Posts Tagged 'jewish identity'
Category: Issues Volume 21 Number 2
Published on Wednesday, 28 October 2015 16:51
Written by Matt Sieger
Paul Liberman’s The Fig Tree Blossoms: Messianic Judaism Emerges has sold over 100,000 copies. ISSUES interviews Liberman, who was at the forefront of that movement in the 1970s.
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Category: Issues Volume 13 Number 01
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Jews for Jesus
Generation J by Lisa Schiffman. Harper San Francisco, (1999) US $18.00
I hadn't a clue about what it meant to be a Jew. I was lost, a Jew without a path." And so begins 35-year-old Lisa Schiffman's search. It's a search for identity, for meaning, for answers. Generation J is an attempt to sort through the confusion of being part of a generation that is willing neither to make a full return to Judaism nor to abandon its Jewish persona completely. Of being in a generation whose parents either followed religious traditions by rote or rejected them altogether. Of being a third-generation American Jew who's uncomfortable with and suspicious of any kind of organized religion, particularly her own.
In an autobiography that reads like anthropological field notes [she is a social anthropologist by training], Schiffman presents a hodgepodge of stories offering the reader snapshots of Jewish life and thought. She begins with a very vulnerable and personal narrative about interfaith marriage. Schiffman was committed to having a Jew officiate at the wedding when she married her fiance, Michael, a lapsed Unitarian. Several rabbis turned them down because they wouldn't agree to have a "Jewish home." Finally, a cantor who moonlights as both an opera singer and an actor performed their wedding ceremony.
Schiffman writes that she's still seeking validation for her marriage from the Jewish community. She interviews a Reform rabbi from New York who performs weddings for gay couples but refuses to marry a mixed faith couple. Told by the rabbi that her husband would have to embrace a Jewish life and the Jewish community (that he'd have to set a seder table, take their kids to Hebrew school, stand by her side while she lights Shabbat candles), she's incredulous. Schiffman knows that she is Jewish, but she has never done those things.
Questions form the backbone of this book. What does it mean to have a Jewish home? Is Judaism a religion, a culture or a race? I know I'm Jewish, but how do I know that? What does it mean to look "too Jewish?" Or not Jewish enough? Is it possible to be Jewish alone and separate from the Jewish community?
In each narrative, Schiffman asks good questions but admits to a lack of adequate answers. There is no doubt that it was for very personal reasons that she wrote this book. Schiffman is a searcher and she wants to find spiritual answers. Her questions are an attempt to sort through the confusion of the religious netherworld of American secular Judaism.
In Schiffman's definition of Judaism, we are a "dark and hairy people" who practice a "strange, argumentative, incomprehensible religion." Yet she's still inexplicably drawn to a world she hasn't experienced -- blessings over the Torah, fasting on Yom Kippur, payos and long skirts. For her, being Jewish is about being conflicted, about never being certain who you are and where you're going and what that means. It's about having an identity crisis.
This book chronicles more than the author's own exploration into the meaning of Judaism. It offers a picture into the spiritual quandary of secular Jews today within the larger Christian culture. Schiffman grew up in the largely non-Jewish town of Levittown, New York. She described the place of her birth as "home to one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere." She recalls a childhood incident when "Christian friends invited me to church." After standing and sitting more times than she can count, Schiffman partakes of the Catholic communion wafer and waits for a "Christlike feeling to arise" in her. It doesn't. She ponders why and then goes on.
Perhaps the most important question is the one that Schiffman failed to ask in 166 pages: Can you really find your Jewish identity apart from God?
She muses, "If Christianity's message was Follow your heart, Judaism's was Follow the directions."
"Jews, however," she says, "never follow directions without asking why.In spite of our mandate to follow the directions, millions of Jews 'the unaffiliated, secular, atheist indifferent or simply confused' are lost."
Like many in this post-assimilation generation, she looks everywhere for answers, for a solution to that lostness, with one exception -- God, the only real source for answers.
In a recent interview, Schiffman was asked, if she could add a postscript to the book, what it would be. Her answer was, "You can create your own path through religion. And if there is another book, that would be the beginning of the next one, something like, 'P.S., I'm still doing it, piecing the route together.'"1
Perhaps she should look to another book 'the Bible' it has already pieced that route together for Lisa and the rest of us.
1Danielle Svetcov, Generation J (San Francisco Examiner Magazine, 12/12/99) p. 32
Category: Messianic Review of Books 5:2
Published on Thursday, 07 July 2011 08:27
Written by Garrett Smith and Matthew Friedland
Sylvia Boorstein. San Francisco: Harper, 1997. 170 pages. $20.00, cloth.
Reviewed by Garrett Smith and Matthew Friedland.
That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist sounds like it might be a comment made by a Jewish comic from the Catskills. However, the essentially serious message of this latest book by Sylvia Boorstein is summarized by the subtitle, On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist." Boorstein, a Jew who has been practicing Buddhism for twenty years, is the founder of a meditation retreat in California. In addition, she teaches Buddhism at various retreats each year. She grew up in a strongly Jewish home in Brooklyn—both religiously and culturally—but as she neared adulthood, she became far less religious. In recent years Boorstein has become what she would call a "devout Jew." Much of her odyssey is based on how she attempts to reconcile her Jewishness and her Buddhism.
One of the reasons why this is a noteworthy book is that a significant number of Westerners studying Buddhism are Jews. I (Garrett Smith) know this first-hand, since before I became a believer in Jesus, I spent time at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand. I recall meeting many other Jewish people during my stay. We spoke openly of both our Jewishness and our desire to learn Buddhism. Boorstein's perspective is that Buddhism expresses a truth about the nature of life, whereas being Jewish refers to our identity. Most JUBUs (1) would agree.
In a strange way, many of the struggles Boorstein undergoes parallel those experienced by Jewish believers in Jesus. She seeks to integrate her Jewishness and her non-traditional beliefs. At an interfaith conference, she faces members of the Jewish community, wanting them to understand that she is still Jewish, and passionately so, even though they may think otherwise.
Boorstein's argument throughout the book is that, no matter what she believes, her Jewishness is never compromised. For her, Buddhism is a philosophy which accurately portrays the nature of life: namely, that our suffering comes because of our desires and wants and the nature of life. We can live peaceful lives by simply ceasing to strive. This philosophy is something different from her understanding of her Jewishness. Jewishness to her is cultural; it is a question of identity. She is a Jew.
