Saturday, April 25, 2009

Untouchables or saints

Do we have the right to doubt? Good, it can be very appreciated to have so mainly issues in mind that the brains start boiling up like "frishe muches\פרישע מוטשעס - fresh new (devilish) anxieties". Then, the (Jewish) process of interrogations and responses clicks down, appeased by the certitude that our egos survive, are able to explain and justify anything. Israel? No problem - we are the best, the strongest in the world. We might think there might be some slightly deficient mini-segments in the society. At this point, we are not the best, we ARE. The thing is that we usually declare that in such a way that others would say we might be special. What special? We are too humble, but in a way that others cannot understand because they tell the world to humble and rule over them with violence. Jews and Israel desperately need love and suddenly God works miracles instead. Miracles are divine actions, they are not love, cuddling, hugging. A miracle appears when there is nothing in a no man's land full of sand and God provides food. Quails were a miracle, Teddy bears are hugging and cuddling.

The weekly reading portion is "Acharei mot\אחרי מות - Kedoshim\קדושים", two Torah readings from the Book of VaYikra - ויקרא/Leviticus, i.e.: Acharei mot\אחרי מות (after the death of the two sons of Aaron) 16:1-18-30 followed by Kedoshim\קדושים (You shall be holy)19:1-27. The first portion deals with Yom HaKippurim - יום כיפורים /The Day of Atonement – the day of expiation of sins and, secondly, our relation to blood. The second portion details legal and illegal, kosher and non-kosher. It is the know-how book about sanctifying or condemning relationships.

But wait a minute, please!, we are pure sheep! Yes! We are holy and still "holy flock of sheep". Who would even dare say we have to get sanctified or sanctify our lives. We are the saints (this was even from the old way of naming the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and Paul of Tarsus still wrote them naming them that way). Things might not be that perfect, but even when we could imagine we might be not be perfect, we still will manage to find a small thread showing we are definitely "chosen". And this is how when a poor Jew eats a chicken one of them is sick. Chicken soup (marak pitriyot\מרק פיטריות - mushroom soup, in Israel) maybe a symptom of great need to cry in the dark. As, for instance, when we explain how and who we ARE.

Years ago, late Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz said in a parashah/portion comment: “The harsh words of Ezekiel (“You will be holy for I, the Lord, will be holy”) are spoken to us. I opened my morning newspaper and found it full of accounts of the murders that have taken place in our midst, incest and prostitution and lust and rape and theft and armed robbery, and – superfluous to say, idolatry. And yet, there are people that say “We are by nature a holy people” (The Yoke of Heaven, p. 116). He had declared that at Galei Tzahal - גלי צה"ל Army Radio on Friday afternoons from 1985 to 1986 (5746-5747). Apparently, the situation is the same today, after 20 years! What he then said sounds so “adkani\עדכני – up-to-the-minute!” Is it?

The Israeli society just celebrated the Shoah Memorial Day, the Fallen soldiers and terror victims Remembrance Day and the Independence Day. And R. Leibowitz’s words echo as a speech which could have been pronounced these days.

The former Soviet immigrants were very few at that time. They were only a handful of real fighters and heroes. People had not to redeem their souls with new money. They were not that pious but heartfully participated in Yom HaKippurim, and could get conscious that God works miracles. The Shoah people would not have shown, kept humble – definitely not low profiled. They would not be abused nor cheated. And still the late rabbi cites the same plagues that ruin our collectivity at the present. Maybe something was heard this year. We have women of wit and wisdom that, as a prerequisite, maybe “the men of Israel’s leadership” as Golda Meier was till 1978. I maybe wrong, but beyond any political view, only the acting woman president of Israel could say words like: “We have no words of comfort. But we embrace you, the families, with endless love." (Dalia Itzik, 04/22/07, at the Western Wall).

At this point, there are no hot machos, but right paroles of tenderness. And there are times when Israel needs a “leading mom” who hardly could have thought she would once be such a multi-acting representative of the State under such circumstances.

