Riverhead Police intervened to keep antagonists separated after a pro-Trump road rally on Sept. 20. Photo: Denise Civiletti

I have always admired Judaism and Jewish traditions. As a Catholic Christian, I appreciate that the foundations of my faith are found in Old Testament covenants and Jewish traditions revealed in the Old Testament. 

Growing up in Connecticut, I didn’t know very many Jewish people. In the Catholic church, I was raised with a very basic understanding of Old Testament history and little exposure to Jewish traditions and how they related to my Catholic faith.

When we married and moved to Long Island, I met many beautiful people who were Jewish. One of my closest friends was Jewish and she brought her children up with both  Jewish and Christian traditions because her husband was Catholic. When she later decided to convert, I had the honor of being her godmother and sponsor as she entered the Catholic Church. Her children followed her shortly after but the family maintained both their Jewish and Christian traditions. 

At the hospitals and doctors’ offices in NYC, I am inspired by the family commitments and prayer traditions of the Orthodox Jewish community. When loved ones are sick, there is a great outpouring of community support and special attention to their expressions of faith — even in the hospital setting. 

On many occasions, I have been reading scripture and praying over my daughter in English, while a Jewish parent on the other side of the curtain, was reciting Psalms and prayers in Yiddish. It consoles me knowing that we are all turning our hearts and minds to God in prayer.

Last week was Rosh Hashanah — the beginning of the Jewish New Year when families ask the Almighty for peace and blessings in the coming year. Yom Kippur is celebrated this year beginning at sundown this evening, Sept. 27-28. Yom Kippur — or the Day of Atonement — is considered the holiest day of the year and the day when G-d cleanses his children of all sins. The time in between these two High Holy Days is called the “Ten Days of Awe” — a time of repentance and forgiveness.

I’ve been more aware of these Jewish holidays this year because my husband has been assisting one of our local synagogues in streaming their services to the Jewish communities so as to help them follow religious observance and comply with safety protocols. His work and home schedules have changed to accommodate these celebrations. 

The other day,  I realized that coincidentally or providentially — depending on your perspective — we hit the 40-day mark before Election Day during these “days of awe.” It is a perfect time to embrace repentance and forgiveness. 

The number 40 is also important in the Judeo-Christian traditions and the Old and New Testaments.

Some examples include: The Lord caused it to rain 40 days and 40 nights when Noah and his family were on the ark. (Genesis 7:12).  Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights receiving instructions from the Lord. (Exodus 24:18). Moses interceded on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights (Deuteronomy 9:18,25).

Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the desert (Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2) He also spent 40 days with his disciples from the time of his resurrection until his ascension into heaven. (Acts 1:3).

Choosing to embrace this convergence as providence, and inspired by the rhythm of these holy days in the Judeo-Christian traditions,  I decided to set aside the next 40 days as a time of prayer and fasting— especially for our nation as we prepare for the election. 

Do you have any better ideas for healing the divide in this country?

Yard signs, protests, and parades, sharing posts, or entering into debates on social media seem to be causing more confusion and a deeper divide in this already contentious race. We are so saturated with information that it appears we have lost the ability to listen and respect one another’s right to free speech. 

These days, it seems that we can’t even agree on what even constitutes free speech, the free exercise of religion, and the right to peacefully assemble as delineated in the Bill of Rights.

I think it’s largely the use of social media — including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — which has caused us to lose the art of civil discussion and respect for opinions that differ from our own. Keyboard warriors, judging the worth of one’s opinion with a click, can mask true intentions of the heart. 

At this point in the election cycle, it’s not likely that we are going to change another’s opinions and/or votes by sharing one more article or meme disparaging candidates and belittling the viewpoints of friends. 

I’m pretty done with all of it and it’s not even October! 

I don’t really follow national news much any more but I do stay abreast of breaking news events (Justice Ginsburg, may you rest in peace) and local news and events thanks to RiverheadLocal. I also follow the NorthForker Magazine because I love their photographer — who is also my son. 😉

We have less than 40 days now to either dig ourselves deeper into this hole or to respect one another’s choices. I’m choosing to treat others’ choices with respect and retreat — spending more time for reflection and prayer — to examine my own heart, pray for my family, and for our nation. 

To some, I could be viewed as a disengaged voter. 

I certainly plan to vote. 

Preparing in prayer may indeed be a road less traveled on the way to the elections.  

But it will make all the difference to me and hopefully for you.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen