Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

30 Minutes Changed Me: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Chats over Lunch with Mother Teresa in 1975

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

30 Minutes Changed Me: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Chats over Lunch with Mother Teresa in 1975

Article excerpt

It was April 1975. The diminutive figure in the white and blue sari was bent and fragile, yet the hand extended was firm and warm. The private meeting on the upper floors of the Philadelphia archdiocese will be forever etched in my memory Mother Teresa, the beloved Catholic nun from the streets of Calcutta, was having lunch with this Jewish kid from Brooklyn, N.Y.

What an improbable union, a rare moment, a flash in my life that lasted but 30 minutes but dramatically changed me from the inside out.

Moments later, we were sitting in a wood-paneled room with a long table, chatting quietly over a bowl of steaming chicken soup. Mother Teresa had offered grace and now the world-renowned minister to the unwanted, unloved, uncared-for was telling me about her visit to Philadelphia to raise funds for the Missionaries of Charity. She looked tired but as she spoke of the work, I sensed her passion, her singular mission, the earnestness of her appeal.

I could see my father--a Jewish cantor--asking: "But, son, what were you doing there? Didn't you feel out of place? Didn't you sense that perhaps this was a job better left for another?"

Pop was from the old school. He had grown up in Poland and immigrated to America as a boy of 11, almost two decades before the Holocaust and the invasion of his country by the Nazis. But he had known persecution.

He had tasted anti-Semitism in this country. Yet when he was hungry and alone on the streets of Detroit, it was a Catholic priest standing at the door of his parish who took him in, fed him and gave him a warm bed for the night. Pop should have understood.

"But, son, what were you doing in such a place?" he asked again. "How did you come to meet such a person?"

What brought Mother Teresa and me together was an odd convergence of circumstances, or perhaps something else.

For many years, I had been a reporter with The Philadelphia Inquirer and a broadcaster with radio stations up and down the East Coast. …

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