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Vatican Offers Synod News in Hebrew

12 Oct 2010 – By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In an effort to keep Israelis informed about the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, Vatican Radio has invited an expert in Jewish-Christian relations to translate synod news and texts into Hebrew.

Hana Bendcowsky, a Jewish expert on early church history and program director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, said only a person who fully understands both the Christian and Jewish histories and points of view can properly translate not just the words, but the real, intended meanings behind the texts.

Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, had asked Bendcowsky if she would offer her help during the Oct. 10-24 synod at the Vatican, she said. Both Fathers Neuhaus and Pizzaballa are attending the synod proceedings.

The church has often faced extremely negative fallout in the Israeli press after a controversial or sensitive church decision was blown out of proportion or manipulated by the media, Bendcowsky told Catholic News Service Oct. 8.

Some examples, she said, included Pope Benedict XVI’s rewriting of a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews and his lifting the excommunication of a traditionalist bishop who denied the extent of the Holocaust.

If the events had been reported in Hebrew by someone who knew both the church and Israeli concerns, much controversy could have been avoided, she said.

Bendcowsky said she spent hours in front of the computer the night before struggling with just a few sentences from the synod working document, which talks about the Jewish people being the “elder brothers” of the church and their importance for the church as bearers of the first covenant.

She said a translation could easily have been twisted in such a way that it made the church sound like it was being condescending to the Jewish faith, and “I had to figure out which words to use and wondered how it would be interpreted” by people back home in Israel, she said.

Translating statements either from the Vatican or Israel into language the other side will understand and not find offensive, she said, demands the translator “understands the psychology and mentality of Israelis and the Christian church.”

She has honed the skill of making the two worlds understandable to each other through years of interfaith activities in Israel and educational tours in Jerusalem, she said.

She said she tries to help Jews and Christians understand they don’t have to accept the other’s beliefs in order to respect each other. “But you have to know both of their backgrounds if you’re going to be able to do that” successfully, she said.

Pietro Cocco, assistant program director at Vatican Radio, said it will be the first time the radio’s website publishes texts in Hebrew.

A special section of the radio’s website (www.vatiradio.org/synod) will give day-by-day coverage of the synod in six different languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, English, French and Italian, said Cocco.

He said Fathers Pizzaballa and Neuhaus will help him and Bendcowsky wade through the reams of texts and comments that come out of the synod and highlight issues that will be important and of interest to Israel.

“It’s all about making the church known” and understood so as to further interreligious dialogue and cooperation, he said.

The radio is very excited about offering this service, and “we hope it’s the start of something new,” he said.