Now what happens in the first reading portion? Aaron, overclouded by burning incense enters the Mishkan/Tent of the Meeting in order to offer the sacrifice of expiation for the sin. Let’s take a normal machzor le'Yom-HaKippurim\מחזור ליום הכיפורים (festive prayer-book). All throughout history, one firstly read the short Book of Jonah and the very speedy penance of Nineveh’s inhabitants to the Lord (Jonah 3:5). Then the exact account of the first Yom Kippur offering by the High Priest Zerubbabel as described by Prophets Ezra and Nehemiah and the uttering of the Holy Name of the Shem HaMeforash\שם המפורש (the Separate Name of God). The portion also refers to the offering of the scapegoat sent into the wilderness to expiate the “sins of all Israel”(Lev. 16:6-30). This is a “chok\חוק”, a rule that is beyond any understanding or rational explanation. Indeed, –year after year – “blood sacrifice or a scapegoat can “atone all the transgressions of the Torah”. There is an intriguing statement in Talmud Hullin 109b: “For every thing the Torah has forbidden us, He allowed a parallel thing: “blood is forbidden – He allowed liver”; “intercourse is forbidden during menstruation – relations are allowed after childbirth” . With regard to Yom Kippur and atonement, can a non-slaughtered scapegoat offered to Azazel and not in Temple, sent down into the wilderness, atone the Israelites, and subsequently the Nations of the world?

There are times when we need to fall and cannot accept the down-sliding process. This is not only true for the Jewish society in Israel and abroad. In this country, each societal fragment mirrors the same eroding forces as also the same seeds of living sources. We need to find or get aware of the positive parallel things that develop and are present within the collectivity. Women appear to be very stimulating, not only in politics. As in the first days of the creation of the State, people who overcame horrible or hideous inhuman situations are more likely to build up and understand a society sketched up upon paradoxical people and beliefs. Invariants are thus essential.

In VaYikra 17:14, “dam\דם – blood” is the “nefesh\נפש –life, soul” of the “bassar\בשר – flesh, joy, good news”. “Bassar va-dam\בשר ודם – human mortal being” is masculine and composed of two masculine words. But the life that abides them, “Nefesh\נפש – life, soul, memorial stele” is feminine and, in this long verse, it is has been chosen by the Ker’i reading tradition the propose a sort of ambiguity: to read either “hi\היא” (feminine) or “hu\הוא” (masculine) for “heh-vav-alef\ה-ו-א”. This is important because morals, spirituality never correspond to the framework that we would like to use. We prefer to be ritualistic and to reduce what is free, air and always moves ahead of us. It is clear that R. Leibowitz was a yelling and shrewd expert. He saw the collapse of the Yiddishkayt and the realm of a true unbreakable tradition of faith, a chain of knowledge based on the Mitzvot. But these remain far beyond what any human can understand. They returned home as there is a real danger that we might use them as Sadducees transforming the spirit of the Oral Law into Written obligations. It is sometimes too hard to have overcome death. It is difficult to be flexible, accept to be questioned by those who do not seem to believe in God.

The Rav Abraham Itzchak Kook was often despised and contested among the Orthodox communities because he accepted to work and participate in common works with the chalutzim\חלוצים – the secular Jews that settled in the country. It took a long time before some contestants could admit they were wrong and even accepted to participate in his yohrtzayt\יארצייט (memorial service). But we do need also people like him. They do exist – like our acting women – still germinating out of patient seeds.

The second reading portion, ”Kedoshim\קדושים - you will be holy, sanctify yourself” lists the way to build our relationships to others. There are certain sexual prohibitions that have profoundly imprinted the monotheistic cultures (condemnation of homosexuality, intercourse with animals). The apostle Peter-Caiaphas also mentions the same condemnations (2 Peter 4:1-6). Over the past 150 years, the scientific non-religious research has develop a lot of on-going surveys about human perversions that were described and defined, inter alia, in the Tanach and the Talmud. It might be very meaningful that non-believers – thus often of Jewish extract – could examine human relationships and sexual intercourse in a non-judgmental and plain way. Today, sexual relationships are often systematically condemned or prohibited in a way that is very close to some Sadducean method: we look, avoiding to understand; then we put a ban and prohibit without love. Or we might compromise that anything maybe permitted under condition of pretended understanding or compassion. Faith requires much more. In particular, it requires to trust that everything – incl. the worse things and behaviors - and of course the best of humankind do make sense. Good and evil need to be clarified, which definitely does not justify any ethical or moral attitude. This is the most defying aspect of the realm of the Mitzvot.

