My dear Jewish friend 14: Inter-religious education and lessons to grow

After two public Christmas holidays, where we celebrated among our family, I headed back to work regenerated and full of hope despite the challenges on personal, professional, and political level.

For another year the Chanukah decorations – my small electric Chanukiah and the large wooden Dreidel from Israel – would rest in the large cupboard of my office. After placing the Chanukiah in front of a stack of Bibles longing to be used. Then, I carefully placed the Dreidel in front of it. The wooden art piece would forever remind me of a special lesson about Chanukah, inter-religious education, and own theological reflections on this Jewish celebration. As I slowly turned the dark Dreidel on its socket I remembered the astonished voice of a young police cadet.

But let me start with the lesson itself… : After the murderous crimes of World War II the number of Jews living in Germany presently is under 1% of the German population. Most of my police cadets have never had an encounter with Jews and only small knowledge about the living faith of Judaism. Therefore, during the festive season of Chanukah, I taught them about the history of this important festival showing them the Chanukiah and even playing a fun round of Dreidel. While I explained the historical background of your festival I could see that one police cadet sitting in the center of the class room looked very puzzled. He persistently raised his hand. I nodded, as I could feel the urgency of his question. „Mrs. Groß, please forgive my question, but I am confused. Are you Jewish?“ Now it was me being the astonished one. I set down the Dreidel on my desk. „No, I am not Jewish. But I have lived in New York for almost seven years. My children brought home many Jewish traditions. Some of my best friends are Jewish, and through Judaism I was able to understand a lot of my Christian faith.“ While the class then eagerly turned to playing a round or two of Dreidel, the question of the young police cadet stuck and evoked a deeper research on what Chanukah, Judaism and Christianity might have in common. Who would ever think, that an inter-religious lesson I had designed for my police cadets to help them with their ethical decision making, would help me to reach a deeper level of understanding of both faiths.

In the Christian Holy Scriptures we hear from Jesus celebrating most likely Chanukah:

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

John 10:22-23 NRSV

The German Bible translation „Bibel in gerechter Sprache“ even directly speaks of Chanuka:

Damals fand in Jerusalem das Chanukkafest statt.

John 10:22 Bibel in gerechter Sprache

There is no further biblical proof, if Jesus celebrated Chanukah. But the reference seems very convincing to me and I will definitely add to my answer that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi and most likely celebrated Chanukah like other Jews did.

With a soft push I closed the cabinet door, where the special objects of my teaching are stored. The Dreidel will forever remind me of this special lesson – by now I am convinced that I am challenged to grow as I teach as much as I challenge my young cadets to learn about other faiths, cultures, and festivals.

Love from Bamberg to my Jewish friend.

My dear Jewish friend 13: Shining lights of hope beyond Chanukah and Christmas

I sighed as I looked at the Chanukah decorations on our Christian Christmas tree. A few days earlier I had carefully placed a porcelain dreidel and festive window with a brightly lit Chanukiah in the center of our Christmas tree.

It was the eve of Christmas day and our two holiday seasons, Chanukah and Christmas, share one festive day, my thoughts had you on my mind. I vividly remember one Chanukah evening I was invited to speak about my family´s history, which represents like so many that of broken German history and more so the responsibility for present and future.

But now it was time to dim the light on this beautiful small window and our electric Chanukiah, which has accompanied us through your beautiful festival of lights. The lights of your beautiful festival might have been dimmed and those of Christmas will seize in a few days as well, but there is a light beyond that shines through us into this world.

A beautiful poem of Philip M. Raskin reminds us that the light will continue to shine:

The Rabbi tells his old, old tale,
     The pupils seated round.
“…And thus, my boys, no holy oil
     In the Temple could be found.

The heathens left no oil to light
     The Lord’s eternal lamp;
At last one jar, one single jar,
     Was found with the high priest’s stamp.

Its oil could only last one day—
     But God hath wondrous ways;
For lo! a miracle occurred:
     It burned for eight whole days.”

The tale was ended, but the boys,
     All open-eyed and dumb,
Sat listening still, as though aware
     Of stranger things to come.

Just wait, my boys, permit me, pray,
     The liberty to take;
Your Rabbi—may he pardon me—
     Has made a slight mistake.

Not eight days, but two thousand years
     That jar of oil did last,
To quell its wondrous flames availed
     No storm, no flood, no blast.

But this is not yet all, my boys:
     The miracle just starts.
This flame is kindling light and hope
     In countless gloomy hearts.

And in our long and starless night,
     Lest we should go astray,
It beacon-like sheds floods of light,
     And eastwards points the way,

Where light will shine on Zion’s hill,
     As in the days of old.
The miracle is greater, boys,
     Than what your Rabbi told

Philip M. Raskin – 1880-1944

As we as a Christian family are emerging ourselves into twelve days of the Christian festive season I know from our friendship that there is a light shining in both of us. A light of joy for the better, which we try to bring into our broken world large or small. May it kindle light and hope in countless gloomy hearts, which struggle.

Love from Bamberg on Christmas to my Jewish friend.