Therefore, Boorstein can practice her Buddhist beliefs in a Jewish framework and find a sense of peace and joy and reconciliation. She uses the Bible, various rabbinic sayings and Jewish liturgy to express her Buddhism. For example, below is her handling of Psalm 121 as found on page 79 of her book.
For followers of Y'shua, Boorstein's views pose serious problems. The author does not believe in the Jewish Scriptures as a revelation of the Creator God to his Creation, but rather as a holy book or spiritual guide for the Jewish people. It is seen as a cultural interpretation of essential spiritual truths. She does not embrace the historicity of the Bible nor the personhood of God as the Bible expresses it. She regularly twists the plain meaning of Scripture to conform to her philosophical outlook.
For Boorstein, God is not personal but more a description of a state of mind or the source of all things in an impersonal sense. There is virtually no belief in a God who is Creator, personal, holy, and before whom we are accountable. There is no sin and no need for a Savior. There is no belief in a Messiah, much less one called Jesus.
Boorstein's amalgamation of Buddhism and Jewishness is mostly utilitarian; its main purpose is to achieve personal peace in this life. For instance, Buddhism would agree that anger is bad, not because it is an offense before a holy God, but rather because it is personally detrimental.
What then can a believer learn from this book? It is quite helpful in understanding the recent trend, small though it may be, of Jews turning to Eastern philosophy. In fact it can aid any believer who has Jewish friends involved with Buddhism, Eastern thought, or New Age movements. For such a friend who insists that one cannot be both Jewish and a Christian, one might effectively ask why one can be both a Buddhist and Jewish. For those who agree that one can be either Buddhist or Christian without abandoning one's Jewishness, the question might then focus on the uniqueness of Jesus as compared to the person of Buddha.
The style of That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist makes it very easy to read. It essentially weaves anecdotes of three to four pages in length which offer different insights on the Buddhist-Jewish connection. Most of the book uses storytelling and lessons. There is a lot of name-dropping. Boorstein recounts her meetings with a number of noted rabbis to discuss her beliefs. She speaks of teaching Buddhism to rabbis at some of her seminars. She reminisces about her conversations with the Dalai Lama. There is a liberal sprinkling of Hebrew phrases throughout the book as well as mention of the Scriptures and of Jewish liturgy.
For related articles, read Garrett Smith's personal testimony, "Out of the Flowing Water". Then read the article "Jewish Buddhists: A Meld of Mezuzahs and Mantra?". For further material that responds to Buddhism from a biblical viewpoint, see Beyond Buddhism: A Basic Introduction to the Buddhist Tradition by J. Isamu Yamamoto (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982)—unfortunately now out of print but available through libraries or by trying online bookstores.
(1) A term used by recent writers on this subject to refer to Jewish Buddhists.
|A Jewish Translation of Psalm 121 ||A Buddhist Translation of Psalm 121 |
|1. I lift where will my help come from? ||1. Look at Nothing. Everything is revealed. |
|2. My help is from God, Who created heaven and earth. ||2. Rest in the radiance of Natural Mind. |
|3. May God not permit your foot to waver, may your Guardian never slumber. ||3. The joy of your discovery will strengthen your dedication to unwavering mindfulness. |
|4. Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. ||4. Because the perfection of emptiness, as the Source of creation, is always, always, accessible. |
|5. God is your Guardian, God is your shelter at your right hand. ||5. Whenever this is clear to you, wisdom and compassion will guide you. |
|6. The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. ||6. You will be safe. |
|7. God will guard you from evil; God will protect your soul. ||7. Your actions will be impeccable. |
|8. God will guard your going out and your homecoming from this time forth and for all the future. ||8. Untroubled by fear and confusion. You will be peaceful and happy always. |
|—From That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist, p.79|
Garrett Smith serves on staff with Jews for Jesus. Matthew Friedland served with The Liberated Wailing Wall, Jews for Jesus' traveling Jewish-gospel music team.
Category: Issues Volume 13 Number 01
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Robert Charles Rosett
A young, Jewish atheist discovers God through the New Testament.
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Category: Messianic Review of Books 2:2
Published on Thursday, 07 July 2011 08:27
Written by Rich Robinson
Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. 126 pages. $49.95, cloth.
Dan Cohn-Sherbok is lecturer in theology at the University of Kent in England. This book is a revision of previously published articles. The essays are readable and instructive. They also affirm the Jewishness of the New Testament (which cannot be said of his 1992 book, The Crucified Jew, in which he discusses alleged anti-Semitism in the New Testament).
If the topic of the New Testament's Jewishness were a banquet, these chapters would be the hors d'oeuvres, and some taste better than others. We begin with Rabbinic Judaism and the Doctrine of Hell" in which we discover that the ancient rabbis did hold such a doctrine (so much for the idea that "Jews don't believe in hell").
Then, "Jesus, the Sadducees, and the Resurrection of the Dead" along with "Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Plucking of Grain on the Sabbath" maintain that Jesus' arguments do not follow the rabbinic rules, since he was a carpenter unskilled in sophisticated techniques of argument. If Cohn-Sherbok is right it does not mean that Jesus' teaching was un-Jewish, for his parables were certainly a Jewish mode of teaching. The question is what kind of Jewish teaching Jesus used.
"Jesus' Blessing of the Cup at the Last Supper" argues that it was not the third cup of the seder but the fourth over which Jesus recited part two of the Hallel, understood in Jewish circles as messianic. There is food for thought here on the relationship of the Last Supper to the seder.
"Jesus' Cry on the Cross" argues that we can interpret Jesus' cry as, "My God, my God, why have you praised me?", a prayer for the coming of the messianic age. It is one of the more speculative essays and unfortunately relies on disregarding the statements given in the Gospels themselves. This is not surprising; one wouldn't expect Cohn-Sherbok to believe in the inspiration of the New Testament. His interpretation is at least an indication that a Jewish author can give a positive significance to the cry on the cross, rather than interpreting it to mean that Jesus finally gave up all hope in being the Messiah.
In "Jesus' Burial Garment" we learn that Jesus' burial followed Jewish custom, and therefore the Shroud of Turin cannot be his burial cloth—an interesting essay for those wondering about the shroud.
"Paul and Rabbinic Exegesis" argues that Paul's techniques of exegesis were Pharisaic and rabbinic; while "Paul and Peter at Antioch" shows that contrary to some, there is no evidence that the incident in Galatians 2:11-18 was a watershed that shaped the future of Christianity.
The remaining two chapters deal with the gnostic religion of Mandaeanism and do not relate to the title of the book.
