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Published: 11/3/2001

Common roots of Catholics, Jews explored

BY JUDY TARJANYI
BLADE SENIOR WRITER

Bob Fishman is a Jew by birth and a Catholic by choice.

In between he has been a Pentecostal Protestant and a disillusioned Christian who briefly severed his ties with the organized church.

Having planted his feet nine years ago in the Catholic Church, where he now expects to stay, the 39-year-old husband and father travels the country teaching Catholics and other Christians about the Jewish roots of their faith.

A familiar face on the popular Catholic satellite TV network, EWTN, Mr. Fishman will be in Toledo Monday and Tuesday for a series of presentations at St. Rose Parish in Perrysburg on the Jewish roots of Catholicism and Jewish traditions and holidays as they relate to Catholic practices.

“Christianity is a Jewish religion,” he says. “It was started by Jews ... It's an offshoot and it's very Jewish, so the things we do as Christians are going to be very Jewish.” The roots of Christian belief in Judaism, Mr. Fishman says, are beautiful and run deep. “And we should study them.”

For example, he says, the Catholic practice of placing the Eucharist, the consecrated communion bread that Catholics believe is the body of Christ, “the word of God made flesh,” in a tabernacle, is rooted in the Jewish custom of placing the Torah, the word of God, in an ark.

Likewise, Mr. Fishman points out, the Catholic communion celebration is modeled after the Jewish Passover meal that Jesus celebrated with His disciples at their last supper together.

“Almost every single thing we do as Catholics is Jewish and has its roots in Judaism. It's amazing.”

The son of Jewish parents, Mr. Fishman became the first person to break his family lineage by converting to another faith. Until then, he says, there had been no intermarriage and no other conversions.

Although his parents were not especially religious, he says, they did see that he prepared for his Bar Mitzvah at 13. Apart from that, he recalls receiving little religious training.

When he was 17, a friend handed him a Christian New Testament just before he went into the Navy. He read it and liked it.

Once in the Navy, he says, “I met my first born-again Christian. I'd never met one of these guys before. He was convinced I needed to be saved. He left tracts on my bed and everywhere.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Fishman began studying with a Jewish chaplain so that he could prove his born-again buddy wrong.

“I wanted to know the Jewish response to this guy and I wanted to disprove that Jesus was the Messiah. It was almost an obsession with us to look at all the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. There are more than 300. The more I looked at it, the more I had to realize it had to be Jesus. It couldn't be anyone else.”

About that time, Mr. Fishman was transferred to Pensacola, Fla., where, at the invitation of a roommate, he went to a Pentecostal church service.

“I loved it. I heard music I had never heard and preaching and dancing. I thought, `No wonder there are so many Christians if this is what church is like.'”

He responded to an altar call, accepted Jesus as his savior, confessed his sins, and was baptized. That was in 1981. After that, Mr. Fishman continued to worship in Pentecostal churches, but over time felt that something was missing. “I wanted more holiness, something more sacred.”

Although he had learned the Bible well, he says he had reached the point where he no longer wanted to go to church. After praying for direction, he decided to return to his Jewish roots.

“I had just moved to California - Chino Hills outside Los Angeles. I thought if I'm going to learn, I want the real deal.”

He called an Orthodox rabbi.“I said, `I believe Jesus is the Messiah, but I would love to learn Judaism.' He said, `I will teach you Judaism, provided you don't teach my congregation Christianity.'”

Mr. Fishman agreed. “I learned beautiful things. I learned the Jewish people had great rabbis who wrote about mystical prayer, great people who were saints and talked about rapture with God, about ultimately communing with Him beyond words and thoughts. I learned beautiful ceremonies and beautiful sacred traditions that had been passed on and meant something.”

In the process, he says, he started to notice a similarity between what he was studying with the rabbi and what he knew about the Catholic tradition.

He and the rabbi parted ways and Mr. Fishman began an exploration of Catholicism with a Catholic apologist and bookstore owner.

“I said, `I'm a Jewish convert, nondenominational Christian who's anti-Catholic and really confused.'”

The two men began working through what Mr. Fishman calls his “Top 20” list of problems with Catholicism. It included questions about statues, Mary, and calling priests “Father.”

“I learned about sacred tradition, saints, and writings from the early church fathers. Because all the churches I had been in were Bible-based, they took the book of Acts as a catechism, but they never thought about what happened after the book of Acts.”

Mr. Fishman says he saw for the first time what the early Christian church was like. “Here you had writings from people who were early students of John and Peter and knew what they looked like. Nobody ever shared that with me. I knew Genesis to Revelation, but I didn't know anything about what happened to the church in 100 AD. The more I learned, the more I knew I had to belong to this church.”

Now that he has allied himself with Catholicism, Mr. Fishman says he describes himself as a Catholic who came from a Jewish background. He continues to observe the major Jewish holidays, but does so by going to church, not to a temple, and by fasting and abstaining from work, if that is part of the observance.

A former insurance company arbitration judge, he began speaking about his faith after giving a talk about Passover that led to an engagement and contacts with St. Joseph Communications, which now represents him, and later EWTN. He has appeared on the network on a program called Journey Home and also in a series called The Jewish Roots of Catholicism.

Despite his spiritual meanderings, Mr. Fishman thinks Catholicism will remain his home. “It took a long time to get there. It's a church full of sinners ... and I know it has a lot of problems, but it's the oldest and the biggest; it's where all the other churches came from that are Christian.”

Bob Fishman will speak on the “Jewish Roots of Catholicism” at 7:30 p.m. Monday and 1 p.m. Tuesday, and on “Jewish Traditions and Holidays” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in St. Rose Church, 215 East Front St., Perrysburg.



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