up the block from us and they were members of the reform congregation, Temple Mount Sinai. Gary and I buddied around together, so my family was honored with an invitation to Jerry's big event. Oddly, I don't think the Hochbergs* (who live further up the block past the Lowenmensches) were invited. Jerry and Alan Hochberg told me their parents discouraged them from associating with the Lowenmensches. The Hochbergs were members of the orthodox/conservative congregation, Synagogue B'nai Zion. The synagogue was a dank old structure near downtown El Paso that appeared to be begging for some Russian Orthodox church to make an offer.

In stark contrast, the temple (where the Lowenmensches went) is a stylish work of art perched high on the western foothills of Mount Franklin at (what was in 1966) the end of North Stanton Street. The sunset vistas from that location are truly spectacular, and the auditorium of the temple faces westward. But oddly the temple has no western windows and the widest end of the temple's
paraboloid (the end with soaring stained glass windows) faces eastward where the windows catch virtually no light. Mount Franklin blocks the view of sunrise and the west side of the building affords the congregation no view of the gorgeous west Texas sunsets.

As I sat in the pew at the back of the temple's auditorium I wasn't particularly pondering the building's odd orientation. I was struck by all the beautiful woodwork on display before us, especially the beautiful ark containing the Torah scrolls. During the service the rabbi gave a sermon that spoke highly of unity among Jewish congregations, comparing them favorably with Christian churches that have fought endlessly over "minor" issues. All in all, the guy made a valid point or two, but he failed to shift me from my belief that the Protestant Reformation was a very good idea. Following the rabbi's oration, Gary Lowenmensch demonstrated his facility with the daily portion, and we were invited to join Gary in a reception room behind the auditorium and congratulate him on his ascendancy to manhood. My family (as the outsiders at this extended family gathering) lingered long enough to be polite and then left.

Fast forward two years. My colleagues from Coronado High and I are crammed into Ronnie Peres's* GTO, listening to Jim Morrison screaming "C'mon Baby, Light My Fire ..." on Ronnie's eight-track. I conclude, "Well, I guess 'The Doors' are better than Bob Dylan," but Ronnie is absolutely blown away by the music and keeps the volume knob pegged clockwise. So when we finally pile out of Ronnie's car in the parking lot of the Carousel Club in Anapra, New Mexico, I'm relieved that the assault on my eardrums has finally ended. At this point in the story, you probably have all the wrong ideas about what a crowd of under-age boys are doing in Anapra NM at a place called the Carousel Club. We're the Coronado High School cross country team, and we've decided to do something different for our workout that day. We're going to run up a mountain -- a 1000-foot volcanic outcropping named Mount Cristo Rey.

Near the parking lot of the Carousel Club a winding dirt road exits from the Anapra Highway and snakes its way up the mountain. We pile out of Ronnie's GTO and trot off at a brisk pace straight toward the mountain. Jimmy Bates* lopes on ahead (the freak is nothing but legs and lungs). A half-hour later I drag my gasping body onto the mountain top, ahead of three of our six-person team. Bates, completely rested and leaning against a massive monument, chides me for taking so long. As we stand there surveying the west side of El Paso, I see a building I recognize. It's Temple Mount Sinai about two or three miles away. With that roof of concentric arches, it's unmistakable.

Then it dawns on me: I'm looking straight up the nose of the temple. Aha! Now I understand why the synagogue (even though its pews face westward) doesn't have any western windows. If that Jewish congregation could see beyond those Torah scrolls, they'd be looking straight at "Cristo Rey", Christ the King! And atop that mount they'd see
this monument and they might remember:

Isaiah 65:1-2
"I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, 'Here am I, here am I,' To a nation which did not call on My name. I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts."

And if this story seems a bit too contrived to be true, just check it out. Here's an image from a
webcam that sits on Ranger Peak. I've drawn a line from Temple Mount Sinai to Mount Cristo Rey.

* All names have been changed.


Hula Doula said...

My guess is that they did not want any conversions during temple. Some young boy with a wild imagination seeing the clouds parting or light shining on the statue during temple. Might kind of taint things.

Bob said...

Yeah, I agree, but I’m struck by the metaphor. The ark (the structure they’ve build around the Torah) literally blocks their view of Cristo Rey, just as the tradition they’ve built around the Torah keeps them from seeing Christ the King which the Torah points to. As I calculate it (based on the azimuth from the temple to the mountain), some time around Hanuchah (a.k.a., the feast of lights) right at sunset Cristo Rey casts its shadow on Temple Mount Sinai.