by Rick Rojas
For Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of the web magazine A Journey through NYC religions, this week is like a “World Series,” he said. Or, offering another metaphor, he said, “It’s like the sun and the moon creating a high tide.”
A confluence of religious events, with holy days for Jews and Muslims coming just before the arrival of Pope Francis, has brought an opportunity to showcase another side of New York City, one very much part of its fabric but often overshadowed by its role as a capital of commerce and culture.
By the end of the week, New Yorkers will have seen Yom Kippur services take place at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and holy communion administered at Madison Square Garden. Some recounted riding an elevated train through Queens and seeing a group move to the window to watch Muslim men praying outside on Eid al-Adha, a feast of sacrifice that began on Thursday.
In a city that has a decidedly secular side, the breadth of worship this week highlights the place of faith among the people who live here, reinforced by the hijabs and skullcaps that are part of the cityscape.
“It’s a year-round phenomenon,” the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, said of spirituality in New York. Still, she added, “I think it’s wonderful we see it in high relief this week.”
For Salaam Bhatti, president for the New York metropolitan region of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, it is like a big family reunion.
“All of Abraham’s children are coming together,” he said.
Rabbi Michael S. Miller said he was able to count down to the week by seeing the mural of Francis being painted outside his office window on West 34th Street. “I have the pleasure of looking at his likeness the 12 or so hours I’m sitting in my office every day,” said Rabbi Miller, chief executive officer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
He even noticed congregants joking at the synagogue on Wednesday that the prayer robes they wore for the Yom Kippur services, known as kittels, looked like the pope’s cloaks.
The aura of faith surrounding the city this week has led some to take time to reflect in ways they might otherwise not.
Victoria Hartman, a Roman Catholic, observed a Yom Kippur ceremony at Central Synagogue because, she said, spirituality had been on her mind.
The pope’s message of inclusiveness, she said, seemed particularly resonant on the Jewish Day of Atonement.
“It’s really interesting if you contemplate it — forgiveness, atonement,” said Ms. Hartman, 52, a playwright who lives in Midtown Manhattan. “This pope has focused on it, and I think he’s doing a wonderful thing.”
She said she thought it was significant that both Yom Kippur and the pope’s visit should align like this. “You wonder if it was arranged,” she said, gesturing at the sky.
The week — the pope’s arrival, in particular — has certainly generated complaints. For Kenneth Bronstein, the president of New York City Atheists, there have been plenty of things that he takes issue with, including public schools’ recognizing holy days by giving students days off for Yom Kippur and, for the first time, Eid al-Adha.
Mr. Bronstein also disagreed with the taxpayer money spent and the attention paid by officials for Francis’ visit. “It’s giving religion a pulpit, which we don’t think is correct,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to shut down all these streets. Let him fight the traffic!”
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.