REBUILD

For those of us who had the appetite to continue on with the Seder after the crumbs of the Afikomen were brushed away last Friday and Saturday night, one of the latter passages of the Haggadah – the third last passage, just prior to “Who Knows One” – ought to have taken on greater significance and meaning this year. “Adir Hu”, an eight-stanza acrostic with each stanza focusing on HaShem rebuilding His house, the holy Temple in Jerusalem, might well have rung a bell with so many of us, with the fire of Notre Dame in Paris still so very fresh in our minds. If there is any one non-Catholic group that can identify with what took place in France last week, in all likelihood, it is we Jews. Our collective memory is still haunted by the flames bringing down the Beit HaMikdash or Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, when the land of Israel was under Roman rule.  Stark differences however, remain with what took place with our Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Despite its splendor and grandeur, aside from it being in a league of its own, there are any number of basilicas and cathedrals throughout Europe, with architecture to behold and histories to treasure, even if those architectures and histories  fail to rival the architecture and history of Notre Dame. As one who once visited Israel for less than a day and who was adamant that a visit to the Kotel in Jerusalem was non-negotiable, otherwise I would refuse to head back to the airport, I cannot help but wonder whether or not Catholics and non-Catholics  alike, be it in Europe or elsewhere, shouldn’t be finding solace in the fact, that unlike Jews, they are in no way bereft of their one and only spiritual edifice.

To be sure, many Catholics and non-Catholics will be turning to their Father in heaven, as they should, to ask for divine guidance and assistance in rebuilding Notre Dame. To be sure, the Catholic community will be able to rely upon the largesse of the wealthy as they step in, as well as the generosity of the common folk, as they pitch in. In no way, would I be with surprised, if more monies than needed, are amassed for the rebuilding of Notre Dame. In no way, would I be shocked, if many of us live to see a rebuilt Notre Dame of a resplendence, that few, if any, could ever have envisioned  or imagined. And therein lies the difference between the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem and Notre Dame, l’havdil in Paris. Whereas it is HaShem, who will ultimately rebuild the Beit HaMikdash with the arrival of Moshiach, it is mere mortals who will rebuild the cathedral in Paris. Stated differently, when it comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, we Jews pray; when it comes to Notre Dame in Paris, Catholics and others pay.

As a concerned outsider who reaches out to the world-wide Catholic community in general, along with the Catholic community in France in particular,  I cannot help but turn to the Catholic community in my capacity as rabbi. I wish you Godspeed in dealing with your recent calamity. Remember however, that a fire has been raging over the cathedrals, basilicas, and churches throughout Europe these last few decades and it is Christianity that has been going up in smoke.

However formidable a task lies ahead with the rebuilding of Notre Dame, there is a far more daunting a task that confronts Christianity. As a consequence of the clutches of secularism spiriting away those who were born to the faithful and baptized in their respective churches as infants, Notre Dame and other places of worship, run the risk of remaining little more than icons. By all means ought Notre Dame be rebuilt to its former glory. At the same time, however Christians must seek to rebuild their following.

We Jews have long since come to terms that our Beit HaMikdash lies in in ruins. For centuries, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our daily prays; for centuries the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash has been part of our annual Seder. The Beit HaMikdash remains an integral part of our religion just as HaShem remains an integral part of its rebuilding.  In the meantime, we have focused on keeping Judaism strong and vibrant. My wish for my Catholic brethren is that the building materials used to reconstruct Notre Dame be infused with Christian holiness of the highest and purest   order.

 

 

RESERVING A SPECIAL THOUGHT

As a firm believer that a special thought deserves a reciprocal special thought, I should like to communicate to Pope Francis, that just as he reserves a special thought for the Jewish community as he stood at the site of the former Vilna Ghetto the other day  on the 75th anniversary of its liquidation, so too do I reserve a special thought for him as well. Actually, I reserve three special thoughts for the Holy See:

Your standing at the site of the former  Vilna Ghetto or at the site of any Ghetto reminiscent of the Holocaust or at any Concentration Camp or Extermination Camp leaves me totally unmoved.

Regardless of any special thought that you reserve, I don’t hold you responsible for any of the atrocities committed against my people under the reign of terror of Adolph Hitler. You were a mere eight years old at the end of World War II. I don’t even hold Pope Pius XII responsible, despite all the controversy that surrounds him. Special thoughts should be reserved in the minds and on the consciences of children and grandchildren of those who were responsible for the Vilna Ghetto as well as the liquidation of Lithuanian Jews that soon ensued. Let them “Klap an al-chet” (beat their breasts) for the sins of their fathers. Any special thoughts you reserve in Lithuania should be reserved in any of the multitude of Catholic churches found throughout the country. Reserve special thoughts as you ask forgiveness from your savior for the inhumanities committed by his faithful while they either ignored or perverted his teachings.

Reserve special thoughts for the Rhineland massacres, where German Christians murdered innocent Jews living in the cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz. Visit churches that date back to the 11th century  and stand before the crucifix as you reserve special thoughts for the Jewish community. While you are at it. You might ask forgiveness for sullying the name of the Nazarene whose mission was to preach love as well as peace on earth. Stand there in front of the one who suffered at Calvary, just outside of Jerusalem and consider how he would have suffered that much more had he witnessed  murdering masses committing reprehensible and unspeakable acts, thereby besmirching his name and reputation.

Speaking of Jerusalem, reserve special thoughts for 160 churches in Jerusalem (including churches within schools and Christian institutions) that are not subject to defacement and desecration the way our synagogues are throughout cities in Europe. While you reserve special thoughts, you might also offer up a prayer of thanksgiving that the close to 15,000 Christians living in Jerusalem have never feared the Jew. Unlike Jews living in predominantly Christian countries in Europe, who no longer dare wear Jewish identification such as a yarmulke on their head or a Chai around their neck in public for fear of attack or worse, Christians mill about any and all neighborhoods of Jerusalem, feeling completely safe and secure. Perhaps the Holy See will consider a trip to the Holy Land  devoid of any political agenda, simply to express gratitude for the well-being and flourishing of the small Christian community  amidst a Jewish majority.
Your Holiness, history, Jewish existence and safety has been dependent on action and behavior -both by Jews themselves and especially by the outside Christian world. Never throughout our history as a people, has Jewish existence and safety been dependent on  special thoughts reserved by you or anyone else for that matter.

Your Holiness, there is one other special thought that I reserve – actually, it is a prayer. I reserve a special thought that you are able to devote your energies to dealing with the many issues that currently plague the Catholic Church. I will fully understand your not having the time to visit Holocaust memorials where you reserve special thoughts.