Of all these, the material on Paul and rabbinic interpretation is the weakest because it is so sketchy, while the problems with the chapter on Jesus' cry from the cross were noted above. Most convincing are those on the Last Supper and the burial garment. Cohn-Sherbok generally accepts the reliability of the New Testament as it stands, with the exception of the Gospel statements on Jesus' cry.
There are numerous proofreading mistakes and an important sentence has dropped out on page 81. As with other titles from this publisher, the book is quite expensive but scholars are offered a 50 percent discount.
Rabbinic Perspectives on the New Testament can be recommended for serious students, as long as they remember that these essays are just small appetizers. Those hungry for the main course will have to go to such books as The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (by David Daube) or Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (by W. D. Davies), which are more substantial as well as more technical and challenging.
Category: Issues Volume 16 Number 01
Published on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 17:00
Written by Steve Wertheim
My name is Steven Peter Wertheim. I was born August 3, 1951 in the Bronx, New York—but our family actually lived in the upper west side of Manhattan, where it seemed like everyone was either Jewish or Catholic. Regular fights broke out between us neighborhood kids. As things heated up, invariably one of them" would call "one of us" "Christ killer." I had no idea what "Christ killer" meant, but I knew it meant a fight was imminent.
I asked my parents why those kids were so mean to us. They explained that many Christians hated Jews simply because we were Jews, and reminded me of history, especially the Holocaust.
During Kristallnacht my grandfather's business was stolen from him along with everything he owned. Then the Nazis took him away and my dad, his sisters and their mother thought they would never see him again.1
Mom and Dad frequently told me about the cruelty they suffered from "the Christians." As a child, I knew that I had to defend myself for being Jewish. The Hanukkah story always meant a lot to us, because we knew what it was like to have to fight. It was very satisfying to celebrate our people's victory over those who had tried to assimilate or exterminate us.
When I was eight years old I started going to Hebrew school three times a week and attending synagogue in preparation for my bar mitzvah. If you had asked me, "Do you believe in God?" I probably would have said yes. But I never thought much about what he might expect of me, or vice versa.
My bar mitzvah service was held in a synagogue in Queens, as we had recently moved there from Manhattan. My mother had labored for many months to make sure everything was perfect. I felt embarrassed by all the attention, though I appreciated all the effort and expense.
After my bar mitzvah, my life seemed to take a radical turn. For one thing, having "become a man" made me responsible in new ways. I took on a series of part-time jobs when I was 14. I liked having my own money, but there wasn't a lot of time for playing or doing "kid" things.
I missed my friends from Manhattan and, as a teenager, I did not find it easy to make new friends. My self-esteem plummeted and what little belief I'd had in God disintegrated as I saw no evidence that he cared.
My relationship with my family grew intolerable. There was constant fighting—a lot of yelling alternated with angry silences. Much of that was probably due to normal generation gap issues, but in addition, we were so close that friction was inevitable. Whereas many families have problems with a lack of communication, I felt like we had more than enough. Everything was a family decision; I was brought into every conversation and expected to participate as an adult.
In retrospect, I'm sure my parents were expressing respect for my adulthood, but in fact I still was, and wanted to be, a kid. My brother, who was seven years younger than I, was even more a kid than I was, and with that age difference came a huge gap in our experience and interests. Yet my parents seemed to expect me to be Rob's closest companion, an expectation I was not prepared to fulfill.
My parents' experiences in Germany affected our family dynamic. Many Holocaust survivors were robbed of their childhood, and have a limited idea of what it should be. Plus, knowing so many people who died or lost family members caused those who were more fortunate to be extremely focused on their loved ones. I didn't appreciate what might be behind the tight grip my family had on me. I just knew that I wanted some distance from all that closeness. I couldn't wait to be out of school so I could move away.
I was accepted into a school in New Hampshire. After a year, I transferred to C.W. Post College, which is part of Long Island University. I earned my college degree in History and Education. However, I hated being in debt, and decided that paying off my student loan was more important than pursuing my profession.
I worked in the post office alongside my father to pay off that student loan. And then I only wanted one thing: to escape from New York City. My grandfather, a gentle and generous man, laid out a good sum of money enabling me to buy my first car—an orange Volkswagen Beetle—during the summer of 1974.
That September I packed my bags, and my father and I drove west to Southern California—as far away as I could get. We arrived there a week or so later and checked into a motel, where we stayed for about a week while I went job and apartment hunting.
I quickly got a job as a bank teller. My next task was to find a place to live. My father and I happened upon a building with an apartment for rent on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. I looked at the studio and wasn't overly impressed. The managers, Lily and Burt, were a friendly, middle-aged British couple. Lily and my father established an immediate rapport. Dad confided that he was nervous about my being so far away. Lily assured him that she would "keep an eye out" for me. He obviously enjoyed her and after we left, encouraged me to take the place. I wasn't too keen on this particular apartment, but I gave in.
I took Dad to the airport the next day, knowing that it would be some time before I saw him or any other family member again.
Within a few weeks, Lily and Burt invited me to their apartment. They also invited a couple about my age who had just moved to Los Angeles. The husband was Jewish and originally from New York. Lily and Burt thought we might have some things in common.
I'm an inquisitive person and when I meet new people I normally ask lots of questions. But when I met Baruch and Marcia Goldstein, for some reason I refrained from asking these nice people what they did for a living.
A few weeks later Baruch called and invited me to their home for dinner. When we sat down to eat, Baruch said he hoped I wouldn't mind, but it was their tradition to pray at mealtimes. I didn't care if they prayed, but at the close of their prayer I heard three words that shook me up: "IN JESUS' NAME."
Afterwards, I asked them to explain that prayer. They told me that they were Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, Baruch and Marcia were working with Jews for Jesus. I blurted out, "You can't be Jewish and believe in Jesus!" We had a heated discussion at the dinner table. Still, I thought I should be somewhat tolerant for just one evening. They mentioned that they were beginning a Bible study on Friday nights. I turned down the invitation.
But the truth was, if it weren't for their belief in Jesus, I would like to have been friends with these people. After a while I asked myself, what was the worst that could happen if I went to one of their Bible studies? So one evening in October of 1974 I accepted the invitation. I met a half a dozen or so other people, mostly university students or recent graduates. Some were clean-shaven and conservatively dressed while others were more of the "hippie" genre.
On my way home I couldn't help thinking that these were nice people, although misguided. I started attending regularly. I found my belief in God resurfacing as I heard these people describe what he had done in their lives. I began to look forward to the Bible study.