The reading portion of the week includes the verse: “Ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha\ואהבת לרעך כמוך – and you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:17). It means that loving our fellow people (or neighbors, or any stranger who lives in our midst or among whom we dwell) constitutes a full part of trying to get sanctified. In a society that feels so insecure and where fear increases, the words: “We have no words of comfort. But we embrace you, the families, with endless love." This statement absolutely lines with the whole of the Jewish spirituality. The verse of Leviticus 19:17 is mentioned three times in the Gospel. In Luke 10:29-36, the question is extended to knowing “who is the fellow?” and the goodness of being human. This remains, at the present, the biggest daily quiz we all have to face with good heart and a lot of hope. We should be at pains in determining who is our "fellowman, neighbor".

Potentially, a good man can be an enemy and a bad man can be a "neighbor, if not a friend". There is no fixed or pre-determined principle. The Jewish experience shows how we can get mistaken by our own presuppositions. To begin with, "re'a'\רע = neighbor, fellowman" is written in Hebrew in reference with the root "ra'\רע = bad". In the Jewish tradition, it is very challenging that most roots can either be positive or negative. "K-d-sh = ק-ד-ש" is both "sanctity, bless and desecrate, violate".

Israeli society experiences the difficulty to get together. Significant facts have recently profoundly affected the vision of Jewish conducts. The Gush Katif example shows how much legacy and word given to reach a better agreement for peace can turn to push Jews, mainly pious settlers, in a poor economic and moral situation. They felt abandoned which is absolutely not in accordance with normal relationships inside of Jewish society. There is indeed a sensitive interrogation about the military actions conducted in Gaza. On the other hand, the Israeli soldiers, especially those who serve in daily simple environment, are not prepared to meet with the reality of "others" (speak to the Arabs or check their ID cards). Even if they seem to be calm, they are basically "scared". Groups may start to suspect other groups. This kind of segmentation can hardly lead to peaceful societal control.

Moreover, what means "to love our neighbor?" It has been pointed out by many rabbis that "love" does not consist to give a hand and constantly repeat that we have to be good towards neighbors, acquaintances, friends, relationships or even unknown people if not enemies. This is more a kind of moral dreamy ticket to get free and not get involved in a real responsibility for love. There is more. If we say we love, we may get the answer that it is nice, cute. Or we may be told not to say the phrase too often. Love also implies to be patient. Patience and time are major elements in the commandment. Then love, care, compassion, real interest are shown if we are personally aware of what people really need.

At this point, we often prefer to keep aside. It maybe frightful for people of goodwill to discover the real needs of those they think to love.

We may also not believe in love the way God loves us. This is the case of Mar Thomas, Saint Thomas (Didymos in Greek). Hebrew "Teom = תאום " means "twin [brother]". It is not known if he had a brother. On the other hand, he behaves in a very special way towards Jesus. He is the one who always quetions, tends to adopt the "too much" line, an extremist of faith. He is also realistic. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates him this week. In the Gospel of Evangelist John, he was absent when Jesus came, resurrected from the dead. And he does not trust the disciples. He wants "signs = otiyot - simanim = proofs, miraculous marks". Jesus arrives the following week and asks him to put his hand and figners into his wounds. Thomas refuses. He knows then that Jesus is there. He quotes Psalm 5: "My King/Lord and my God". This is an essential moment, not only for the Christian faith that as such did not exist by the time of Jesus. The Early Church was a Jewish group, not even a sect, because the word puts some limits that were not active in that time.

Thomas believes in a specific way that allows him witnessing beyond his own creed and sight. This is also true love given by God that he would have previously preferred to seize Jesus. Now he could understand that there is a distance and this distance brings more than any "fellowship or neighborhood". Thus, he can mirror another connection to faith and divine realities: he becomes Jesus' twin shaped by the stamp of resurrection. It should be noted that Jesus - at least the texts do echo that very clearly - also cares about what people need. He then shows the same care as given for charities, alms and real care about the real requirements of our fellowmen.

Av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 26/13, 2009 – 17 le’Omer - 2 deIyar 5769 - י"ז לעומר וב' דאייר תשס"ט

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Forward, heading to consolidation

The new Israeli government is sworn at the Knesset, The Israeli Parliament. I have a rule: never to show any political personal option or preference. In the course of the past years and months, I got into contact with many representatives of the Israeli society as a whole. As an Eastern Orthodox priest in Israel, in the State of the Jews, I abstain by nature from getting involved or fenced in any kind of partisanship. We love framing each other into small ghettos, niches, segments. No, for me, being an Israeli priest - a born Yiddish-speaker and Talmudist in the "Church as One and a whole" - there cannot be any frontiers; let's say that facing the borders is the job, faith deals with the absence of bias against anybody and this is seemingly impossible.

