Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Gentiles

There has been a lot of ink spilled recently about noted anti Semite Mel Gibson. Here is a man who – no matter how he tries to hide it – never fails to show his anti Semitism.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he produced the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’. But after a drunken episode where he used anti Semitic slurs towards a Jewish cop, I saw his true colors. And those same colors showed up again - described in a letter sent to Gibson by Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Eszterhas was hired by Gibson to write a script for a movie about Judah Maccabee.

Eszterhas minced no words in describing his experience with Gibson. He clearly identifies him as an anti Semite – quoting some of the epithets Gibson used regarding Jews and Holocaust. Gibson of course denies all of it. But there is just so many times you can deny something about yourself that becomes increasingly obvious by your repeated behavior over time.

That he claims he wants to make this movie for altruistic reasons is a ridiculous attempt to re-ingratiate himself with the Jewish people. Or worse - perhaps it is as Eszterhas believes a naked attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. Either way, he disgusts me – as he should every decent human being.

It’s really too bad about Gibson. I liked his movies. Now the mere thought of any of those films makes me nauseous!

Fortunately Gibson, an Australian by birth, does not represent America. I have for the longest time been impressed with the way most Americans feel about their Jewish neighbors. The evidence of good will is all over the place. It shows up in the American heartland, in big towns and in small. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians – most particularly their preachers - seem to love us unconditionally.

And their love of Eretz Yisroel (which includes the West Bank) is second to none. I would even go so far as to say their support of Israel surpasses that of most Jews. They are unabashed Zionists, albeit Christians. The best example of this is the way Pastor John Hagee has spoken – and continues to speak - about us in such glowing terms. And he is not alone.

The Catholic Church is no slouch in this department either. Ever since Vatican II (something Catholic traditionalists like Gibson reject) Catholics have been bending over backwards to please us without trying to convert us. Vatican II rejected the age old premise that the Jews killed their god. They have also rejected ‘replacement theology’ which posited that Christians have replaced Jews as the new owners of the covenant with God. They now fully accept that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in force.

And now another Catholic priest - Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philidelphia - has upped the ante. He learned something about us that so impressed him, he wants to use it as a model for Christians. In a recent visit to Yeshiva University he was shown how the Beis HaMedrash Bachurim learn B’Chavrusa. While observing it - he was explained the dynamic involved in such learning. But he ended up detecting it himself. What he left with is a tremendous Kiddush HaShem.

Here is an excerpt from his pre-Easter ‘Holy Thursday Homily’ recorded in the 5 Towns Jewish Times:

I came away from my time at Yeshiva with three main impressions.

What struck me first was the passion the students had for the Torah. They didn't merely study it; they consumed it. Or maybe it would be better to say that God's Word consumed them. When a man and woman fall in love, a kind of electricity runs not just between them, but also in the air around them. The story of every true encounter with God is the same. Scripture is a romance. It's the story of God's love for humanity. When we give our hearts entirely to seeking God in the richness of God's Word, we begin to discover and experience that same kind of electricity. I saw it in the students at Yeshiva.

The second thing I noticed was the power of Scripture to create new life. God's Word is a living dialogue between God and humanity. That divine dialogue mirrored itself in the "learning dialogue" among the Yeshiva students. The students began as strangers, but their work in reflecting on Scripture and in sharing what they discovered with each other, then created something more than themselves -- a friendship between themselves and with God.

Third and finally, I saw in the lives of those Jewish students the incredible durability of God's promises and God's Word. Despite centuries of persecution, exile, dispersion and even apostasy, the Jewish people continue to exist because their covenant with God is alive and permanent. God's Word is the organizing principle of their identity. It's the foundation and glue of their relationship with one another, with their past and with their future. And the more faithful they are to God's Word, the more certain they can be of their survival.

My point is this: What I saw at Yeshiva should apply to all of us as priests and bishops, and all of our seminarians who will one day join us in the work.

Wow! Contrast this with Gibson, who I firmly believe is part of a very small minority in this country. Or with how Catholics and other Christians treated us during the Holocaust in Europe.

Although there were a few righteous gentiles who were indeed completely altruistic, risking their own lives and even those of their families to save Jews, one could also find among them - those who despite their efforts to save us, still considered us Christ Killers… as the documentary ‘Shoah’ clearly shows. That attitude still exists today among the devout in places like Poland.

Thank you America for just being the country you are. Thanks to the American people for being the people you are. And thank you Yeshiva University for making a huge Kiddush HaShem.