I let my parents know I was studying the Bible with a Jewish group. They were quite astonished since I had previously made it clear that I had given up on God and all things religious. Nevertheless, they were pleased that my new friends were Jewish and that I had become interested in God. I didn't tell them that these people believed in Jesus. How could I explain it to them when I didn't quite understand it myself?
About three months into the Bible studies, a conflict began growing inside me. Things these Jews for Jesus believed were starting to make sense. Being able to discuss the Bible with others who saw its value and who cared about God—and who were Jewish—meant a lot to me. No one had pressured me about my beliefs, yet I found the Bible to be very convincing.
And that scared me.
All I could think was that my parents would never understand if I came to believe that Jesus was Messiah. I remembered every detail of all the things that, as far as my parents were concerned, had been done to us by "the Christians." I felt I could not afford to think any further about Jesus.
So, in January of 1975, I started absenting myself from the people I had become close to. But after a few weeks, I found it difficult to stay away from the Bible studies. It wasn't just the quality of the people, but what they believed that drew me into a relationship, not only with them but with a God I had never really known before. I began to feel that perhaps I couldn't afford to NOT think any further about Jesus.
I returned to the Bible studies. I remember one Friday night—March 7—I told a friend, "I feel like God is standing at my door, knocking as though he wants to come in and be with me. It seems like all I need to do is let him in, but I don't know if I'm ready."
By this time I had gotten into the habit of praying. I asked God to help me be certain if Jesus was true, and to give me the courage to live according to what was right and real, even if it had painful consequences.
After a restless night I was still experiencing tremendous turmoil. I got in the car with no particular plan and found myself near the beach. It was a rare overcast day in March.
I parked and walked around for awhile. Water, sand, sky…all seemed grey, and it fit my mood. When I left the beach I drove to Baruch and Marcia's house.
I told Baruch I was torn. I knew that Jesus was the Messiah but I wasn't prepared for what would happen if I believed in Him. I couldn't give up my family. At the same time I said that I didn't know what I needed to do in order to follow through on this new belief. He responded that if I really believed Jesus was the Messiah, it would be good if I would confirm that before God through prayer.
I prayed with Baruch, asking God to forgive my sins on the basis of Jesus' atoning death. And I asked God to help me to follow Y'shua (Jesus) and live a life that would please God. Afterwards, I felt a peace that I had not experienced before. But before long the uppermost thought in my mind was that I had to tell my parents.
It was nearly Passover and my brother Rob, sixteen at the time, came to visit me and accompanied me to a seder at Baruch and Marcia's home. We got to the third cup of wine after dinner, along with the Afikomen. Baruch told how Jesus had taken this cup and the matzo that traditionally point to the Passover Lamb, and used them to point to his body and blood. Baruch explained that those who believe that Jesus' sacrifice was an atonement for sin now use the bread and cup to remember what he did for us.
On the drive back to my apartment, Rob asked me if I believed in Jesus as the Messiah. I told him that I did, but that I had not yet told our parents. And I asked him to not tell them either. I explained that I wanted to do that myself.
The next time I spoke with my parents, I felt a strain in our conversation. I asked my parents if Rob had "told them." My mother asked, "Told us what?" I said, "About my believing in Jesus," My mother said that she didn't know what I was talking about. What I perceived as a strain was simply my own feelings of guilt for not telling them what I believed. We didn't talk much more at the time. But that didn't mean the subject was closed.
Two weeks later we had an hour-long fight over the phone. The accusation that I was no longer Jewish alternated with cries of, "Where did we go wrong?" I later found out that following the phone call, my parents wrote me a letter, which basically said that they wanted nothing more to do with me and that they preferred that I not contact them until I came to my senses and stopped the narishkeit of believing in Jesus. Even though they never sent the letter the relationship was stressed at best.
That summer, Baruch and Marcia Goldstein were going to be in New York and they offered to meet my parents. I mentioned this to Mom and Dad, and at first the offer was refused. Later they reluctantly acquiesced. My father told me prior to their coming that he wanted to "throw Baruch off the terrace."
The evening came and the four of them actually had a pleasant evening together. My family even called to let me know how much they enjoyed the Goldsteins' visit.
Within a few weeks my parents and Rob came to visit me in California. We were together for three weeks. It became quite evident to my family that I took my belief in Jesus seriously. They allowed me to tell them what I believed and why I believed it.
During our last week together, my family joined me at the Bible study. After everyone else had left, we sat having coffee with Baruch and Marcia. My father suddenly turned to my mother and said, "Laura, what would you do if I believed in Jesus?" After a moment of contemplation my mother responded, "I'd probably leave you." The discussion didn't last much longer, and neither did our visit. My parents and Rob returned to New York.
By this time, unknown to the family, Rob had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. However, he didn't feel he could voice his decision without risking being thrown out of my parents' home.
In 1975 Jews for Jesus opened its branch office in New York City. In September my family was invited to Bible studies in Manhattan. My father was eager to go and my brother went with him. My mother was not interested but went because of my father.
Eventually, Dad told Mom that he believed in Jesus. Mom did not leave him, but tensions began to heat up. Now that my father believed, Rob no longer feared the consequences of his own faith and confessed that he, too, believed in Jesus.
Up until this point my mother had endured the Bible studies and the "Jesus talk." Now that the whole family had "turned," she let us all know that she didn't want to hear anything more about Jesus.
One Tuesday night my father planned to meet my mother after work, to take her to dinner before Bible study. My mother informed him that she would make her own way home. She went to the subway only to find that the trains were indefinitely delayed. She went back upstairs to take alternate means of transportation home and found that it would be impossible to get home in a reasonable amount of time. She then called my dad, had him pick her up and they proceeded with the original plan for the evening.
That night my mother saw a film about Corrie ten Boom, a Christian who hid Jews during the Holocaust, and it deeply touched her. She realized that her reasons for holding out from what the rest of the family believed didn't have so much to do with who Jesus was as who she thought Christians were. The film helped her to see that people who truly love Jesus also love the Jewish people. Within a couple of weeks, my mother embraced Jesus as Messiah.
Who would have believed that our entire family would be reunited as Jews who all believe in Jesus? Or that I would one day meet and marry another Jewish believer in Jesus?