This is quite a challenge for different reasons: everything sounds and looks "political" in the Middle-East. The Israeli and the Arab Palestinian societies are weird with politics. I was quietly at Jaffa Gate when the Hamas won the last Palestinian elections. There was some foggy atmosphere of people stumbling between "we can it - we did it" and "Teach yourself now" how to manage a situation that seemed improbable. It was the most normal outcome of these elections and this was the free choice of the Arab community. A few days later, I saw on the television that the major Christian clergymen were sitting in the Palestinian Parliament. This is a pending official attitude and nobody would understand that they would not participate in the sessions.

I do understand this attitude and habit that consists in including clergy in political bodies. It is definitely not my way or choice, but it makes sense in the area, in the Arab society. Whatever behavior or relationships concerned, I feel deeply connected with the incredible situation of the Rum Orthodox (Greek) Patriarch of Jerusalem, at the present Theophilos III. He has to face an unbelievable situation. The problem is not related to the fact that he is a Greek citizen, born in Greece. He arrived in Israel (in fact in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate that is a sort of autonomous entity) to be a monk and a priest in the Holy Land. Daniel Rossing said with much insights: the position of the patriarch can eventually be compared with a chess player challenged in some six dimensional game... The situation is special. Some people would think that his main point is to tactically keep everyone happy or to maintain a sort of balanced connection between the parties. This context does not help to develop the spiritual assistance to the local faithful of all denominations. As time passes and the war goes on, spirituality and political, strategical, multi-social and cultural influences are getting mixed up. This does not help but this is a reality that ought to be taken into consideration.

Time did pass. There is nothing common with the first Israeli Knesset/Parliamentary relationships to the non-Jewish denominations. Or we can say that things did evolve in the course of time, in particular after 1967. The point is that the State of Israel definitely wants to act with much legacy towards all the non-Jewish institutions. This statement is usually contradicted, neglected or denied. Indeed, both the Jewish rabbinic laws and the civilian Supreme Court and other bodies are willing to protect all the pending properties. On the other hand, the religious non-Jewish entities have not reached to the point where they would truly and freely admit the existence of the State of Israel as being the State of the Jews. This may lead to heavy and recurrent misunderstandings between all the parties.

At this point, the continuous and constant process of rejection of the recognition of the Jewish society in Eretz Israel and of the State of Israel imperils the stability of the Churches and various other denominations. On the other hand, clergy people would not get involved in parliamentary life of the State of Israel. The separation is clear and the barrier real between the Christian local and traditional denominations and Israeli political life.

The new Netanyahu government shows a wide scope of participants. As most of human beings, my heart is on the left side of my body. I saw some exceptions in hospitals, very few, but it is a fact that Israel was created by people who could definitely be considered as "leftists" according to the pattern defined by the Western "capitalistic system". It is evident that such a statement is rather controversial. Nonetheless, it is known that Israel is deeply rooted in "socialism" and that many aspects of the society developed from some "communist-like/linked" line of quality and equality of rights and duties. True, Israeli society was and is still based on the basis of morals, ethics and/or Mitzvot and righteousness as provided by the Jewish traditions transmitted by the many cultures that arrived in the new-old country to build the State. Tel Aviv is turning 100 years! Good, but it is the Hebrew title of "Alt-neu Staat - ancient and new state = a State that is new as spring (aviv\אביב ) and ancient/old like a tel\תל (archeological site). This is why, in the present development of opinions, tendencies, reflections and morals/behavior of Israeli society, "leftists" and "rightists", socialists, capitalists and all this kind of stuff do not make any sense. It is a kind of mess for the international observers. It tends to tempt the inhabitants of the State, the possible two-state/three-state if not more communities.

It should be noted that this is the first time that a former Soviet citizen comes to power with the portfolio of a Foreign Minister. He comes from Moldova i. e. from a border-like Bessarabia, a frontier region between Romania, Ukraine, Turkish Gagauze, Tatars. The region that was highly influenced by Judaism and the Jewish communities, intertwined relationships between Eastern Orthodoxy and Jewish Orthodoxy, Hasidism, Yiddish which is recognized as an official language. The Jews have been present there from the most ancient days, much before Christianity showed with Apostle Andrew. The local inhabitants often served in the Roman imperial army and were soldiers in the Holy Land by the time of the Early Church.

