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Ruth Gottlieb: A Poignant Life. Paris: Juifs pour Jésus. 45 mins. In French with English subtitles

Ruth Gottlieb does not seem to be significantly different from any other octogenarian one might meet—other than her remarkable sharpness of mind. But then she begins to tell her story, one of sorrow upon sorrow. From the loss of nearly all her loved ones to the horrors of the Holocaust, Ruth has seen more suffering in her life than most of us can begin to imagine.

Interviewed at her home in France in 2013, Ruth details her life during and after the rise of Hitler. Born in Berlin in 1925, she was sixteen when her parents were deported to a concentration camp. After a year on the run as part of a resistance group, she and her compatriots were captured in Italy by German soldiers. Among those seized was Ruth's husband, Aaron Gottlieb, to whom she had been married for only eleven months. Aaron was executed immediately, while Ruth was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she remained for many months, ill and starving, until the camp was liberated. As she relates these incidents, Ruth's tone is noticeably matter-of-fact and her demeanor, detached. Clearly, these memories are too painful to engage on an emotional level.

Ruth goes on to describe her life after the war. She moved to Paris and fell in love with a Sephardic man; they were planning a future together when he suddenly died of an embolism. Later, in Israel, she married Paul Sandelbaum. They had a happy life until Ruth's older daughter Myriam died unexpectedly. A few months later, due in part to the shock of Myriam's death, Paul also died.

By this time in the interview, Ruth's tone is no longer detached or distant. Her grief is apparent in the way she averts her eyes as she speaks, in the long silences as she remembers the loss of so many whom she loved.

Yet Ruth's story is about more than pain; it's about hope.

In the final part of the film, Ruth recounts how she and her remaining daughter, Judith, embarked on a search for truth. Moving to France, they explored everything from crystal-gazing to hypnosis to Buddhism, each looking for something to fill the void in their souls.

One day, as Ruth was walking along a seaside promenade near her home, she overheard some friends speaking about religion. One of these friends, a Christian, invited Ruth into the conversation and told her about Jesus. Ruth, still fully engaged in her search for truth, was intrigued.

Over the coming months, as she continued to converse with her friend and to read the Bible (including the New Testament), she came to realize that she had found the truth she had been searching for. She learned that it was possible for her to make a commitment to Jesus and yet remain fully Jewish.

Though suffering had been the hallmark of the first sixty years of Ruth's life, when she speaks about Jesus, there is no trace of regret. Her eyes light up and her voice is strong and confident, full of gratitude. To see that even after a life filled with the most anguishing sorrows, God can restore joy and peace through relationship with himself—this is nothing short of a miracle. Ruth's story is certain to be an encouragement to all who hear it. For those who wish to share the good news of Jesus with others in their life, particularly those who object to faith on the basis of the suffering in the world, this film might be a good starting point for conversation. After all, if Ruth Gottlieb can believe in God's love and redemption, then perhaps even the most hardened among us can find faith.

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Jesus and Jewish Suffering: an Israeli Perspective

Suffering is international and cross-cultural. It is something that unites all human beings, because we all experience it at one point or another. Therefore, suffering is not specifically Jewish—although in Jewish history there has been a great deal of suffering.

My country, Israel, was birthed from the pain of one of humanity's greatest experiences of suffering, the Holocaust. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, said: "The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution."[ 1 ]

Today, Jewish suffering continues, both in the diaspora with the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and even in Israel, the Jewish homeland, where we are always ready for, even expecting, war—not just against our external neighbors but also internally against terrorism.

Maybe it is ironic that most Jewish people in Israel do not feel compassion over Jesus' suffering, even though they know how painful suffering can be. For the most part I find non-believing Israelis to almost feel comfort in the knowledge that Jesus suffered. It is an attitude of, "I am glad that Jesus suffered, because we have suffered in his name—therefore he deserved to suffer."

This statement comes from ignorance, yet it also has some truth in it. John Stott, in his wonderful book The Cross of Christ,writes these words:

It is wonderful that we may share in Christ's sufferings; it is more wonderful still that he shares in ours. Truly his name is "Emmanuel," "God with us." But his "sympathy" is not limited to his suffering with his covenant people. Did Jesus not say that in ministering to the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner, we would be ministering to him, indicating that he identified himself with all needy and suffering people?[ 2 ]

Yes, Jewish people have suffered in the name of Jesus. But the most amazing thing is that God came in the incarnation as Jesus, and chose to suffer and ultimately die for us. Our people have endured suffering. And Jesus' suffering was endured for us, and in spite of us.


