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.

The Slippery Slope starts with Words

The silence was ear deafening. One by one candles were lit by the tender hands of the female Rabbi. As the mourners kaddish filled the room said by numerous Jewish and Interreligious voices the grief formed a strong bond of commitment binding together the gathered people of different walks of life and faith.

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The slippery slope starts with words.“ David Harris, Chief Executive and CEO of AJC, reminded in a calm and even more so intense voice of how the path leading to the Holocaust began long before the Kristallnacht on Nov 9, 1938. The big auditorium of the German General Consulate was filled to the brink as AJC together with the German Consul General David Gill and Ruth Zimbler, a 90 year old Kristallnacht survivor, commemorated together this despicable and tragic moment in German history.

I shivered in my seat as the events past and present simultaneously went through my mind. Kristallnacht began way before 1938. But in my mind they suddenly appeared isochronal. Wiping away the 80 year divide with one blink of an eye and a simple, but ever so wise statement.

The slippery slope starts with words.

Most beginnings are quiet. Almost silent or with few words change will begin to unfold. No one back in the spring of 1912 as Hitler was stranded in a Men´s home in Vienna had ever thought this drop-out and postcard painter would later become the greatest criminal and murderer of over 6 million people. Back then, his audience was small as he voiced his thoughts about race and inferiority of the Jews. Hitler then was still the underestimated outsider. The underdog. A existence he later very successfully used to climb to the highest political ranks as he spread disaster of almost the whole world.

My eyes were fixated to the lit memorial candles as if I tried to hold on to hope despite disaster past and present. But the sentence had a tight grip to my thoughts as I could feel my heartbeat increase even though I was sitting.

The slippery slope starts with words.“

As my head was spinning my thoughts were pulled to Germany of January 1933. It was in the office of the Reich President that Hindenburg expressed is great satisfaction that the political right had at last united against all the liberal and democratic forces. As Hitler himself swore he would act in the good of the whole nation, Hindenburg gave this political newcomer his blessings. In one voice, as it is stated through different sources, the call of Hitler as new Reichs Chancellor was underpinned with a single sentence: „And now, gentlemen, forward with God.“

As a woman of God, a faith leader and a German this heresy and abuse of faith is deeply hurtful. Even then, many, even Hindenburg, hadn’t suspected that they were already on a slippery slope leading to disaster, murder and destruction.

The slippery slope starts with words.“

May this sentence remind us of the power of words, which can develop the beautiful and more so the disastrous. „The Anti-Defamation League logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.“ (1) Words of hate and anti-Semitism lead to the deadliest attack towards Jews in the US in Pittsburgh as eleven innocent believers were murdered by a white supremacist. We know by now that the perpetrator Robert Bowers was encouraged and fed by anti-Semitic words and thoughts expressed by numerous sources.

The dehumanizing words presently used in politics are leading to a never before experienced rise in hate crimes. Murders like the one of the Pittsburgh Eleven, the two African-American in Kentucky, and „smaller“ despicable acts in numerous shapes and sizes against women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized people are changing the shape and form of a free and accepting US-society.

In Germany it once began with small words and ideas uttered in back yards, at ordinary tables and in small groups. They infected others and spread hate like a deadly cancer in German society.

I sighed as my eyes fixated the candles. Never again. If the world is again on the path of a slippery slope, it will be our responsibility to hold against this trend as courageous as we are able to. As God commands us: „Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.“ (Joshua 1:9)

(1) NY Times

Seeking Lutheran Identity in the 21st Century

The High line park near my Church was busy as always on a bright Sunday morning. Many people enjoyed the late fall sun before the icy winter would send cold winds through the New York street canyons.

A small scholar in black and white stood in front of a huge graffiti while Henry Taylor´s art work „The floaters“ talked in bright colors about a relaxing day at a pool. The little Playmobil toy set a more earnest tone. Holding a scribes quill in one hand, „Little Luther“ held the Holy Bible in a tight grip as it was glistening in the morning sun. The black letters spoke in a self-confident and brief way of a serious matter that is woven through Martin Luther´s Theology: „The End of the Books of the Old Testament … The New Testament translated by Doctor Martin Luther„. (1)

When I first received the small toy from Germany, I didn’t grasp it´s significance and how deeply embedded into lives this difficult theology can be. Generations of Theologians like Martin Luther and many others saw Judaism coming to an end with Jesus as the Messiah. (2) This misconception of salvation raises difficult questions for a Christian-Jewish dialogue: How can we reconnect even though generations before us have set us so far apart on the basis of these theological misconceptions? How can we rediscover the common ground of the Thora after turning against our Jewish brothers and sisters? What first seemed as neat toy for young and old, is becoming a increasing issue for me as I grow deeper into the Jewish-Christian Dialogue in New York City.

As part of the so called Generation Y, I have been raised with a dominant and strong picture of a perfect reformer, who lead Christianity into freedom from oppression. Who wouldn’t know the different, almost folk like tales, when Martin Luther threw the ink against the wall to scare away the devil? Or when he nailed the 95 thesis to the Church door in Wittenberg?

While emphasizing the German hero Martin Luther, most of the difficult facts have been successfully kept from us during our childhood. And like peeling an onion, layer by layer, the negative sides of the foremost „brilliant“ reformer come to the surface. And this uncovering is causing a identity issue within Lutheranism:

Martin Luther´s strong anti-Judaism, which played a huge inspiring role in leading Nazi-Germany towards the crime of the Holocaust. His words might have been part of a larger societal crime, but neither his grief for the death of his daughter nor his senility can ever explain his false theological opinions. Or his political misconceptions, where Luther sacrificed the peasants to their oppressors in order to endure in the power struggles of Church, Lordship and the normal people.

Layer after layer the Lutheran Identity is challenged. We are now facing a long overdue and cleansing identity crisis within Lutheranism. The „great hero“ of the Reformation is demasked as failing and sinful person. His own words may be a consolation to us in the midst of transformation: we all are sinners and saints.

The 500rd celebration of the Reformation might be the perfect time to reflect and to uncover the „real“ Martin Luther learning from his theological brilliance AND his terrible theological failures. A great opportunity might be at hand to bring Luthers core discovery to its true significance: Transforming Lutheranism as a means of hope beyond failure, grace beyond sin.

(1) Playmobil has altered its 1st edition, deleting the „Ende“ due to the difficult theological implication of the writing.

(2) Paul in contrast states that the Jews are saved – see Rom 11.