Offerings for newness
Special days in Israel. Special atmosphere that swindles from total joy and rejoicing to some sort of anxiety and distrust. It is not usual for the country to recover a prisoner by a deal that consists in releasing more than a thousand “enemies” kept in the Israeli jails for “life sentences”. It is not that current in any other country. It causes full joys that the State could reach to some agreement in the way that involved a lot of people. It is definitely not the work of one or two, three or more people. It could be carried out with the substantial help and diversified assistance of many contacts and the steadfast, constant and obstinate struggle and support of the parents of the soldier Gilad Schalit.
The release of 1027 Palestinian prisoners is significant. It is a Jewish commandment to ransom by all possible means any Jew wherever a Jew is in jail or deprived of his/her rights. This is the theory, but this theory is applied and it is a requirement of faith, due to the Mitzvot. It is evident that many people have discussed and attacked the matter over the centuries. It is absolutely clear that the question whether and how to ransom persecuted Jews or not to intervene is a difficult subject but it is real. Different forms of Questions and Disputes were given by the rabbis throughout the ages.
Freedom is not a mere subject of reflection. Freedom is at the heart of the spiritual experience of the Jewish life. Let’s start that way.
Abraham was freed from the Ten Temptations. It is more than intriguing to note that God redeems, frees, gives His own freedom to individuals not because they are “singletons” . They are a part of a Body and a specific Nation that is called Israel. Abraham had faith and trusted God. He did “sell” his wife as a faked “sister, but God continued to test him. Till Abraham accepted to offer his son. Isaac did not refuse, but walked along with his father in full trust, accompanied by the servants. – Incidentally, Isaac was 38 years-old according to the Tradition…
Jacob is in the same situation. Elected by the choice of a possessive, witty or cunning mother, he fought alone and got hurt for ever. Any Jew has this imprint of being a sign of plenitude and still, stumbling around with pains at the main nerve of the leg. Jacob is never alone: he has to take account of his “tribe”; he is still a man of the tribe system of “the Aramean people”, the last one. His son Benjamin is the first who was conceived in Eretz Israel and born in the Land. Before that, Jacob had to deal with men and women who were part of the Nation.
Moshe/Moses is also special. He was born in the exile, saved and raised by the daughter of the local ruler in a civilization that was foreign to any sort of call given to Jacob-Israel. Yet Moses could not speak properly. This can be explained in different ways. Did he stutter? It is not that certain. Bayeh ben Asher, a famous commentator quotes the midrashim and concludes that the Egyptians wanted to kill Moses. He was adopted by the daughter of Pharao, could reach to become the leader of the nation and fight the Pharao’s position. Thus, as a child, he was presented a vessel, sort of a bowl and drank some beverage with coals that burnt his palate and mouth. This is the real meaning of “heavy tongue/כבד פה- לשון “. He will require the help of his brother Aaron and trusted Jethro, the foreign priest; it should be noted that his “non-Jewish” wife Tziporah circumcised their son Gershom as a “chatan damim/חתן-דמים “, i.e. “a bridegroom in the blood(s)” (Exodus 4:25).
The Covenant is also a “brit, brit milahברית-ברית מילה” as the circumcision is indeed the “creation in the word = ברית מילה “. Words and sounds gave the Written and Oral Laws at the Sinai and therefore Moses could not claim any isolation; jis singularity is serving the whole of the nation. In his case, he was humble. The word is interesting in English because it refers to something like “down to earth” since the root is “humus = soil”.
Christianity has always focused on “singularity” and the Body of the Resurrected as being the only way to humble oneself and take part in the blessings of the Kingdom. Wonderful words have been written on humility. A person cannot decide to be humble. In the many conferences that were given during the Saint Paul’s or Paul of Tarsus’ millenium, it has been underscored that the apostle did write what came to be at the core of the New Testament. But he had been forgotten over quite a long period of time.
His total dedication to Divine Providence is shown in the short epistle to Philemon. Short but quite on line with the Jewish tradition. The whole of his writings are deeply marked by Jewish reflection and expression, style and ways to addressing the peoples in general. With Philemon, he is in jail and writes to Philemon who has welcomed him and was a Christian “leader”, also a wealthy man. He decides to send him back a man that he met in jail, Onesimus. Onesimus was imprisoned because he had robbed Philemon and he was a slave. Paul writes to Philemon to forgive the slave and not to consider him as a slave bu as a brother!!!
He also added that if there was anything to pay for Onesimus, he, Paul would do it and repay Philemon.
