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A Covenant of Understanding

Mar 22, 2010
by Nadia Ramoutar

Student planning to become priest chooses internship at synagogue to better understand other religions

Flagler senior Briggs Hurley stands at the altar practicing Hebrew prayers. Overhead the wording in Hebrew translates into, “Know before whom you stand.” Behind him is a beautiful pane of handmade stained glass in vibrant colors.

Rabbi Mark Goldman, dressed immaculately, interrupts Hurley to admonish him for wearing shorts and flip flops to temple.

“Oh, we’re relaxed since Vatican II,” Hurley says with a grin, dismissing the comment with a wave. Rabbi Goldman rolls his eyes and shakes his head. Then he smiles.

If this were an ordinary conversation between a Rabbi and his Jewish student, the response would make no sense. But since Hurley is going to be attending Catholic Seminary to become a priest soon, the comment fits. What doesn’t fit is a Catholic student practicing Hebrew prayers under the direction of a Rabbi at Temple Bet Yam, a Reform Judaism Synagogue in St. Augustine.

It’s all part of a unique internship Hurley created for his senior year that is focused on a lofty goal the two men hold dear: greater tolerance in the world for paths to God.

Goldman says he and his intern are oddly “a match made in heaven.”

At Temple Bet Yam, Hurley has not only learned Hebrew prayers, religious history and
tradition, but the two have also created a special ceremony to mark his success. They are calling the ceremony “Brit Binah” meaning “Covenant of Understanding.”

“He’s Mr. Perfect,” Goldman said of Hurley. “He’s doing unbelievably well. He’s like a sponge. He is such a quick learner. Briggs is a citizen of the world. He came to Flagler College as a young man with an old soul.”

Hurley has become so proficient in Hebrew that he is currently singing in the choir at the Temple. His mother and grandmother, also devout Catholics, are attending services.

“My Catholic grandmother has no idea what’s going on, but she comes anyway to be supportive,” he jokes.

An Unusual Internship

The idea for the internship came up in the spring semester of 2009 when Hurley took Goldman’s Introduction to Judaism course and loved it. Hurley was eager to learn more about Judaism. “I’ve always been a proponent of inter-religious dialogue,” he said. “I wanted to do an internship in my final year, and I felt that Rabbi Mark and I had a great friendship.”

“We developed a rapport,” Goldman said. “But I had never heard of this. Briggs invented this. I was reluctant at first. No Catholic ever asked me this before. Then Briggs met with [Flagler Liberal Studies chair] Tim Johnson and came up with the syllabus. It was impressive and comprehensive.”

At first glance the two men’s lives may appear contradictory, but watching them interact, there is a profound respect and admiration between the two.

“He reminds me all the time that Jesus was born and died a Jew,” Hurley said. A few minutes later, Goldman repeats this very phrase. Hurley smiles at him and raises his eyebrows. The two men have an open and energetic rapport. “I have to take my vitamins before I come to see Rabbi Mark,” Hurley said.

Although they both come from different walks of life, they have much in common on their journey of faith. Both are lively and exuberant, are world travelers who speak French and have a passion for spirituality and family. They are excellent pianists and love classical music. Each has a staunch conviction about his faith and his commitment to the traditions of his religious upbringing. Both love to banter and share a quick wit and steadfast intelligence.

But Hurley is obviously on a much different path than Goldman, who has 43 years experience as a congregational Rabbi and who served as a chaplain during the Vietnam War.

Hurley, who is graduating after just three years with a dual major in religion and politics, is about to embark on a six-year commitment to Seminary College at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. Attending at the request of Bishop Victor Caleone, he will earn a master’s degree in philosophy and also theology.

Hurley said his family is supportive of his decision to become a priest. “My family was elated,” he explained. “It wasn’t just out of the blue. I have been talking about doing this since I was 7 years old.”

Building dialogue between religions

After visiting Flagler College as a guest speaker, Goldman was asked to teach a class as an adjunct instructor. The Rabbi was reluctant at first, but has now been teaching courses for the past five years.

“I love talking to college students,” he said. “It’s become a very rich experience. Students often come into the class with stereotypes about Jews.”

But rather than avoid conflict, Goldman provides an open forum for dialogue.

“I open up the class by asking students what they think of Jews,” he said.

Hurley and Goldman agree that better dialogue between religions is critical, and that goes to the heart of the internship Hurley created.

Goldman says he loves to empower people and believes that Hurley will make a terrific priest, partly because of that willingness to open dialogue and better understand others.

“This Father Hurley will go out with a new outlook into the world,” Goldman said. “He will carry a lantern of light, a new kind of lantern. That’s the reason I said yes to this internship.”

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