Wednesday, March 16, 2016

These Jews

Once upon a time, the world was divided up into regions of predictable homogeneity. I don’t know what else to call it. Europe was the place where everyone was Christian of one sort or another, except for the scoundrel, barely tolerated Jews and, of course, the Gypsies, whatever they are. Then there were ‘the lands of Islam,’ almost all of them stolen from Christian or other nations and religions, and converted by the sword. In some places and times, non-Muslims living there were tolerated by accepting lower social status and the payment of protection money. One of the largest of these non-Muslim groups was, as in Europe, the Jews. Some say that the Jews fared better in the lands of Islam than in Europe.

What is it with these Jews? No matter what we do to them, they never seem to go away. They only seem to get stronger and more numerous. Every few centuries, maybe decades, they get too numerous and rich, and we find excuses to reduce their number and influence, sometimes killing them off altogether. When we do that, we usually find that we can’t live without them. Like Joseph in Egypt at whose touch everything prospered, whatever these Jews handle sees increase, both for them, and even for us. Though we don’t trust them one bit, we feel safer when they’re quietly running our banks, our schools, our hospitals, and if and when something goes wrong, we always have them to blame.

I’m not going to address the issue of Jews in the lands of Islam, the Sephardic Jews, because they’re not a purely European phenomenon. Though some of them originated in southern Europe, most live or lived in the lands of Islam. Those Jews, then, belong to them, to the Muslims. But I want to consider ‘our Jews,’ the ones we’ve been rubbing shoulders with (when we couldn’t help it) for about two thousand years on the European continent and later here in the Americas. Yes, they are our Jews. They mostly resemble us racially because they’ve been living with us for so long. Whether by intermarriage or by accidents of pillage and war, their gene pool and ours has become a merged continuum.

The Jews are a European people, just like the Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Austrians, Russians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, and Brits among whom they used to live. Of course, many of them still do, but in greatly reduced numbers because of the combined effects of the Holocaust and the Aliyah. Some Jews exhibit racial features reminiscent of their remote Levantine ancestors, the Israelites, but unless one is very sensitive to racial types and characteristics, many Jews pass among us without notice. The ones that stick out like a sore thumb are Jews belonging to sects that emphasize biblical and rabbinical traditions, the Hasidic Jews, for example. But most look and act just like us.

What’s on my mind this morning is our Jews, the ones with whom we share the development and spread of our European civilization, which has by and large become the civilization of the planet. The Jews and their religion and traditions are just as much a part of our European heritage as is our Christianity. In fact, our faith couldn’t exist without theirs, not only because ours is a simplified version of it, but because the very fact of their survival is what gives our Christianity its vitality. In an odd sort of way, the Jews are the guardians of Christianity, its tutors, sometimes its babysitters, certainly in many cases its providers. That they refuse to assimilate and remain aloof from us is what keeps us going.

Blaise Pascal was right about them. He wrote many things about our Jews in his anthology Pensées, but one of the best things he said about them was, they continue to live among us in order that the claims of Christ might be proven true to every generation. He says that, had the Jews accepted Christ, they would’ve been suspect witnesses, and the Gentile (non-Jewish) world would never have accepted Him. It’s like this. If I have a son who is a child prodigy, and I keep bragging him up and promoting him, you might think, ‘Of course he says he’s good, the best. It’s because it’s his son.’ But if I run my son down and don’t even want to hear his name mentioned, if he is a prodigy, you’ll recognize it on your own.

As we are now in the Church season of Great and Holy Lent, and the Jews, our Jews, are with us making their own ‘journey to Pascha’ which they call ‘Pesach’ and which is a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, I want to join our two journeys, our two exoduses, together. I want to remind us that we are not two peoples, but one. That we are not enemies, but brothers, even as Jacob and Esau. Yes, we have had and still have our problems, our disagreements, but we are ‘family’ and we belong to each other. There never was a need for our Jews to escape us and make themselves a state on other people’s soil, had we not forced them to it by persecuting them, and look what our blind hatreds have cost us.

There cannot be a ‘Christian’ civilization that excludes the Jews. There can only be a ‘Judaeo-Christian’ civilization, which acknowledges and promotes the contributions and welfare of both religious traditions. Again, I reiterate, we are not two peoples, but one, both here in America, and in Europe, where our civilization began. I have to remind us of these things because I am a Christian, and I need to stand up for my people Israel, the kinsmen of Jesus Christ. The ignorant and irreligious are once again raising the standards of anti-Jewish hatred. Perhaps this is sparked by the establishment of the Jewish state. Perhaps it is just a reawakening of that demon that inflamed the ignorant in former times, but it must be defied.

As we make our way to the bright and holy feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, this year beginning on the evening of the 30th of April at the Vigil of Pascha (Easter), let us remember with respect and love our Jewish brethren who will be experiencing the annual reenactment of the Exodus from Egypt, this year beginning on the evening of the 22nd of April at the first Seder of Pesach (Passover). There is only one Pascha, one Pesach, one Passover. It is the Passover of the Lord, as our ancient fathers sang,

Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought His Israel into joy from sadness;
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.

‘Tis the spring of souls today; Christ hath burst His prison,
and from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
from His light, to whom we give laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright with the day of splendor,
with the royal Feast of feasts, comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem, who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains Jesus’ resurrection.

Neither might the gates of death, nor the tomb’s dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal, hold Thee as a mortal:
But today amidst Thine own Thou didst stand, bestowing
that Thy peace which evermore passeth human knowing.

— St John of Damascus, 8th century

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