It is clear that Avigdor Lieberman has developed and decided to defend strong national Jewish and Israeli priorities. Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud always intervened in contexts that are rather similar to the present situation as they are considered from a Jewish point of view. The context is not the same as when Nathan Charansky was called to be a member of the government. Avigdor Lieberman maybe considered by the observers as a "folk, populist, rightist, extremist, xenophobic, separatist" personality, full of contradictions. He apparently developed unusual contacts. A so-called "anti-Arab" and "stubborn settler of his own" with his wife and children in Nokdim, a famous settlement.

I do not want to get into the many moral and financial problems that caused the new Foreign Minister to be interrogated again and again by the Police. It is a constantly pending problem in Israel and politicians of all parties, religious, secular or others as well have been facing similar procedures in the past decades. This note has nothing to do with this aspect of the Foreign Minister. Avigdor Lieberman is "new brand" compared to, inter alia, Yuli Yoel Edelstein. He is at the present in charge of the Diaspora, but has been for years a member of the government as a specialist of absorption, immigration. He is the Jewish son of an Orthodox priest who is in Moscow. The former Soviet aliyah/immigration interrogates Israeli society with numerous specificities that lines from culture, faith, Judaism-Christendom, ways of living, high tech and money. This corresponds to any "circulation of living seeds".

An observer declared that there is now a "government of settlers"... It depends how this can reflect a multi-faceted kaleidoscopic Israeli point of view. This is a face-mirroring process. Israelis do mirror the way they perceive themselves through the measures used by the non-Jewish and foreign States. They are intrigued by the way "foreign societies, people and governments" relate to the existence or absence of recognition of Israel. This can be an open door if not a full range of gates open to fancy and irrational anxieties, bipolarity and "Unbehagen in der Kultur - unrest/uneasiness in the civilization" (S. Freud).

Israelis - especially those born in the country - are definitely and quietly convinced of the clear evidence that the State of the Jews does exist and will endure; the threatening news that the Jews would be deported and nuked cannot really persuade Israelis. On the contrary, the country does exist, does develop rare economic structures and dynamics all over the world. It is very sad that the foreign press and media as also the diplomatic and political milieus hardly can get to the heart of this substantial societal tendency.

In a sort of counter-point, there is a big tendency shown at the present among the Arabs: they ask for their Israeli ID cards and they get it! On the other hand, the "formal racist" attitude of Avigdor Lieberman should be softened with regard to his own cultural background, Jewish experience in the former USSR (this in Moldavia/Moldova). Both tendencies curiously match in modern Israel that tries to walk ahead of an incredible sociocultural melting-pot. There is a full liberalism that may, at times, combine their reflections, actions and know-how in the context of the development a wide industrial and entrepreneurship.

Indeed, the "wide kaleidoscope" of such a government is "easy-to-crash or to break" or even to function. It is the first government, since Ariel Sharon, that encompasses so many "seemingly incompatible" movements and opinions. Moreover, Tzipi Livni, who won the elections, refused to participate in the government. She maintains that she would not attack the new structure "except if it works against the interests of the nation". She got angered as many people in the country by the first declarations made by FM. Avigdor Liebermann.

The tendency that he brings forth is very important in Israel at present. It does not mean that it is the natural development of Israeli society new trends. I meet a lot of Israeli of various backgrounds who seem to be scared by the changes that affect the country. This mainly deals with morals, ethics, and most of all the hope for "cleanness, purity" that abides the Jewish soul. Many people have a real dream: Israel can only be pure, only pure and essentially pure. This corresponds to some ritual that can be compared to the "bedikat chametz\בדיקת חמץ = search and cleaning of all leaven" before Passover/Pesach or "taher\טהר = purify" during Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonement.

This feeling that the country and the Jewish State have to be clean and pure is real. As time passes a lot of people have openly declared that Israeli society can be corrupt, "sliding down on a moral point of view". I think late Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz had the nerve and could often vehemently interrogate the Jews in Israel. He did regret, on a visit for a lecture in an Arab village where all the youths spoke fluent Hebrew, that he had no Arabic! But he used to yell at both the Jews and the Christian (a rough and ruthless monologue" supposedly shared with late Fr. Marcel Dubois o.p. Other groups do question the society about wrongdoings in the Palestinian Territories, Gaza.

