This past Chanukah I became especially mindful of European Jews of the 1930s. A photograph reignited a question I’ve had ever since I was a child.
Throughout my life I’ve wondered why more European Jews who had the means to leave didn’t. I’ve wondered why they stayed when all the signs were there that their way of life, and indeed their lives were in danger. I’ve wondered why they stayed and endured the humiliations and hardships which were imposed upon them with the adoption of the of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws. I’ve wondered why they stayed even after Kristalnacht. I’ve wondered why my father’s family stayed even when my grandfather travelled to Europe in an effort to bring them to the US. I’m beginning to realize just how difficult it must have been to make the decision to leave. When is the right time to leave everything we know to live as refugees? What has to happen before we get to that point? Is it witnessing torch bearing Nazi’s marching through the streets of American cities chanting “Jews will not replace us?” We’ve already witnessed that, and yet, here we are. We’re still here uncomfortably trying to ignore the fact that there are many Americans who would love to be rid of their Jewish fellow citizens, and there are masses of Americans who would not lift a finger to help their Jewish neighbors should they be attacked by mobs or have their houses set ablaze. I wonder when, if ever, did these Jews of the 1930s no longer feel that they belonged in the countries in which they were born and raised and where their ancestors lived and died before them. When does one no longer feel at home? Is it the first time one is spit upon, or the second? What does it take to make one choose to leave rather than stay? Does it take witnessing the brutalization of others like us? We’ve seen an increase in hate motivated attacks, and yet here we are. When should we lose hope and flee? Is it when our government becomes complicit with hate groups? Our president is certainly complicit, he has failed to condemn white supremacists, and yet here we are. Do we wait to leave until we’ve marched in the streets and been fired upon by our own government’s soldiers or police? When is the right time to leave, and how will we know when it has arrived? If we leave are we betraying our country? Has our country betrayed us? Do we become somehow complicit if we don’t stand our ground and fight? Are we all obliged to become heroes, or do some of us get to leave without being judged cowards? I’m not young. I’m not trained in combat. I have never shot a gun. Should I be seeking out training? Do I need to learn to use weapons and arm myself? I understand that many people reading this, especially people who were not brought up in Jewish households, will think that I’m being melodramatic, or that I have some type of severe, neurotic fear, syndrome. For those of us who grew up hearing stories about relatives who perished at the hands of the Nazis or their allies, I may not seem quite as crazy for thinking about fight or flight as it pertains to us here and now. The truth is I still feel like this country is my home, but I am deeply concerned about what is happening here. I am appalled that condemning white supremacists has somehow become optional. I am disgusted that there is not more outrage over almost everything our president says or does, from his denial of climate science to his undermining of the judiciary. He is quietly stacking the courts with right wing extremists, even as he pursues policies, the constitutionality of which is questionable. There is no question in my mind that he is doing terrible damage to our country and there is no question in my mind that the Republicans in the congress and the senate are complicit in all of it. My two big questions are, when will it be too late to stop the destruction of our democracy, and for those of us who fit into categories of people likely to be targeted, when will it be too late to get out?
I realize that this is a departure from my usual mediations. I have not written this in response to a biblical passage. I have not brought up Jesus and how we are, or aren’t following his directives or commandments. I wrote this in response to a photograph which brought up a lot for me as an ethnic Jew and as a gay man, both of which were groups targeted for destruction by the Nazis.
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
Hope is a precious gift which we must protect. We can nurture hope, even in an uncertain and confusing time, by sharing our hope with others and by worshipping in community. It’s difficult to maintain hope in isolation; we are strengthened when we join hands and minds and hearts to resist anything which might cause us to despair.
Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! the Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble.
There are senators and members of congress who consider the poor and the needy and champion the rights and the welfare of all Americans, and there are senators and members of congress who do neither. It’s up to us as individuals to decide whether we will express our concern for the poor and needy each time we cast our vote.
Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
We usually think of Jesus in the role of Son, but the language in this passage can help us to view him as a loving and forgiving parent. Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children
together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34, Mathew 23:37) All we need be is willing to receive His love.
Now on that same day two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Would our eyes too be prevented from recognizing Jesus if he were to walk and talk with us? We each feel that we know Jesus, but we fail to recognize him in each other every day, so why are we confident that we would know Jesus if he came and walked alongside us? We all have our own vision or idea of Jesus and they range broadly depending on our background, upbringing, education, and even by the translation of the Bible we choose to read. I’d like to think that if Jesus were to come and have a talk with me I’d know him immediately; I pray that my own subjective idea of Jesus, which I have formed in my mind and in my heart would not prevent that.
Note: If this post seems familiar, it’s because this same passage came up during Holy Week and I’ve re-used the meditation from that day.
God of mercy, help us to see your son, Jesus Christ in every refugee, in every person who is fleeing from injustice, war, persecution or famine. Help us to open our hearts and our minds so that we may provide places of haven and rest for all who are in need of our help. Let us welcome each stranger as we would welcome Christ himself so that all may know the love and compassion of your people. Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
Jesus told the disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant…
“And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”
Why do we expect to be forgiven if we have not forgiven the people who have hurt us? Forgive and you will be forgiven isn’t a quid pro quo. Forgiving others puts us in the right frame of mind to accept forgiveness. It’s hard to acknowledge that we are forgiven if we ourselves are holding grudges or simply not letting go of an old injury caused by another. When we forgive we are setting ourselves free from the power that the person who harmed us has over us. Forgiveness can be a gift to the person who has been forgiven, but it is always a gift to the person doing the forgiving. If we want to be fully able to accept the forgiveness of the Lord we need first to forgive those who have wronged us, if not for them, then for ourselves and for our spiritual wellbeing.
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
This list of evils that affect and infect people could have been written at almost any time in human history, but it seems to me to be especially relevant today. If only we could avoid people who possess the qualities Paul lists here. Alas, the current republican administration seems to be made up entirely of people such as these. Most of us will have the good fortune never to meet any of them in person, but their actions will affect us all. We are witnessing this administration sink deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit of amorality. Their greed, cruelty and lack of human decency will leave a mark on our country for years to come. In order to maintain our own righteousness we must participate in resisting what we can and remain true to our own values. We must never sink to the depths in which they dwell. It is our sacred duty to protect the vulnerable. I have hope that the fight for justice, peace and equality will eventually progress, but the struggle will be a long and arduous one.