HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Exactly as far away on the calendar as you can get from the Jewish holiday of Chanukah — six months since the last one, six months until the next — a symbol signifying a miracle Jews believe happened thousands of years ago got some modern salvation of its own.
And it came at the hands of a Catholic man.
Matt McGuire recently moved from near Richmond, Va., where he taught history at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, to Harrisburg, where he will teach at Trinity High School in Camp Hill. A friend in Virginia called McGuire.
“He explained they had found a menorah while cleaning out the attic of his new home,” McGuire said. “He had resolved to throw it in a dumpster when it occurred to him that he heard I sometimes teach students about the great religious traditions.”
McGuire’s response? Give me the menorah, and I’ll get it into good hands.
“It was obvious to me that it had to be done,” he said. “And I gave it some thought and felt like well, this symbol’s important to Jews and is something that should be used to worship by a Jewish family. That was an important thing to do. And that led me to contact Rabbi Muroff.”
Rabbi Ron Muroff, that is, of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg. One part of the story that has little connection to the past: how McGuire found Muroff.
“I Googled ‘synagogue’ and ‘Harrisburg,” McGuire said.
When considering what to do, McGuire recalled the words of Jonathon Sacks, an orthodox rabbi and member of the U.K.’s House of Lords who died in late 2020.
“He described the relationship between Christians and Jews and Muslims and others as ‘cherished friends,'” McGuire said. “And so I happen to believe that too. So I feel like a symbol of any of the great religious traditions is worthy of respect and admiration by all.”
Muroff suggested to McGuire that he give the menorah as a gift to C.J. Schneier, a 13-year-old boy who ceremonially became a bar mitzvah — “son of the commandments” — at the synagogue last weekend. McGuire sent the menorah to C.J., along with a letter that began: “You probably did not expect to receive a menorah from a complete stranger who is Catholic and not Jewish. Allow me to explain.” And he explained. And taught a bit, because he’s a teacher and couldn’t resist.
“If one American cannot practice their faith without fear, then no American’s religious freedom is fully secure,” McGuire wrote.
McGuire is the first to concede that’s not an original thought. After all, when he finally got to meet C.J. and his family and Muroff in person this week, McGuire recounted a letter George Washington wrote to the congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., including Washington’s description of “the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction…”
C.J.’s characterization of McGuire’s message about faith?
“No one can talk you out of it,” C.J. — who is also half-Asian, with all that entails nowadays — said of anyone who would try. “Don’t listen to them. It’s just you. Not them.”
McGuire isn’t oblivious to the tensions between some members of different religions.
“There’s no doubt, this is a divisive and difficult time,” he said. “But I think it’s important for people to remember that there are many more people like the people gathered here right now” — Muroff and the Schneier family, that is — “who have respect and admiration for different faith traditions.”