One day a friend of mine was sent an audition tape from a young woman on the East Coast who was applying to Jews for Jesus. He played the tape for me and I thought, "That's the best voice I've heard since Joni Mitchell. I've got to meet this girl…"
Category: Issues Volume 06 Number 01
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 12:24
Written by Rich Robinson
Secularization" is defined as the process in which those things religious transfer to nonreligious use, possession or control. To say that something is "secular" means that it is without religion or religious significance. Secularization has become a major concern to today's Jewish community. It began with the Haskalah movement among Jews of Eastern Europe in the late 18th century and early 19th century.1
Haskalah (enlightenment) is that philosophy typified by Moses Mendelsohn. His book Jerusalem pointed Jewish people in a different direction and encouraged Jews to participate in the prevailing culture. Adherents of this movement opposed the domination of Orthodoxy, especially the restriction of education to rabbinic studies and the avoidance of culture. They substituted modern schools for the traditional cheder and promoted Western culture alongside Jewish tradition. Haskalah was an attempt to steer a middle course between Orthodoxy and assimilation, but it viewed religion as subject to human reason. This mindset remains the dominant framework in European and American culture today.
Most English-speaking Jews hold to a general secular philosophy. Even among Orthodox or observant Jews there would be some tendencies toward secularization. However in recent years, it has been conceded by many that secularization does not work.2 Many Jews are seeking to recover what they see as lost or dwindling spiritual values. In place of secularization, the Jewish community has seen the development of several new trends.
Three closely-related trends comprise the overall move from secularization to "return to Judaism." Each touches on an area of Jewish life where a need is felt. Trends and their corresponding areas of felt needs are: (1) the development of the havurah, emphasizing community; (2) the increasing influence of Chasidism, especially of the Lubavitcher variety, emphasizing authority and experience; and (3) what I call the "New Orthodoxy" with its emphasis on observance, structure and tradition as a guide to what is good and right. There is some overlap between the three: the Chasidim study Torah , and observe mitzvoth, while many in the havurah movement have found a new dimension of worship experience. However, we will examine these trends primarily via three modern writers on American Judaism: Gerald Strober, Chaim Waxman, and Charles Silberman, each of whom has something to say about havurah, Chasidism and the New Orthodoxy.
The Havurah Movement
The roots of the havurah movement are ancient, but it was not until the early 1960s that exposure in the publications of the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation brought it into American Jewish life.3
Gerald Strober's description of havurah in the '70s was as a community "organized on or close by a college or university campus,"4 thus suggesting that it was initially a student movement. Members of one havurah might all be observant, while another might have a mix of atheists and chasidic-minded.5 Strober quotes Jon Groner of the Beit Ephraim Chavurah at Columbia University regarding their motivation for beginning a havurah:
[There is] an unspoken root feeling which none of us can express or needs to express. we are longing for a home…out of a desire to experience Judaism as it was meant to be experienced.6
Groner presumes that there is a spiritual mover behind Judaism. This is a theistic assumption, but a more humanistic statement is made by Jonathan Stein in The Journal of Reform Judaism:
A congregationally-based havurah program designed in this way has the potential to help meet the four major areas of need which are too often unmet by other congregational programs: community and intimacy; authority and knowledge; participation and autonomy; ideology and meaning.7
Because it was viewed as an offshoot of the counterculture and it seemed communal life was for hippies, the new movement was criticized by establishment members such as Rabbi Wolfe Kelman. In the Fall 1971 issue of Conservative Judaism he says that the significance of the havurot (plural) had been 'slightly exaggerated" by the early proponents.8 Yet the movement remains.
The needs expressed by Jon Groner have not disappeared. Nor is the movement to be dismissed as a relic of the Jewish counterculture." Chaim Waxman cites a 1977 publication on havurot by Bernard Reisman of Brandeis University. Waxman gives weight to Reisman's observations that most Jews do not join a havurah for "countercultural" reasons but because the existing institutions do not meet their needs.9
The "established" nature of the havurah was made even clearer by Charles Silberman in 1985:
The most characteristic expression of this spiritual hunger was the havurah, or religious fellowship, a group of ten to fifty (or, in a few instances, more) individuals and/or couples who met regularly for worship and study…several thousand were caught up in the movement, and they included some of the brightest and most creative members of their generation; many have gone on to become distinguished scholars, writers, and "Jewish civil servants".…10
Rabbi Harold Schulweis [of Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Encino, California], borrowing the most inspired innovation of the Jewish counterculture, has adapted the idea of the havurah to the needs of a middle-aged suburban congregation. The result has been the creation of havurot, usually involving ten individuals and/or families, within the synagogue itself, to provide a more intimate and less threatening setting for religious observance as well as a system of mutual support in time of need. In the fall of 1984 there were more than 60 havurot.…11 Silberman continues:
The old communitarian emphasis has largely disappeared as the founders have married, born [sic] children, and become immersed in their careers, but the havarot remain. There are at least 300 throughout the country and perhaps as many as 500.12
So although the havurah has not turned American Jewish life upside-down, it remains in some circles an ongoing institution. It would be difficult to say the havurah movement is either growing or declining. Its significance seems to be in the way it tries to answer problems rather than in any great solutions achieved by large numbers of people. But what then distinguishes a havurah from other forms of Jewish communal expression? Silberman again:
New or old, havarot continue to display most of the characteristics that distinguished them from conventional synagogue life. Specifically, they continue to be distinguished by their emphasis on celebration and joy (most havurah members reject the obsession with Jewish persecution and suffering that characterized their own religious upbringing); their insistence on equality of the sexes (women play the same religious roles as men) and on lay participation (members conduct religious services themselves, refusing to delegate religious worship or practice to rabbis and cantors); the importance they attach to study, especially of traditional texts; their experimentation with liturgy; and the worship style they have developed, which combines the warmth and fervor of Chasidism with the informality of American youth culture.13
One of the more visible signs of the early years of havurot was The Jewish Catalog. Its section "Communities" contains an "annotated bibliography" of over eight havurot, along with two sections entitled "How to Start a Havurah" and "Blueprint for a Havurah." The following section on Chasidism and the need for community, was an indication of the growing popularity of the Chasidic movemeent, which, while stressing community, also called for authority and experience.
It might seem that the counterculture of the '60s and the apathetic resignation of the '80s would mitigate against a need to seek more authority and structure. Consider Myriam Malinovich's chronicling of women who made a return to Orthodoxy via the route of Chasidism.14
Malinovich decided to investigate this phenomena because a friend had become ba'al teshuvah, that is, made a return from nonobservance to Orthodoxy. Her curiosity led her to an "Encounter With Chabad Weekend." [Chabad is another name for the Lubavitcher Chasidism movement; Chabad Houses are frequently found at university campuses.] Her observations are illustrative of the need for community:
As the weekend progresses I become aware that many of the young women attracted to this place are reacting to sexual promiscuity…Most of these women share a feeling that women are treated more seriously and with more respect in this environment than in the liberated world of tight jeans, see-through blouses and one-night stands…In addition, many are reacting against what they consider excessive and burdensome freedom.15
Perhaps the issue is summed up by Malinovich's quote from an anonymous woman at the Chabad weekend:
America is a place of nothing.