We do not pay much attention to the way Paul of Tarsus wrote and certainly acted for the sake of Onesimus and Philemon. Saint Paul often appears as a “singleton”, a sort of “Einzelgänger” as people call the “lonely alone in loneliness” ones. Paul’s acts were just the opposite. He acted for the sake of the Church. His writings constitute a “small” part of what we got from his heritage. Many letters weer not written directly by him but by some disciples, secretaries.
He never envisioned his actions as “lonely and singled out actions”. On the contrary, he stressed how one should not only rely upon the “apostles” and that words, baptism do not depend on one person, but they are all linked in chains of freedom to witness to the Resurrection.
All desires to unite, pardon, heal wounds for the benefit of the greater number of people, in particular of the faithful, include some limits and fencing. They are not “individualistic, personal”. If they are, they are born to disappear. They will never succeed to overcome the scars and wounds of history. Power and strict rules do not apply in ministrying for reconciliation. All of us are “overshadowed” by the Power of the Divine Presence and this is quite a different realm.
There are two good examples in the Roman Catholic Church. Saint Francis of Assisi, the Poverello (the Poor one) who chanted the praise of “Lady Poverty” and sang along the roads when attacked and plundered by “gangsters of the time” is a good and unique example. The young boy showed nude to the bishop of the town; quite a thing because he was the dear son of the wealthy tailor and fashion-maker of the city. Either the man was “nuts and shuks” or he was a bit sick mentally or an idiot.
For us, in Hebrew speech and linguistic tradition, “nude, naked, nakedness” have a very profound in-depth significance. “Aromערום” is not only “nude” but also means “intelligent, clever, cunning – as the snake in the Genesis. It means be capable to make a correct use of a “language of subtleties = leshon arumimלשון ערומים “. Of course this can be related to the evident reality that we were born naked for the maternal womb and naked we shall return to it (Job 1:20).
There is a great intelligence of the faith to act the way Francis and others acted and also of course in the whole of the history of Redemption. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is also a wonderful example. When building for a repair, for the sake of Communion and Unity, Oneness, there are no barriers. This is how the Sultan welcomed Francisco di Assisi and allowed the man to visit the Holy Sites. In other circumstances, any preacher of the same “pretence” to convert the heads of the Muslim world would have been assassinated.
Why this reflection? Israel is a new-old State. I reverse the usual proposition; yes, we consider that the “alt-neu – old-new” is the normal and standard way things should be approached.
Israel is new, fundamentally new. Israel as a Jewish State is definitely the kind of “exceptional one-shot example, “hapax>απαξ” in Greek or “chidushחידוש ” in Hebrew that interrogates and breaks through all standards of accepted rules.
In the past few days, this showed in a very special way. Beside all the quarrels, disputes, internal discussions on whether to help release the Israeli kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit or not and how, when, where and with the assistance of whom… there is more.
In 1947, the United Nations did not vote for the creation of a Jewish State on the “Jewish home” conceded by the British Crown and the Balfour Declaration of 1917. it took 40 years to get to the vote, after World War II. In between, the Jews were proposed to settle in Uganda, many preferred to go to the United States or any Commonwealth country. The French Jews were given the French citizenship as a twist against the North African Agerian nnatives and till now are at pains to immigrate to Israel.
The vote taken in 1947 by the United Nations did not recognized the State of Israel: it cut a region into two parts and allowed the Jews to remain and get to the structure of a possible state, if any. I would dare say that the “intimate conviction” – with a few exceptions – was that the Jews would be defeated and drown in the “final war” against the neighboring Arab countries.
Something happened: the Jews won. This could not be fathomed by most of the neighboring nations, the British, the Allied, the Russians. There was then much more: no Christian authority – but some exceptions – would look at the development of the Jews in the Holy Land as a fulfillment of the Prophets. Many Protestant movements – as today the Evangelicals and some Messianics – could support the Jews. They were mainly “self-supporting”: the Jews return to the Holy Land, then we convert them and in fine the Reign of the Lord will redeem all the Nations of the world. This made no case of the Muslims.
The United Nations recognized the State of Israel, but did not pay much attention to the Declaration made by David Ben Gurion. This is roughly a sketch of assertions made in short to summarize the process. But there is no reason for the Jews to return to Zion and Jerusalem if this does not rely upon the Jewish Scriptures as a whole (Oral and Written Laws) and the daily prayers for the good of Jerusalem. When the Jews pray for the rain in Los Angeles, New York, Berlin, Moscow, Brisbane… they do not ask for rain to fall where they reside. They pray for rain in Eretz Israel. This “shapes” a very special cultural and religious conscience that the real identity of the Jew is not to be found anywhere else in the world, but in this tiny piece of land where the ancestors anchored a specific culture and trust in God.
