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.

PRYING INTO PRAYER

A good many American Jews of retirement age are very much familiar with The Lord’s Prayer. Jewish, it isn’t. Pope Francis has been aware for some time now that something is amiss with the venerated Christian prayer. That is why it came as no surprise when it was reported that the Pontiff wished to tweak the text of the Lord’s Prayer. He was particularly troubled by Christians asking of G-d: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Meaning no disrespect to the Holy See, but temptation is not necessarily a bad thing. As far as Judaism is concerned, temptation comes in two flavors – good and bad. Trouble is, throughout the generations, so many Christian theologians have been stuck in the Garden of Eden, where the first couple was tempted by the cunning serpent to indulge in the forbidden fruit, that these theologians simply can’t see the forest for the tree (sic). For these theologians, temptation is synonymous with evil. “Gevalt,” exclaim our rabbis. Were it not for temptation, those who came across one small cruse of certified oil while cleaning up the Greek mess in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem would have been left in the dark. It was temptation that led them to light the oil, even though rationally they held out little, if any, expectation that the oil would last beyond twenty-four hours. Similarly, it was temptation and not intellect that led a small ragtag Maccabee army to engage in battle with a larger, better trained army that was superiorly equipped. Chanukah and (good) temptation go together like potato latkes and sour cream.

Meaning no disrespect to the Bishop of Rome, but G-d does not lead us into temptation, nor has G-d ever led us into temptation. Truth of the matter is G-d does not lead us anywhere. In Judaism we call that free will. And that’s the way it has been ever since Adam and Eve. This world is wired with free will for humans and because of this, G-d was able to say to Cain: If thou do well, things will work out just fine, but if you mess up, you’ll wish that you were never born. Just as G-d cannot lead us into complacency, so too G-d cannot led us into temptation. Some 21 centuries ago, there was any number of our people who were tempted by the Greek lifestyle that was so pervasive at the time. Those Jews earned the moniker Hellenists. And when the Hellenists went too far and brought that lifestyle into places that were off limits, the Hasmoneans took up arms against the Hellenists and civil war broke out. That’s how the story of Chanukah took root.

Meaning no disrespect to the Pontiff, but if he wishes to place G-d and temptation in the same sentence, then he might consider rewriting the Lord’s Prayer, so that the petitioner asks for strength, determination, and fortitude from HaShem to properly deal with temptation. If it’s good temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength not to have second thoughts or to shy away, but to go for it; if it’s bad temptation, the petitioner should pray for strength to fight that temptation and to overcome it. Just as there were those who succumbed to the Hellenist lifestyle, so too were there those who resisted the Hellenist lifestyle. And the rest they say, is the history of Chanukah.

As long as we live, as long as we are healthy in mind and soul, temptation will always be part of our lives. A true mentsch, perhaps even a Tzaddik is one who knows how and when to implement (good) temptation and when to subdue (bad) it. In doing so, that mentsch or Tzaddik  will succeed in bringing more light into this world than any Chanukah Menorah.

HI HITLER

As one who grew up in a city heavily populated by Ukrainians, there was no love lost between the Jews and the Kapusta (Ukrainian word for cabbage) eaters. Despite many exceptions on both sides, there were a good many Jews who saw the ancestors of the local Ukrainians as “pogromchiks” who would ride into a shtetl and revel in the rape and carnage of “Christ Killers”. Similarly, a good many Jews saw the parents and grandparents of the local Ukrainians as eagerly assisting the Nazis by doing all of the dirty work in the Concentration camps. Here too, the Ukrainian henchmen were avenging their savior’s death. Given that most Ukrainians in my hometown were descendants of peasant stock, we Jews referred to them as prosteh goyim (crude Gentiles) in Yiddish, while in English, we resorted to the local vernacular and called them Bohunks.
It was therefore with more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Pope Francis affixing his signature to a decree affirming the “venerable” status of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrey Sheptytsky. His Excellency’s claim to fame as far as I’m concerned, lies not in the fact that he served as the Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church for four decades, or that he served as the de facto political leader of western Ukraine, because of the government turmoil that existed; His Excellency’s claim to fame lies in the ambivalent view that Jews with knowledge of his participation in World War II, have of him. On the one hand, he is an angel from heaven, in that together with his brother Klementiy, he saved hundreds of Jews, among them, more than one hundred Jewish children from Nazi slaughter. It should be noted that not one Jewish child saved by Sheptytsky was lost to the Nazis or was lost to the Jewish people (through conversion). On the other hand, Sheptytsky is the devil incarnate for welcoming the Nazis, as they liberated Ukraine from Soviet rule. Because of the latter, Yad VaShem leadership refused to accord Archbishop Sheptytsky a plaque or signpost on the Avenue of the Righteous until 1995. Belated Righteous Gentile recognition notwithstanding, consider the following:
Andrey Sheptytsky’s welcoming the Nazis had nothing to do with the Jews. For him and millions of other Ukrainian nationals, the Soviets were the arbiters of man’s inhumanity against man. Soviet purge of religion aside, Uncle Joe Stalin systematically starved seven million Ukrainian peasants to death less than a decade earlier, in an effort to “nationalize” agriculture. The way Archbishop Sheptytski saw things; the Nazis were their enemy’s enemy and therefore friends of the Ukrainians. Never could the Archbishop fathom that the Nazis would be more inhumane than the Soviets. After all, what would be worse than stealing land from millions upon millions of peasants and then starving them to death?

However true it may be that hindsight is 20/20, hindsight greatly distorts one’s view as well. When Adolph first came to power, there were more than a few Jews in Germany who were fawning all over him. I have heard first hand, that our very own co-religionists were lovingly referring to him as Der shoner Adolph. Put differently, long before he devised the “final solution”, Adolph was seen as “the solution”! Before we excoriate others for rolling out the red carpet to the greatest enemy our people were ever cursed with, we would do well to beat our chests with an enormous chatati (I have sinned) in that there were those of us who also rolled out that very same red carpet!
Speaking of “final solution”, we would do well to realize that the “final solution” was a product of the Wannsee Conference which took place well over two years after the Nazis invaded Poland. Back in 1939, there were still those who were naïve enough to believe or to hope against hope that Hitler could be mollified, whether through the acquisition of Sudetenland or maybe even Poland.
Andrey Shepytsky was a priest, not a politician. One of the features of the vast majority of clergy is that they believe not only in a Supreme Being, but in their fellow human being as well, however naïve and foolish and even dangerous at times that may be. In September 1939, the Archbishop of western Ukraine simply couldn’t fathom that humans could undertake such diabolical, dastardly plans and come awfully close to succeeding.
As one, who by my own admission is no ardent supporter of Pope Francis, I extend to him a big Yasher Koach for his latest action concerning Andrey Sheptytsky. Such recognition, as far as I’m concerned, is long past due. This Wednesday marks the 150 anniversary of Andrey Sheptytsky’s birth. No doubt the descendants of those saved by Andrey Sheptytsky will thank HaShem for putting him on the face of this earth.