Three men came together to speak on Jewish – Christian relations in an Orthodox Synagogue in Manhattan. Two of the men are Orthodox Jews, and the third is a Christian. As if this isn’t dicey enough, the Christian is also the son of an Orthodox Jew who had to escape from Russia, came to America and eventually converted to Christianity. You couldn’t ask for more potential problems, because for many years, most Jew’s felt there was nothing worse than a Jew who believed in Jesus. Despite having a few tense moments, these men did remarkably well considering the layers of pain associated from each of their perspectives.
What precipitated the “event” was what New York Times best-selling author Joel Rosenberg, the Jewish Christian, wrote about in his recently released book of historical fiction:The Auschwitz Escape. Joel says he ‘stumbled’ upon the story of four Jews who escaped Auschwitz while he was visiting the death camp in 2011.
His book is inspired by two sets of true and somewhat forgotten stories. One is the story of German Jews who, until their capture, were part of the underground and tried to rescue fellow Jews and sabotage Nazis, and the other is about a small community of Christians in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Huguenot town in south-central France who helped save 5000 Jews. Sadly, an entire Christian community saving Jews is pretty unheard of.
In the book, a secular Jew named Jacob is a member of the resistance movement and is caught and sent to Auschwitz. Luc is a French Christian pastor who is caught helping save Jewish lives. They meet in Auschwitz where Jacob asks the pastor:
I don’t understand, what are you doing here?
The pastor responds that this is the wrong question. What Jacob should be asking is:
Why aren’t all Christians in Auschwitz?
This is pretty much the question many Christians like me wonder about, and yet there seems to be no good answer for it. I keep waiting for a learned Christian to explain it to me in a way that makes sense of all the contradictions.
Talk about contradictions! I wasn’t able to attend this event, although I know several people who did. I’ve seen the video and there are some very good moments. Besides Joel Rosenberg, the moderator David Nekrutman, Executive Director of Center For Jewish Christian Understanding & Cooperation (CFJCUC) who is an Orthodox Jew, says he is currently in a Masters program at—wait for it…a major Christian University. Oh, that’s just mean– okay I’ll tell you– Oral Roberts University. As fas as he knows, he is the first Orthodox Jew ever accepted to this institution.
He speaks of beginning his work with Jewish – Christian relations 14-years ago and how easy he thought it would be since he was raised in Brooklyn and, as far as he knew, all Christians were Catholic. He was shocked to learn of over 30,000 protestant denominations. (Rabbi Riskin had a funny reply to this.)
But the real contradiction came when the rabbi spoke. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin happens to be, among other things, the “rabbinic authority” of a major Christian Zionist organization. When the audience laughed he said:
“It’s easier to be the rabbi of Christians than for Jews, believe me!”
There’s evidence of old wounds with the good rabbi, in spite of his obvious desire to move forward with better Christian relations. Of course he knows that modern American Christians had nothing to do with what our European forebearers did, and he also knows that most Christians either don’t know about the history, or don’t feel in any way connected to it since “those” people weren’t “real Christians”.
The moderator mentioned that despite popular opinion, all Evangelicals are not supporters of Israel. And, when Christians do go to Yad Vashem to learn about the Holocaust, it’s common to hear them say:
“Those people who did that in Germany, were not Christians.”
He asked the rabbi: “Based on Joel’s book, we have a quote that states that real Christians do X, Y, & Z, (love their neighbor, even to the point of sacrifice or imprisonment) but given the history, how does that ring in a Jewish ear?”
The rabbi points out that the Holocaust couldn’t have happened without Catholicism spreading the notion that Jews were guilty of deicide– killing Jesus– and that Jews therefore deserved to be killed on Christmas and Easter.
He relates an interesting story of how, for hundreds of years Jews have been forbidden to study one night a year. In Yiddish that night is called: Nittel Nacht, or, Night of the Birth, aka Christmas Eve.
Why couldn’t they study? After work Jewish men would go to the Beit Midrash or ‘house of study”, which housed many expensive hand copied books and scrolls, and Christmas Eve always brought pogroms; “Jews must die.” One torch would kill all the men and burn all the books.
Note: Even in the middle ages Jews were forbidden from being in public during Christmas holidays.
As a real Christian it makes me nauseous that the Lord’s own people, his own family, were treated to this disgusting behavior by people who claim to do anything in his name. I also shudder for those people because he was quite clear about what he would say to them:
“Depart from me…” Matt 25: 41-43
Joel Rosenberg does a very good job of “keeping it real” and being straight forward and honest. Does he want everyone to believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah? Yes, of course, but that doesn’t justify coercion, or dishonest tactics. It’s about loving people even if they don’t, and never will, agree with us. He makes a very good case for the Messiah, saying we cannot belong to him if we chronically hate and cause harm. He speaks about how this is only something God can show someone anyway, and he also responds to the rabbi’s slight rebuke, that if they knew who the Messiah was, he would be hurt if they didn’t share it with him.
Rabbi Riskin, whose been active in Jewish – Christian relations for a long time, acknowledges that it’s perfectly valid for Christians to bear their souls to Jews and give witness to their belief and faith, and vice versa.
I’m not part of the Christian Zionist organization that he presides over and don’t know anything about it. But there’s no doubt this is an interesting turn of events. For those of you who aren’t “dialed in” to the feelings of the Jewish people, either because you don’t know any or because, well, you don’t know any, here’s a good video to watch. The rabbi is a bit worried about Christians trying to convert Jews and there’s good reason for this. He has many good points and I admire him for his efforts. The moderator was sweet and kind, even when getting heckled for not speaking up!
Oy, those New Yorkers!
About the men who inspired the book: (Click here to read about them on Joel’s blog)
Four men pulled off the greatest escapes in all of human history, from a Nazi death camp in southern Poland. They did not simply escape to save their own lives. Nor did they escape merely to tell the world about a terrible crime against humanity that had been – and was being – committed. What set these true heroes apart is that they planned and executed their escapes in the hope of stopping a horrific crime before it was committed – the extermination of the Jews of Hungary
About the Book The Auschwitz Escape
Watch the Video here
For the book click here