This week, he'll be in Vatican City helping continue that work.
Polish, 66, rabbi at Congregation Shir Chadash in the Town of LaGrange, will be among a small group of rabbis meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to discuss relations between the two religions.
"This is, I think, a very sensitive moment in Catholic-Jewish relations," Polish said. "There is this tension that we need to talk with one another about."
Polish will be traveling on the pope's invitation as a member of the Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations.
He said he looks forward to talking to the pope about issues such as the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who served during World War II and who critics say could have done more to fight the Holocaust.
He also wants to discuss the pope's 2007 reinstitution of the Latin Good Friday liturgy that includes a prayer for Jewish conversion, which has not been given since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.
"Here's a prayer that is understood to be for the conversion of the Jews, that had been removed from the Mass," Polish said. "He's reincluded this prayer, which is offensive to the religious sensibilities of the Jews."
The prayer has received ongoing international attention.
Pope made changes
Pope Benedict himself revised the prayer in February, removing a reference to the "blindness of the Jews," but leaving intact a call for God to "enlighten their hearts, so that they might know Jesus Christ as the Savior of all mankind."
The Vatican released a statement after the prayer was reinstated that said the prayer "in no way intends to indicate a change in the Catholic Church's regard for the Jews."
Despite his concerns, Polish said he believes relations between the two faiths have made significant progress.
"Prior to Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council), the Catholic Church was actually teaching anti-semitic ideas that laid the groundwork for the Holocaust," Polish said. "Now the church has repudiated those ideas. That's a profound change; that's a very dramatic change."
"The religious relations between the Jewish community and the Catholic community since Vatican II have been very cordial."
He is scheduled to leave on Tuesday and return on Friday, and said he hopes this mission will further heal the remaining rifts between the two faiths.
One issue he does not hope to discuss is relations between Vatican City and Israel; that's a diplomatic issue, he said, and he wants to focus on the religious ones.
Polish teaches Hebrew scriptures and world religion at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, and says this fact alone is evidence of how far relations between the Catholic and Jewish religions have come.
"Until Vatican II, you would never have a rabbi teaching at a Catholic institution," he said. "You certainly wouldn't have him teaching a religious subject."
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