What’s in a name? For Rodef Shalom Congregation, the answer is quite a lot — especially come June 27. That night, the Shadyside congregation will give Bishop David Zubik, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the first ever Pursuer of Peace award, named after the translation of Rodef Shalom. It’s an honor that’s a full year in the making.
As its annual major fundraiser, Rodef Shalom long recognized a deserving congregant with a dinner. “The time was right,” for a change, said Rabbi Aaron Bisno. “I had been speaking with our leadership about creating an award we could provide to somebody in the wider community beyond the finite membership of Rodef Shalom, using the congregation’s profile to recognize good works in the community.”
The June 27 event will feature a dinner, followed by an address given by Bishop Zubik. A portion of the night’s proceeds will be split between the diocese and synagogue and donated to immigrant and refugee aid organizations chosen by each group. Michelle Bisno, the Pursuer of Peace tribute chair, said she expects 300 people for the meal, but that Rodef Shalom’s 1200-seat congregation will fill to capacity for Zubik’s address.
Though “we came up with the idea of the award without a specific honoree in mind,” said Rabbi Bisno, Zubik fit the ideal qualities to be the award’s first recipient. “He’s a man of deep faith, of incredibly strong character, of integrity. He is always operating from the position of ‘what can I do for those who are most vulnerable?’ ”
As planning discussions became more concrete, “[Zubik’s] name came up and was very quickly the unanimous choice,” said Rabbi Bisno.
The fact that Rodef Shalom’s biggest fundraiser of the year would promote interfaith relationships between two Pittsburgh communities, said Bisno, was simply a “value added.”
That added value didn’t get past Zubik, who was, “blown away to have been chosen,” he said. “I see it as an award being given to our church.”
With large communities of both Catholics and Jews in Pittsburgh, Zubik said the interactions of both groups have revealed that, “we can appreciate each other’s differences and have respect for each other. We’re able to join hands and hearts and do good things.”
Bisno and Zubik have interacted before in ways visible to the respective Jews and Christians looking to them for guidance. Relationships like theirs, Bisno said, take communitywide interfaith relations to a more personal level.
“From 30,000 feet up, we have these big entities: big conferences of Jews and Catholics. The church. Israel. These are big players that are very politicized,” said Bisno, “but locally, we’re working on the same causes in the trenches. We’re toiling in the vineyards of the Lord. We work hand in hand and share lots of friendships and relationships.”
In translation, Rodef Shalom, “can either be understood as an imperative — pursue peace — or as one who pursues peace,” said Bisno.
To Zubik, the award carries both meanings.
“To be a pursuer of peace is to help people realize God’s love — no matter how deep people’s wounds are, God loves those wounds into healing,” said Zubik. In doing so, he said, he hopes to inspire others to pursue peace.
“Through my presentation, I hope to tap into the psyche of everyone there about how we can all work for peace and realize it’s not just the goal of people who are recognized as leaders,” said Zubik. “Every single one of us can be a pursuer of peace. God gives us the power to do it.”
Born in Sewickley, Zubik grew up in nearby Ambridge. Though he always held the church close, “I was very much drawn to being an attorney and a husband and father,” he said of his high school years. “Somewhere along the line, God said, ‘Uh-oh. I have something else in mind for you.’ ”
The lifelong car enthusiast graduated from Duquesne University in 1971, then worked as a priest at Shadyside’s Sacred Heart Parish. Though Zubik always appreciated Pittsburgh’s “down home, friendly, open, supportive, faith-filled,” people, he said, it wasn’t until he became the bishop of Green Bay, Wisc., in 2003 that his love for the area, “became more pronounced.”
Zubik returned to Pittsburgh in 2007 and was installed as the area’s bishop on Sept. 28 of that year.
In his time as bishop, Zubik said, “I’ve felt very welcomed by the Jewish community. In my apartment, you’d see a great deal of Jewish art. I love to go to Pinsker’s in Squirrel Hill.”
But the Pursuer of Peace award won’t just be another wall adornment. Bringing Pittsburgh Catholics and Jews together, the night, Zubik said, “is a matter of building on the great faith of the Jewish people. That’s a special treasure.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com.)