Nothing is handed down except freedom.
You can die of freedom.16
Chaim Waxman says that modernity "promotes a crisis of meaning [and] also precipitates a loss of and subsequent search for community."17 Jonathan Stein adds that "the struggle to find community and intimacy stems, in part, from the transient and frenzied nature of our American society.…"18
The struggle was a reaction against the loss of authority and structure. The renewed interest in Chasidism is due, in part, to their strong emphasis on authority. Chasidism has struck a responsive chord in the hearts of Jews who feel inadequate in a society that stresses that we "do our own thing" and rewards those who find loopholes in the system. The authority which Chasidism offers is personified in one man simply called "Rebbe." He is part of a dynasty of supposed seers, miracle workers, sages, saints and otherwise elevated men. Gerald Strober writes:
Like other leaders of Chasidic groups, the Lubavitcher Rebbe is accorded the greatest respect and adoration by his followers. Rabbi Samuel Schrage, a Lubavitch member who has made his mark as a competent official of the [New York City mayoral] Lindsay administration, sums up the awe in which Rabbi Schneerson is held, "We regard the Rabbi as a saint,…his beliefs are very important."19
The Lubavitcher's exaltation of the Rebbe in their book The Rebbe, exceeds Strober's observation. Consider the evidence from the source itself:
Therefore, on beholding the Rebbe's countenance…one immediately feels liberated from the material bonds that shackle his body, as he is released from confinement to the infinite spiritual space of divine holiness.20
The Rebbe, may he live long and happily, endowed with vast knowledge and with the greatness of Torah, wisdom and sanctity, extolled by myriads who follow his every utterance.21
Without being aware of it, [visitors] are immediately drawn into this atmosphere. The visitor joins in the spirited singing of the multitude, as the Rebbe "conducts" the throng; he hangs on to every word the Rebbe utters, and as he says lehayyim to the Rebbe, his face glows in the light of the Rebbe's acknowledgment.22
The Rebbe's face is the epitome of the cohesion of man with his Maker, and the experience cannot fail but leave its impression on the spectator and his spiritual outlook in the future.23
The above is from the Chabad's own publication. One wonders whether the legitimate need for authority is being addressed in an inappropriate and unJewish way. This certainly sounds more like the Hindu or Buddhist version of a holy man rather than a Jewish religious leader.
This adoration and veneration accorded him border on idolatry. The Rebbe strictly regulates all the lives of his followers and is accorded a status far above that of even the Pope of the Catholic faith. This sort of person veneration of a living religious leader is more characteristic of cults than of Judaism.
Neither Waxman nor Silberman devote much room to discussions of Chabad or Chasidism in general. They do, however, give much attention to what they call the "Orthodox revival" and what I call the New Orthodoxy.
The New Orthodoxy
Lubavitcher Chasidism has not been nearly as influential as the New Orthodoxy, yet it does overlap with Chasidism inasmuch as it stresses authority. The New Orthodoxy goes hand in hand with structure, and the return to "observant Judaism" is an attempt to recover a lost sense of structure, and a proper sense of external authority. While the Chasidim submit to the authority of the Rebbe, the New Orthodox look to the authority of tradition.
The New Orthodoxy is both visible and widespread. According to Strober, its adherents come from the ranks of "some of the most influential Jewish religious philosophers and authorities."24 But what of the movement in mainstream Judaism? The momentum of the ba'al teshuvah movement was not yet apparent when Strober made his assessment in the early '70s. Strober did speak of the Lubavitcher Chasidim's "considerable success"25 in motivating young people to adapt a Jewish lifestyle in the Lubavitcher mode. But he concluded, "the prognosis for the future of Jewish religion in America is not promising."26
Silberman, while initially in agreement with this prognosis, later conceded:
When I began my research in the summer of 1979, most observers doubted that a return to Judaism was under way; by 1984, articles describing the return had become almost commonplace.27
According to Chaim Waxman there was a pendulum shift between 1965-1975 which involved a "new, distinctly American Orthodoxy." He concluded this based on the following observations: One, there was an increase in the number of Orthodox Jewish immigrants to the U.S. between 1937-48. Two, there were changes in American Orthodox institutions, such as the Day School movement. Three, there were changes in American society, such as a five-day work week (which made it easier to be upwardly mobile and still observe the Sabbath). And finally, the rise of "religious consciousness."28
What kind of religious revival is taking place? What brand of Orthodoxy is being followed? The term ba'al teshuvah literally means "master of repentance" or more colloquially, "one who returns" to the fold of Judaism. Since this "return" takes on a variety of forms, Silberman prefers the definition of Charles Liebman: "anyone of college age or older who is more observant than his or her parents, teachers, or childhood friends would have predicted."29
According to Liebman this includes anybody, for any reason, doing just about anything, to be "more Jewish." The specific reasons for returning to Judaism vary from person to person, as do the routes the returnees have followed, the particular forms their new-found observance takes, and the intensity and seriousness with which they approach their religion.30
What is the practical outworking of this? Is the degree of Orthodoxy one practices a matter of personal preference? The New Orthodoxy may or may not resemble the Orthodoxy of our grandparents, even when it comes to such fundamental issues as the existence of God. Perhaps it is better to speak of this revival as "neo-observance."
This pick-and-choose approach to Judaism, creates a problem. Silberman highlights the problem as noted by Sara Bershtel and Allen Graubard in the Summer 1982 issue of Dissent:
In their view, the essence of the problem—the reason Jewish renewal will not last—is that it is the product of individual choice rather than a response to communal or divine demands…The emphasis on individual choice makes the revival fragile, Bershtel and Graubard believe.…31
As a case in point, Silberman makes an example of the anonymous "X" who turned from "humanism" to "the Jewish tradition." Yet X remains an atheist who "would like to" believe in God but does not. Furthermore, "he wonders whether his observance of ritual can be sustained without the belief he does not (or does not yet) have, but he is 'prepared to see what happens.'"32
Although Silberman takes issue with Bershtel and Graubard and applauds this emphasis on "individual choice," he does admit that:
The emphasis on self can slide all too easily into narcissism—a worship of the self that Judaism can see only as another form of idolatry. Among those recently returned to Judaism, moreover, as well as among the members of the havurah community, there is another danger, which might be termed idolatry of the group.…33
Footnotes 1See "Haskala." Encyclopedia Judaica 7:1433-1452.
