Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A View from Before I was Born: What it Means for Christians, Jews, and Muslims Today (Part I)

It was over dinner that Marianne said, "Isn't the antisemitism just awful?" I wondered how many people sitting in the dining room of her senior living community in Massachusetts knew that she had been through this before? That she was a living monitor of how bad things could get for Jews.

Marianne was a teenager in Germany November 9-10, Kristallnacht, when the Gestapo came to her front door. I was sitting and eating with a person who had actually experienced the Gestapo! The Gestapo. The Nazis SS of my history book. Black uniforms, hats with high shiny visors, pants tucked into Jack boots loudly and rythmically approaching. Pounding at her door. Storming in. Ransacking her home. Kicking, screaming, terrorizing, and later returning to take her father, whom she never saw again. She had seen the hatred in their faces. Felt their loathing. Experienced their agenda. I tried to imagine them knocking at my door. I couldn't.

But they had returned. Different uniform. Same hatred. In every country, terrorists, facists. Convincing others of that old refrain, "The Jews are our misfortune."

The July, 2006 failed political campaigns of Lieberman (CT) and McKinney (GA) are still fresh in my mind. Fox news read an email that they had received in which the writer tries to remember Lieberman's wife's name, saying it was something like Haggadah, "or something you eat at Passover." McKinney lost her relection to congress, and television showed the horrific antisemitic, anti-Israeli, and anti-Jewish comments made by her staff to reporters. How easy it returned. To see what the Jews are doing wrong. Not to take their side. They are guilty. Jews are aways guilty!

I was shocked. It is an understatement to say that we Americans are intolerant of racist, antisemitc, and prejudical expressions about anyone. How easy it returned then. Some of the countries in the EU protesting against Israel in its war with Hizballah were holding signs boldly calling for the destruction of Israel. Others stating Israel was using aggressive force and acting illegally in its destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, its bridges, gas stations, roads and airports. These widespread anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments explained to me why the sudden outbursts of antisemitism in America were expressed with strength, hatefulness, cynicism, and in relative safety.

I'm beginning to fear the boots slowly approaching my door. Your door. Who speaks out for Israel? For Jews? Only America? It seems so, and for the world, that seems too much. And the church, except for Christian Fundamentalists who have their own religious agenda for supporting Israel? The church didn't speak out for the Jews in the 1930's either. In fact, the German Lutheran church became Nazified. An underground church, The Confessing Church formed, and even in this movement only a minority were for Jews. The heroes of that movement are well known among scholars and many lay persons. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Niemoller, even though he admits that he was an antisemite. Bonhoeffer is known and lifted up as the one who from the beginning could see clearly amidst a church and clergy that were so blind to Nazism and the plight of the Jews. How lonely he must have felt, I thought, even as he wrote his book The Cost of Discipleship, in 1934. I am beginning to feel lonely too, as I experience mainline Protestant churches focusing almost exclusively on the Palestinians and their situation, buying their view of the history of the Middle-East, without batting an eye, without an urge for Israel's survival.

Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis. Niemoller spent time in Sacksenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, and survived. Both are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Gentiles. I do not know of one fellow clergy-person today that would not wish, had they lived during that time, to aligned themselves with that faithful remnant. Of course. But we haven't learned. Oh, we look back and see our mistake...then! It looks so obvious in hindsight, how we should have tried to stop the extermination of the Jews. Protested at least. But not if you lived then. Not if you were deeply absorbed in the anti-Jewish politics, culture, and theology of the day that was considered default. But then, and back in 1967 when Israel was threatened with annihilation, and now, the church at large has not been the protectorate of Israel, and Israel is quite aware of this.

My friend Judy, whose mother was one of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters, asked me recently, "Why do gentiles hate the Jews?" Her question reminded me of Anne Frank, who in her diary while in hiding from the Nazis in Holland during WWII, asks her father the same thing. A friend in Israel, Tanja, a Sabra, whose parents survived the Holocaust, emailed me during this last war stating, "Why don't they just leave us alone!" I thought about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that forged hateful document of the early 20th century, widespread today in all Arab countries and used by Hitler himself, that accuses Jews of conspiring to take over the world. Why didn't Anne, and Judy, and Tanja know about their own conspiracy?

It wasn't the first time I had ever been in the company of a survivor. Yet, everytime, I was acutely aware of how open, accepted, and justified anti-Jewish language and behavior were back then--a history I didn't think ever would be repeated--but were living memories for many Jews. I suddenly felt alone and realized how alone Jews must have felt in Germany and Marianne was beginning to feel again. I had overheard comments in passing conversations stating that if there just wasn't an Israel, we would all be safe. People were not planning on helping them this time either.

I hear what the respected mainline churches in the world say, and the professors at respectable academies say. If Israel would just give back the territories it won in the Six Day War. If we would just realize that peace is possible if we address all the greivances of the Muslims against America's policy in the Middle-East and against Israel. One otherwise caring and open clergy colleague said to me. "I feel so bad for the Palestinians. Who had the right to give the Jews a country anyway?" These words are not too far from the President of Iran's words that Israel should be wiped off the map. I remember my history and the voices of the churches and the academies in Germany too.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Neimoller in the October, 1945 Stuttgart Confession of Guilt that emerged from the Protestant Churches following WWII: "We accuse ouselves that we did not witness more courageously, pray more faithfully, believe more joyously, love more ardently." This was the first Protestant response to the Holocaust, even without mentioning the Jews to whom it refers. In fifty years, will we be confessing these words again?

Until later. Thanks for reading!

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