Dan Sered is the Israel Director of Jews for Jesus.


[ 1 ] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, various editions.

[ 2 ] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: IL, InterVarsity Press, 2012), p. 326.

Jesus and Jewish Suffering: a Perspective from Paris

If one were to give a hard and honest look at the heritage of Israel's heroes, one would be forced to concede that it is not a triumphant past. Moses, at his apogee, came down from a holy mountain experience only to be "welcomed" by collective and unmitigated disloyalty in the shadow of the infamous golden calf. David, when he was anointed king of Israel, subsequently became the nation's most wanted outlaw—a fugitive and a mercenary. The prophets' popularity (or lack thereof) is well known, even to the most casual of Bible readers. According to tradition, Isaiah died by being torn in half. Jeremiah's tears still stain the pages of Scripture in his famous Lamentations, no matter the edition or translation. According to Yeshua, there was in fact a psycho-spiritual accumulation of suffering from the first tzaddik (righteous person) to the last, culminating in his own generation.[ 1 ]

Would it not then stand to reason that the Messiah, the epitome of prophetic hope and the greatest of prophets, would suffer in proportion to, and in honor of, all those that heralded his coming? It is a well-known Talmudic understanding that God's shekinah (presence) accompanies Israel in its diasporic meanderings, partaking of the woes of God's people. How much more should the Messiah, as the consummate representative of Israel, understand Jewish suffering from without as well as from within. Therefore, Isaiah's vision of the Suffering Servant is timeless and portrays a model not only of biblical sorrow, but of Jewish pain throughout the ages.

As Dan Sered points out in an accompanying article, there is no exception to suffering. Pain reaches everyone, from the highest to the lowest strata of society; it respects neither customs nor language barriers. According to writer Cormac McCarthy in his screenplay for the film The Counselor:

"Grief transcends value. . . . you cannot buy anything with grief because grief is worthless."[ 2 ]

McCarthy is philosophizing on the tragic consequences of our own stupid mistakes: we are our own greatest undoing. Most, if not all of us, suffer the fate we have unwittingly designed for ourselves. Many of the greatest tragedies in literature have plots built around this very theme.

Very few suffer completely innocently—or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet this has been the situation of the Jewish people. As Sholem Aleichem's character Tevye the Dairyman put it, regarding the situation of the Jewish people, "God I know, I know. We are your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't you choose someone else?"

We Jews are always "in the wrong place at the wrong time." This is the history of anti-Semitism. Sholem Aleichem was able to comment with humor and artistry on the many examples of frustrated grief among nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewry during the pogroms. But the next chapter in human history (and specifically Jewish history) would leave no room for such artful expressions of grief.

The culmination and crossroads of this new experience of human suffering was the Holocaust, or Shoah. The Shoah birthed a new dimension to the already multi-dimensional experience of Jewish suffering. It did so, ironically, by diminishing the already limited value of "grief" (McCarthy). In the Shoah, Jews no longer had any value as human beings. They were transformed into things. Nazi persecution set Jewish genocide above other kinds by declaring the Jew a non-entity. Jewish people no longer had souls, hearts or intrinsic human value. So they were recycled into grease, gold and other raw materials.

For the first time since the Enlightenment, diabolic evil had quantitative value. Leon Uris discovered this during his two years of research on the time that intervened between the Holocaust and the foundation of the State of Israel. In Uris' novel Exodus, Ari Ben Canaan says to Kitty Fremont: "Jewish flesh is cheap, lady. It's cheaper than beef. It is cheaper, even, than herring!"

As one reads the New Testament, one is confronted with the tragic nature of its protagonists, beginning with the Messiah and continuing with his disciples. The sweetest man, the champion of the weak and disenfranchised, is the one who suffers the most. Richard Wurmbrand was a Romanian-born Jewish believer in Jesus who survived the Holocaust, only to be locked in a Communist prison where he was tortured for fifteen years. His first reaction to reading the story of Jesus was realizing that Jesus died during Passover. He reflects,

"Chad Gaya is a poem sung by every generation of Jews for thousands of years on every passover. After Jesus' death on the cross, Mary knew when she sang the song . . . everyone gets a punishment for what they have done, but there is only one who was completely innocent (the little kid) who gave his life for everyone of us and that such a sacrificial death will end in resurrection."[ 3 ]

Perhaps Jesus' most famous teaching is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). At the crux of this exposition on suffering and piety is the curious statement, "Whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22).