Eretz is the “permanent ‘lease'” given and entrusted by God to the Jews. This cannot be cancelled. I do no say that because I would be too supportive. It is the reality of the the Jewish faith. Intriguingly, it is also the creed of the true, authentic Catholic and Orthodox and Christian faith as far as they have full confidence in the words of Apostle Paul of Tarsus. Faith cannot be broken down or fragmented. We love to cut and separate. God covers time, space, ages, regions, personal, national, supra-national history in terms of Redemption that gathers in all of human beings from the beginning till the end. This does not depend on any human being, whoever we are. Redemption came and comes out form Jerusalem and calls to final ingathering in Jeruslaem, just as the Church is in extension from the Gates of Jerusalem.
Using the present tense, Saint Paul wrote the following: “They are the Israelites to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the service of God and the promises” (Romans 9:4).
This is why there is a “Jewish home and State of Israel”. These new patterns are and remain totally unexpected for the International Community. The Jewish State – whether secular, pious or religious – firstly relies upon the Jewish faith and traditions. It strongly reconnects with the proclaiming of the Divine Providence and Redemption. This has nothing to do with the way the Christian and/or colonial Nations could ever envision “mission”! This is why it is impossible to compare the situation of any “Catholic”, “Orthodox or “Protestant” country where, at the present, religion and State are separate. It is quite impossible to separate faith, tradition, habits, culture, prayers and daily life for the Jews, even when they claim to be “secular”. The most “apikoros/doubtful” or atheistic Jews will in the end recall or be reminded their identity.
It is fascinating to see how most pious clergy and lay people in the Church can just ignore or consider this by twisting in all possible ways the meaning of the this verse. When an Orthodox and Catholic deacon or priest proclaims the Gospel or the New Testament in Church, they “update” the living and creating Word of the Lord. It means that the Words of the New Testament are actualized. They tell us what is real today, not only from old or ancient times. We are hearing the Living and life-changing Word of God. it is a historic evidence that life changes.
The Kingdom of God does not belong to anyone. It only belongs to God. In the case of Israel and the Land of Israel, God gave it as a permanent lease for the sake of Redemption and proclamation of the Reign of God over the whole Creation. It is not a possession, a property. It is a permanent lease; whether in Israel or “outside of the country”, the Jews remain a part of this Land as they felt it was throughout the ages and wherever they dwell or settle for generations.
This is mainly foreign to the Churches as they are structured at the present and define themselves. There are tiny signs that things evolve. They should evolve and be handled with much patience, much humility. It requires a lot of wit, insights.
Some years ago, I faced a terrible pogrom, a real one. To be frank, the Rum Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is not prepared to share anything. it is not judgmental. I do not judge or condemn anyone. There are different layers in societies, cultures, religions, creeds and also… with regards to Faith. The Greek brought forth an immense part of our international civilization to the whole of the world, mainly the Western heritage. It seems to “cover” the Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist and all other civilizations that existed long before. Judaism came from the encounter between Sumerian and Egyptian weltanschauung.
During the “pogrom” that I could overcome but it always creeping up again somehow, one of the member of my community discussed with the Archbishop in charge of the Patriarchate. They had very nice talks. The young man was quite outspoken as many faithful. He once told the archbishop that “considering his views on Judaism and Jews” he simply never landed at Ben Gurion Airport nor crossed the Israeli border and still dreamt of some Byzantine reality”. Incidentally, the bishop agreed that it maybe true. The discussion was rather friendly, by the way. Jews, Christians, Muslims are at pains in how to accept who they are and who we are here, in Israel; this applies to all of us. It is difficult to accept the fences and oversteep them and connect with a spirit of “universality”.
They also shared something curious: the parishioner told the archbishop that I (av Aleksandr) am a Jew; ordained a priest in the Russian tradition, brought up in different traditions, but most of all in the strict Jewish Orthodox faith and cultures. The archbishop made then a statement: yes, we, in the Orthodox and Christian Churches, have a lot of converted Jews and have always had them. Usually they are secular Jews who had no Jewish clutch, cultural educational and family or linguistic links to living Jewishness. He said to the parioshioner that it was different with me because I remained fully a Jew in the Church and would never step down from this identity. It itches, can rebuke, but at least it is real.
The statement is true. At the cost of a self-offering. But who knows what every soul may offer in special circumstances?
