What can Jews and Christians learn from one another about facing adversity and loss?
A two-day conference at Saint Leo University's Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies will attempt to answer that question and provide a compass for navigating life's trials.
Judaism, in general, holds the view that adversity and loss should be accepted as the judgment of God that may be beyond human understanding but will be best in the long run.
Catholicism, and Christianity as a whole, embraces the image of Jesus dying on the cross, suffering so that humanity would be saved.
But the conferences' two keynote speakers will attempt to offer some less-known perspectives.
Michael Chernick, an Orthodox rabbi, will lecture on Job, the biblical character who lived a decent life but lost his wealth, his family and ultimately his health. Job's friends tell him he must have done something to deserve so much punishment. God tells him his friends are wrong.
Chernick said the lesson of Job should be not to question suffering _ not to ask, "Why me?" _ but to find comfort in God's presence.
"The answer to Job's question is not what God has to say to him but that God is there for him," Chernick said.
"Sometimes that's enough to make us feel that no matter what's going on and though I may not still really understand the whole story of why I am suffering, I still can be a person of faith. It's experiential; it's not intellectual."
Chernick, who teaches at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan, also plans a talk emphasizing the comfort people can glean from human contact.
"In New York people crowded into churches after 9/11. Who were they seeking or what were they seeking?" he said. "I'm not so sure they all of a sudden went from being agnostics to believers. I don't think they came to the churches because all of sudden they became believers. I think they came hoping to find God's presence.
"I don't know that they found God's presence but they found other people, and I'm not so sure that other people can't be vehicles of God."
Therein lies another tenet of Judaism: the partnership between God and his people.
"Judaism very much believes that human beings are partners of God and the business of creation. It's not God's job to fix everything up. It is partly our responsibility.
"Sometimes we have to learn how to take that experience of adversity and loss and reshape it into an activity of alleviating."
Kenneth Overberg, an ordained priest and instructor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, will speak from the Catholic perspective. His theme: the lesser-known interpretation from the gospel of John that God created everything in order to eventually become human and share his own life and love with his people.
"God's masterpiece, Jesus, is not the result simply because of human sin," Overberg said. "There's a positive reason. John's gospel implies that everything was created in and for God in the flesh.
"Jesus is not Plan B just to make up for sin. Jesus is Plan A to share God's life and love with us. And there has to first be an "us.' "
To relate that idea to human suffering, Overberg will rebut the dominant view that suffering is a good thing just because Jesus willingly suffered.
"I'm suggesting that makes God a being that I would not want to pray to if he demands his son to suffer for us," Overberg said.
Faith can offer a more positive approach.
"Maybe we can view it from a different angle and focus on his trust in God in spite of it all," Overberg said. "We can pattern our lives in the midst of suffering so that we trust rather than try to find a reason why."
Other "resource people," including military chaplains, hospital chaplains and hospice workers, will also speak about their experiences during the conference. The first night will include a commemoration of Kristallnacht, or "Night of the Broken Glass." It's the night regarded to be the beginning of the Holocaust, when the Nazis destroyed Jewish homes and synagogues throughout Germany.
Chernick said Jews and Catholics can learn a great deal from the traditions of each faith. The radical optimism of Judaism, and its emphasis on celebrating life, is both valuable and detrimental, Chernick said.
Because Jews are apt to believe everything will turn out well, they can have a harder time accepting adversity, Chernick said.
Catholics, Chernick said, may be more able to accept and submit to suffering because they can turn to the image of their savior suffering on a cross.
"I may not believe in any or much of that," Chernick said, "but there is an acceptance of "Okay, if pain and suffering come my way, maybe I need to accept that just as my Lord did.' There is something . . . healthy about that. Sometimes Catholicism has really got it right."
If you go
WHAT: "Adversity and Loss: Jewish and Catholic Responses, Remaining Faithful in Difficult Times"
WHEN: Nov. 9-10. Sunday: optional Mass at 10:15 a.m., program from noon to 6:45 p.m. followed by dinner. Monday: optional Jewish prayer service at 8:30 a.m., followed by breakfast and registration at 9 a.m., program from 9:15 a.m. until 4 p.m.
WHERE: Saint Leo University, 33701 State Road 52, St. Leo
COST: $120, two days, meals included. $65 for one day. Some scholarships available.
CALL: (352) 588-8597