2For a critique of secularization in keeping with the conclusions of this article, as well as of other contemporary trends, see Os Guiness, The Dust of Death (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973). While not specifically addressed to Jewish concerns, the book interacts with trends that have affected the Jewish community as well as larger society, both in Europe and the United States.
3Chaim I. Waxman, America's Jews in Transition (see bibliography).
4Gerald S. Strober, American Jews: Community in Crisis (see bibliography), 233.
7Jonathan Stein, "In Defense of the Congregational Havurah," (see bibliography), 44.
10Charles E. Silberman, A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today (see bibliography), 206.
14Myriam M. Malinovich, "A Haven Among the Chasidim" (see bibliography), 41-44.
20The Rebbe (Sifrit Mairev, 1979).
35Tuvya Zaretsky, "Turning to God" discusses the biblical idea of teshuvah, "returning" (see bibliography below). Bibliography
Blocher, Henri. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. Leicester/Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984.
Guiness, Os. The Dust of Death. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973.
Malinovich, Myriam M. "A Haven Among the Chasidim" in Present Tense 11:1 (Autumn 1983), 41-44.
Siegel, R.; Strassfeld, M.; Strassfeld, S., eds. The Jewish Catalog. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973.
Silberman, Charles E. A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today. New York: Summit Books, 1985.
Stein, Jonathan. "In Defense of the Congregational Havurah." Journal of Reform Judaism 30:3 (Summer 1983), 43 ff.
Strober, Gerald S. American Jews: Community in Crisis. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1974.
Waxman, Chaim I. America's Jews in Transition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
Zaretsky, Tuvya. "Turning to God: Good News for God's Chosen People." Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985.
The Rebbe. Sifrit Mairev, 1979.
The account may not be reliable; nonetheless, it is the most popular unofficial story about Lustiger in France. Most everyone has heard about the priest who became a cardinal who called himself a Jew. How does the larger Jewish community* feel about this? How should we feel as individuals about this? How Jewish was Jean-Marie Lustiger, anyway?
The Jewish community had mixed feelings about the cardinal. After his nomination as archbishop, Jewish-Catholic relations in France improved dramatically. Ironically, Lustiger worked tirelessly to bring the church to its knees regarding its treatment of the Jewish people. He was the unrelenting motor behind the church’s recognition of the “sins of the past”; he influenced the pope to that end. In 1995 he accompanied a group of French rabbis to hear Catholic authorities apologize for the French church’s passivity toward the Vichy government’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. He made advances in Jewish-Christian dialogue, transforming it into a less formal, more “shmoozy” discussion. Lustiger communicated something that others before him could not. He never said it, but it showed: he felt comfortable among Jews. At times, the Jewish community seemed to feel pride in the cardinal. It was a sort of “local boy done good.” One of our own had become, as he was often called, a “Prince of the Church.” Notwithstanding, the Jewish community wasn’t about to nominate him for a “man of the year” award. Isi Leiber, a prolific writer on Jewish affairs, in writing for Israel’s newsmagazine, Israel Insider, said this of Lustiger in March 2005:
The Jewish community questions continued, “How could he? How could he don the garb of those who preached the Crusades in centuries past, in Europe, of all places? Why did he insist, as he often did, that he was a ‘Cardinal, a Jew and the son of an immigrant.’”ii Why didn’t he understand what his friend Elie Wiesel tried to communicate to him: “Where I come from and from where I stand, one cannot be Jew and Christian at the same time. Jesus was Jewish, but those who claim allegiance to him today are not. In no way does this mean that Jews are better or worse than Christians, but simply that each of us has the right, if not the duty, to be what we are.”iii Yet Lustiger respectfully disagreed. He told Wiesel, “I feel Jewish. I refuse to renounce my roots, my Jewishness. How could I betray my mother’s memory? It would be cowardly and humiliating.”iv
Born Aaron Lustiger in 1926 in Paris, his parents, Charles and Gis?le, non-practicing Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, had moved there around World War I. Aaron and his sister, Arlette, grew up in the 12th arrondissement (borough), the heart of the Jewish community. His family lived on the Rue Marcadet, well-known center of the poor Polish-born Jewish community and far from the Sephardic bessere menschen (better people). Lustiger in Yiddish means “joyful one,” and he lived up to his name. No childish misdeed was too mischievous, if it could afford a laugh.
Before the cardinal died, one of the most popular jokes in the Paris Jewish community went along these lines: What is the difference between the chief rabbi and the cardinal of Paris? The cardinal speaks Yiddish. Indeed, Lustiger bathed in the mama loshen (mother tongue). He learned early on, however, that speaking Yiddish and living in the Ashkenazi immigrant district wasn’t all that Jewishness was about. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, he reflected on this: “As a child, my Jewishness meant being persecuted, historically and personally, from which I have no desire to escape for one instant.”v
He never did. Lustiger showed intellectual promise early on, and his parents sent him to one of Paris’ most prestigious schools, the Lyc?e Montaigne. He excelled in literature and languages. But a young Polish Jew stood out and his schoolmates would not let him forget it. They often pummeled him in traditional European custom. In 1937 he visited an anti-Nazi Protestant family in Germany whose son was in the Hitler Youth (all German teenagers were compelled to join). The son, believing Lustiger was a Gentile, showed him his dagger and confided that the Hitler Youth will kill “all the Jews in Germany during the summer solstice.”vi But it was also around this time that the young Lustiger came across a Protestant Bible and was inexplicably attracted to it.vii
He never lost his sense of humor or his chutzpah. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, he met a Gestapo officer on more than one occasion. At one such encounter, the officer was impressed that he answered in German, and asked him suspiciously how he learned such good German. To which the 14-year-old Lustiger replied, putting a little more French accent into his German, “Here, in France, we have very good German teachers!”viii Of course, anyone who knows the history of these two countries knows that the French have never learned or taught the German language well at that age level!
In 1940, in response to the Nazi occupation, his parents sent him and Arlette to live with a Catholic family in Orleans, 80 miles south of Paris. Suzanne Combes, a member of that family, was finishing her doctorate in French literature at the time. Interviewed later in life, she recalled Lustiger asking questions about Christianity. But it is clear in her accounts of the young Lustiger children’s education that she was more worried about piano lessons, homework and keeping Aaron from reading comic books than converting him to Christianity!