This is why I am told all through the year that I am a full idiot… It is quite amusing at times. It often hides a lot of respect. Still, the Russians told me 15 years ago why in the world I was living in such a company as the Greeks in Jerusalem. The response is simple: I have been sent with a special task within the Israeli society and Church in order to link to two respectfully. The local Church is Rum belongs to what is called “Deir Rum” (House of Rome, the Romans), Greek Orthodox and it is also a “mitzvah” to act from within and with those who have kept the Holy Sites by their culture and heritage in the past 2 000 years… and did survive!
The Jews – in the circles of spiritual life and administration – ask whether I speak of Israel or the Church when we discuss how to resolve some problems. The thing is not due to speaking Hebrew. Tons of people do speak Hebrew. When I got a slap by a Yiddishist who heard that I had become a Christian, he told me “Don’t worry, the Christians will kill you and do everything so that you could fall and collapse”. I also experienced that converted Jews can often be terrible wolves toward their brothers! Who can accept to share “the fulfillment of Redemption”!?? Really, quite intriguing at times!
The ego has nothing to do with it. And this is what is appealing these days with the release of Gilad Schalit.
This reflection on the process of his liberation and the attitude of Israeli society brought me me back to some ideas and experience in Israel.. Thus, I saw how Gershon Baskin was seemingly “krichtzing arain in di bayn” as we say in American Yiddish, i.e. trying to create some sort of a buzz about his own involvement in the release of Gilad Schalit and the agreement reached with the Hamas.
I am totally foreign to politics or political actions. it does not mean that I can escape the all-mighty system of “politics over the map” that ruins our local society.
Since the release of Gilad Schalit, Gershon Baskin is trying to get some articles published on his personal actions. I would say that I tend to trust the man. I do not know exactly what he did, I did not ask for more information, well not directly. Based at the Tantur Center, the Jewish American-born Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin carried out a huge work.
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information aims at paving the way to a real peace process between the Israeli and Arab peoples for the benefit of all parties concerned. Gershon Baskin is a benevolent article-writer at the Jerusalem Post. Subsequently, he wrote a lot of articles these days about his actions over the decade and the five past years. He described in detail his contacts with the Hamas and Palestinian leaders. He also explained how he tried and seemingly succeeded to connect the Jews/israelis with the Arabs/Palestinians. He always points out that he acts as an Israeli.
In the Jerusalem Post, the comments to the description he made of his interventions were clear: the man is a “treator (to Israel) and a full idiot” (sic). On Facebook and on the social networks, he is connected with thousands of “supporters” of all sides, and a lot of Israelis. At first, the readers could think that Gershon Baskin is alone in mentioning his participations in the release of the Israeli soldier. One speaks of the intervention of the Germans, the Egyptians, some French – though Gilad Schalit is not considered as a French citizen while serving in the Israeli Army. He was caught as an Israeli soldier.
Gershon Baskin’s actions are remarkable. I never met him. But I would not cast doubt on his actions because if they are “not real”, he would really be a total “fool”. I think there is something more and the situation allows putting this into words.
As Professor Shved declared, Israel is “a country of anonymous people”. Each individual would think they are at the core, the kernel and the heart of everything, the cream of the crops in the region. Israelis are like swarms and act in groups. In Israel, the most “exceptional” individual is obliged to finally accept that he basically is a full recognized member of a group. There are “singletons”. There are lost people, youths, elderly. This is also due to history, not only because of the Holocaust period. The Jews from the Arab countries did not suffer from the Shoah (Iraq, Iran etc.) and constitute an immense part of the immigrants that arrived in 1947-48. We are normally and evidently “obsessed” by the Shoah for the best and the worst: the survivors that hardly get their money and lost everything in the catastrophe need to be treated as our real fathers and mothers. Nonetheless, Today’s State of Israel is both a place of everlasting memory and a “creative laboratory for the future”.
Israel is a “Body,” a spiritual body too. This is why so many Christians from the Nations, mostly Protestants, join the eschatological Feast of Sukkot/Tents that envisions the full ingathering of all the humans.
Israel relies upon various “catastrophes” but rose from some incredible sort of death. It revives with a special spirit. This is why the Jewish Tradition considers that a Jew born in Eretz Israel is given “a spirit of prophecy”. Israeli identity is far stronger than foreigners and many Jews think and can figure out. The society is embattled in bizarre and contradictory disputes. This is also due to the fact that the territory, the Jews themselves definitely understand that they have to cope with the “others”. This includes the Churches and the various foreign States that still have large properties in the country.
On the other hand, there are individuals who can accept and take up the many challenges that are “proposed by our situation”. There are numerous individuals who can dare make new actions because of the “stability of the State of Israel” that is rarely appreciated adequately.