Finding a reasonable equivalent translation for the Aramaic word raca[ 4 ] has been difficult. Many translations leave it as is; according to some Bible dictionaries, the term raca simply means "nothing" or "emptiness." Yet, says Jesus, every soul has infinite value. And according to what James calls the "royal law,"[ 5 ] Yeshua teaches that one should love one's neighbor as oneself. Holocaust survivors are among the very few among the billions of humanity who have actually experienced the nullifying experience of raca, this "nothingness" or "emptiness." Yet Jesus counted himself among those "worthless" few, according to Isaiah chapter 53—and also according to Philippians, where we read that "Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself . . ." (Philippians 2:6-7).

Yeshua became a raca in his suffering as the representative par excellence of the Jewish people. But it was not meaningless. Yeshua willingly suffered to bring us salvation.

All people suffer. Why should this be? This is usually a question directed toward the heavens. However, I would like to challenge you to ask yourself the same question. Many Jewish believers in Jesus identify as Jews, yet in all the claims to Jewish identity I have seen in the Messianic Jewish world, very few include Jewish suffering or the experience of real anti-Semitism. Beyond the issues of ordinary pain and anti-Jewish xenophobia, those of us who are disciples of Yeshua should ask, "Does my suffering contribute to God's plans?" Do I suffer for the sake of others, so that others might bring their suffering to the cross? If not, am I really a disciple? Am I really a Jew?"


Joshua Turnil directs the Paris branch of Jews for Jesus.

[ 1 ] Matthew 23:34-36.

[ 2 ] First original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor, Jan 2012.

[ 3 ] Richard Wurmbrand, No Other God, p. 19.

[ 4 ] Raca is used in the midrash to describe the wasted multitudes destroyed by the deluge. The Talmud quotes a woman using raca of a violent attacker. See Elie Munk, La Voix de la Thora, La Genèse (Paris: Fondation Odette S. Levy, 1976), p. 70.

[ 5 ] James 2:8.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Movie Review

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Movie Review
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
PG-13
-reviewed by Matt Sieger

April 7–14 marks Holocaust Remembrance Week in the United States. Among the many compelling films one could view to remember the victims of the Shoah, I would like to recommend the simple yet overpowering movie, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, based on the young adult novel by John Boyne.

Some critics maintain that the book and the movie trivialize the Holocaust. But I find myself in agreement with the "thumbs up" for this film from the late Roger Ebert, the "critic for the common man," as The New York Times referred to him in its obituary last week. As the obituary noted, "His credo in judging a film's value was a simple one: 'Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.'"

The boy in the striped pajamas is Shmuel, an eight-year-old Jewish child in a concentration camp. He is befriended by Bruno, a German boy of the same age whose father is a Nazi official in charge of the camp. They meet on opposite sides of the barbed wire. Neither of them understands what is going on at the camp. Even Bruno's mother does not know, but when she finds out, it causes great tension in their previously well-ordered family.

Through the children's innocence, some of the awful ironies of the situation are underlined. Bruno, instructed by a tutor, leads an isolated life in his family's big house in the country. When he sees other children in the camp, he tells Shmuel "it isn't fair" that he has all those friends. Bruno thinks the numbers on Shmuel's "pajamas" must be part of a game they play.

As Bruno begins to sense what is really going on behind the barbed wire, he wonders if his father is "a good man." But he is reassured after he secretly watches a propaganda film his father is showing the other Nazi officers about the entertainment and cultural activities the prisoners supposedly enjoy in the camp.

Yes, as critics note, some of the plot is contrived. But this is fiction. Don't most novelists stretch plot elements to achieve dramatic effect? The setting and the facts are real. Some say the story is too simplistic in contrasting good and evil. But, until the heart-stopping ending (which is seen through the eyes of Bruno's parents), everything is viewed through the eyes of the children. So of course they see things in black-and-white categories.

The film was produced by David Heyman, best known for the Harry Potter films. Heyman's father is Jewish. Aware that the film is small in scope in that it deals with one family's experience, Heyman hoped the movie would cause viewers to explore the Holocaust more in depth.

The ending of the film is mind-blowing. Director Mark Herman's handling of it, as Ebert deftly describes, "gathers all of the film's tightly wound tensions and savagely uncoils them. It is not what happens to the boy, which I will not tell you. It is—all that happens. All of it, before and after."

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