With the world falling apart around him, Lustiger was searching for meaning in the chaos. His unconformity and inquisitiveness pushed him to ask deep questions about Judaism and Christianity. His separation from the Jewish world caused him to crave contact with other Jews. He found it in one of the most unlikely places: the New Testament. For when he read the New Testament he discovered a familiar Jewish world from which he had been cut off. He found conversations that he had heard before and themes that concern his people—the Shabbat, Brit Milah (circumcision) and Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). Lustiger found the answers to his probing questions and asked his protectors to have him baptized. For Aaron had discovered, through his readings and his prayers in hiding, that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
However, Suzanne Combes refused to allow Lustiger to be baptized unless his parents gave express permission. Lustiger remembers this moment as one of the most difficult in his life: “It was an unbearably painful scene when he told his parents. He explained that he was not abandoning being a Jew but discovering its real meaning. His parents did not understand and he suffered greatly from their pain. He took the step only because he felt it was absolutely necessary for his soul.”ix Although Lustiger’s parents initially denied his request, shortly thereafter they asked Suzanne and the local priest to baptize both children in an attempt to save them from the coming nightmare. Lustiger kept Aaron as his first name, and added the name Jean-Marie at his baptism in August 1940.
His mother, however, did not escape the horrors of the Holocaust. On February 13, 1943, Gis?le Lustiger died at Auschwitz after having been deported from Drancy, the infamous French detention camp. After the war, Aaron’s cousin, Arno Lustiger, who survived Auschwitz, discovered that an employee of the Lustiger family’s hat and drapery shop denounced Gis?le to the French militia in charge of deportations. The woman had long coveted the Lustiger apartment and took it for herself. Lustiger’s father had left Paris to look for another home for his family, thereby escaping the fate of his wife.x
After the war, Lustiger’s father along with the Chief Rabbi of Paris confronted his son about his faith. Together they all visited the bishop in charge of reversing baptisms. Everyone wanted Aaron to recant, claiming he had been baptized only for practical reasons, to escape the Nazis. Aaron vigorously denied that argument and refused to recant.xi Why did he refuse? It became increasingly apparent over the years that Lustiger truly believed.
When interviewed about his experience during the war, Lustiger was asked what he remembered most about occupied France. “To see a country collapse, that everything comes crashing down, that those vested with the truth become liars, those vested with courage become cowards, those vested with justice become traitors, those entrusted with the public good abandon the people,” he recalls. “I saw all of this with my own eyes and it is probably what most traumatized me.”xii Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger decided that this would not happen to him. He would not deny the truth or his own convictions.
Those convictions simply stated were that one, he was a Jew, and two, Jesus was the promised one for Israel. What touched him most when he began to read the New Testament was its connection with the Hebrew Scriptures: “For me, it dealt with the same spiritual subject, the same benediction, the same stakes: the salvation of men, the love of God, the knowledge of God. . . . The identification between the suffering Messiah and persecuted Israel [the Jewish people] was something intuitive and immediate for me.”xiii
Jesus, the Jew, knew suffering. As the prophet Isaiah says of the Messiah: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. . . . He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”xiv
Lustiger gained a deep appreciation for the Jewishness of his new faith because of his love for his people and his Messiah. It was like the old comedy album entitled, When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish. That phrase captured the way Lustiger saw his world. He now saw the connection between the Passover lamb and the seders he took part in as a child with Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”xv He saw the continuity of the Old and New Covenants, and in his Jewishness he saw his life’s calling. “I was born Jewish and so I remain,” he said, “even if that’s unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That’s my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.xvi When appointed Archbishop of Paris in 1981, he said, “For me, this nomination was as if all of a sudden the crucifix began to wear a yellow star.”xvii
Lustiger remembered his father telling him as a child that they were Levi’im and that they had a responsibility. Lustiger believed he belonged to a priesthood greater than that of the Catholic Church. In his interview with Yediot Aharonot he said, “What is a Jew, if not a man with a calling for his fellow man? For this reason he is rejected and persecuted and killed! How could I wish to cease being Jewish? It is not man’s prerogative to decide what he should be, but first to God . . . I have never desired to not be Jewish.”xviii As he tried to explain to his parents, “I am not leaving you. I am not passing into the enemy camp. I’m becoming what I am. I am not stopping being a Jew—just the opposite. I’m discovering a way of living it.”xix
He did live it. And he was never ashamed to proclaim it. Two days after he was named Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger told a reporter for a Jewish news service, “I’ve always considered myself a Jew, even if that’s not the opinion of some rabbis.”xx Nor did the cleric nicknamed “the bulldozer” hesitate to confront. He was asked to be the keynote speaker at a major Catholic conference in Germany. He really did not want to go, but accepted on condition that he be invited to speak a week before on one of the national radio stations. On the air, he said, “I will come in my capacity as bishop to the conference, but I will say to you who I am: I am a Jew whose mother you executed. That is what you have done.”xxi
He stood for his Jewish people at every opportunity. To the Jews he was a Catholic and to the Catholics he was a Jew. Cardinal Monsignor P?zeril said of him, “To know him is a grace and a trial, because he is not like us.”xxii His Jewish identity was central to his faith and what he saw as his Levitical calling.
How should we regard his Jewish identity? His life and his death provide the answer. He was born a Jew and he made sure he would die a Jew. In attending to all the details of his funeral, he made it clear that the Jewish rites would be done with at least as much prominence as the Catholic rites.
Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger was the first Jew to be buried at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in its 1100-year history. Even in his death, the archbishop welcomed everyone. The coffin was carried by six cardinals and placed with care in the court in front of the cathedral and under a flag with a Magen David (Star of David) representing those deported to concentration camps. The president of France followed in silence and took a single seat in front of the coffin.
The Archbishop of Paris said a word of introduction for a younger Lustiger, his nephew Jonas Moses, who poured earth from the land of Israel on the coffin of the good cardinal in the presence of the French President. This earth was gathered, in accordance with Lustiger’s will, from Jericho and the western side of the Mount of Olives, from which a generous view of Jerusalem could be enjoyed. Before being brought to France, this earth was placed before the Kotel (Western Wall). His nephew then read, in Hebrew, Psalm 135 that begins the great Hallel: “Praise ye the Lord.” Then his beloved cousin and long-time companion, Arno Lustiger, led the Mourner’s Kaddish in front of that ancient cathedral where representatives of the Jewish community joined in among 5,000 mourners. The plaque that, at his request, was placed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame above the funerary crypt, reads: “I was born Jewish. I received the name of my paternal grandfather [a Yiddish-speaking rabbi in Silicia], Aaron. Having become Christian by faith and baptism, I have remained Jewish. As did the Apostles.”xxiii