This is why the actions conducted by Gershon Baskin make sense. It is evident that Israeli and/Jews who back the State and the country have to pave the way to a process of peace. It is a simple matter. It is evident. It has nothing to do with the requirements of foreign observers. When reporters dare ask on broadcasting programs what the Israeli government is ready to do now to end the war process, are they aware of how one single agreement could be reached, at what price? And that the released left saying they would consider to kill more Israelis and kidnap more soliders or individuals because it is the best way to get their people out of jail…
it is important that some individuals or groups come up from within the Israeli society to open new gates with the Arabs. This is not a problem of trust or confidence. It is a matter of “struggle for life” for all parties. We are born to work and live together. It will take a long, very long time to cancel mutual rejection, suspicion, ignorance, opacity and, hatred. Things have to be carried out with much patience. It is dangerous too. It may imperil one’s life. It requires a correct intelligence of the Arab and Palestinian multi-faceted reality.
Whatever actions concerned, it is evident that they will raise disputes, quarrels, opposition and adversity. Jews cannot spontaneously admit that one soldier is released at the cost of more than thousand terror activists. Of course, the outside world would require more and, most of the time, would not say a word if the newly released bomb and murder Jews again. The Church uses to keep silent, but it may be because they face their own questioning about how they are dealing with the Resurrected in times of hardships.
For numerous people, indeed, it would be considered as the work of and for fools, idiots. But the task has to be implemented. No results to expect, no awards or merits as such. Israel humbles those who offer their life for the recognition of her existence, identity and future. It is quite striking in the history of the Church. It is written that the human being shall disappear “and his place will not know him… because the love of God is unto the ages of ages”.
During the Schalit episode, I saw many Israelis online and they shared a lot with me, quite increasingly in Hebrew. The Christians would put some “likes” on wonderful pictures or Christian news articles (with regards to Facebook). They would not contact me about the events. I know that they would suspect I am not a Christian or also some “idiot”. I have been told that from my early days in the Church, we call that a “putz/פוץ ” in Hebrew and Yiddish. People are afraid, if not more. There is a sort of silent “partisanship”. Courage, go on, you maybe right and defend the great fraternity. On Facebook and the social networks it is easy not to pay a farthing or an agorah and still pretend to be fully involved in all world causes. I have the same in discussions and articles.
I noticed something: the absence of the so-called Israeli Orthodox and Catholics in the dialogue. The more I write in Hebrew, the less it sounds “culturally significant or connected to the Church”. For instance, there are numerous Anglo groups of born-again believers who claimed to pray with the Jews for Sukkot; I had wonderful examples at many Orthodox Jewish conferences: there si a moment when these groups and/or individuals have to leave the Jews because they can twist and dance, they are not a part of the societal development. It is not sufficient to jerk in Hebrew waves; there is a special “cultural way”, special language and behavior that makes people Israeli. It is not efficient to explain that in English or in Russian only. There is a point when people are in or out of the “chevra” – society” and show that they are also concerned. It requires the words, and I must say that my mother tongue Yiddish usually surprises at first but breaks through.
This is why I contact with the people in any place, discuss with men and women. I keep a bit astray, but the yfeel I will never run away or pass by and keep silent. It is also the challenge of some “idiot” for an Israeli priest to think that things will change. But indeed people are thirsty for real conversations. They are open to arguing in this country. There is an Israeli life-style and way to ask, require, say that we exist. The Church cannot only celebrate in dead languages or explain odd principles from remote times. Challenges need to be taken for what fences and distant attitudes really mean.
I was recently contacted by the Arab youths. They asked me to help them in re-considering Arab Christian development in Jerusalem. We have wonderful discussions, open and deeply rooted in the Scripture and daily life. I had told them that they see I am more Hebrew-speaking and more in contact with all kinds of pilgrims, visitors and so long. They had noticed that I do not make any difference between Jews and Arabs. They see I feel at home in Israeli society that also includes them, which is hardly taken into account at first glance. The Arab youths will be a part of the upcoming future “body, entity”. But the connection is not easy. It require to live things and be a part of life, not to slice down segments of society and be judgmental.
This is why I feel somehow connected to Gershon Baskin’s struggle. At least, it maybe possible these days to postively consider the actions of so many peoples in Israel. We do not work or act for ourselves. If we get involved as taking part in Israeli society and coherence, the whole matter becomes a sign of contradiction for other people. We call that “zeal” in the Church. Albert Einstein called that “Patience and tolerance” that became “Geduld und Weisheit” in German.
A long long way to go! It is only dawn and things are on a renewal.
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)
October 22/9, 2011-7520 – Tishrei 24, 5772 – 24 Thul Qedah 1432