B'Tzelem\בצלם is one of the many Israeli organization to survey the development of human rights; it is famous in its statements, inquiries. This is important and it does show that Israel generates her own networks in order to control how the inhabitants, citizens and the State do comply with the morals and rules governing a respectful attitude of the human rights. It is more than important for us to know that this organization constantly checks the actions of the institutional bodies.

On the other hand, it should be useful to underscore some aspects of the Israeli context in the present. There are different tendencies without the groups of newcomers that arrived in Israel, in particular after the full collapse of the communist regime. Israel has very strong and apparently cultural, linguistic ties with the Western ways of living and the "Anglo" civilization. This could work to the full and still deeply influence the societal enhancement of Israeli society.

Israel was built upon special cultural segments: in the years 1920s, the German aliyah (immigration) allowed a very significant development of the legal and juridical system in use in Israel. The State has relied and continues to profoundly depend on the "Slavic" Jewish heritage that was also shared in the East European countries - the system is based the many lifestyles that showed in the Yiddishkayt: shtetl/ghetto or village religious or prophetic movements, social assistance within the communities, union and splits among the different communities. Survival and upgrading of moral toward the system of the Mitzvot were reinvigorated on a very wide-open scope from total left to total right and "beyond". "Beyond" is the word because political views in the Jewish Israeli society do not mean anything at the moment if compared with the the political patterns in use in most of the other States or nations.

The "Soviet" newcomers essentially constitute a multicultural and heavily "Marx and Engels - Lenin-Trotsky and post-Stalin" influenced body with Russian backgrounds and other ethnic predominant educational and socializing systems. On the other hand, Israel vigorously reconnected with a civilization that was at the very core of her revival. Thus, it appears that a lot of so-called "Anglo's", were directly linked to the Oriental Ashkenazi realm that disappeared in the pogroms, the second world war and the communist pogroms.

All the Slavs, in particular the Ukrainians and Russians - consequently the Jews - got used to the recurrent threat of Asian invaders that came from Mongolia and the borders of China. The Poles, the Lithuanians and the Russian Orthodox as the local Jews have been constantly attacked from the Far East, while the Slavic Rus' and related ethnics were fighting over the ages. Each ethnicity and their religious traditions combated and this is still prolonged by a sharp ongoing though rampant on the European historical "battlefield of powerful influences" .

The famous "international friendship systematization - druzhba/дружба - that wad top-heroes glorifying reference during the communist era has been replaced by weird and bizarre savageness and wild struggle for hate and strangulations of the "foreigners" to the Russian new empire. I have been twice invited to lecture in Moscow about the return of a heavy local sociocultural tendency called "zlobost' / злобость - wickedness". Defiance and suspicion has been a ruling unwritten law of lawlessness in the immense empire dominated by full emotions of love or, on the contrary, of threatening irrational hatred or enmity.

The Russian tzarist empire had backed the local Arabs by translating the Eastern Orthodox Prayers and assisting the needy. The communist regime provided funds and money: many local Arabs went to East European and Soviet universities and this why many do speak Russian or some Slavic tongue at Jaffa Gate or in other parts of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. It is still evident that the time of "friendship" is over. Many former Soviets arrived in Israel as "non-Jews" according to the Halachah/Jewish religious law. Many could hardly adapt to a society that requires a high sense of self-control, responsibility and personal dynamics. Many Eastern Orthodox also imported a sort of real anti-Judaism that was torn into authentic anti-Semitism and could not be "controlled at least shortly corrected" for a lot of reasons. Thus, some people feel a connection with the Arab inhabitants, both Christians and Muslims.

On the other hand, many former Soviets became totally supportive of the Israeli State. Indeed, they finally reached a kind of "free state" in which they could make their ways; they also could feel true Jews for the first time without fear, threats and beats. This aspect is scarcely understood by many people inside of the country as abroad. Without any partisanship, people like Avigdor Lieberman want to make their way through Israeli society. They brought their skills and techniques, their cultural wealth in theater, medicine. Many started new lives in a very hard and exhausting context of work conditions compared to the competences. This is also what Israel has always proposed to newcomers. Living in the State often presupposes that people accept any job.

On the other hand, in the terribly and even incredibly anti-Jewish/Israeli etc. context that reigned for centuries in the Russian empire, the Jews got used to survive in totally segmented cities and country-side areas. They could be killed by any foreigner. They could be raped, raptured for the army, forcibly assimilated and converted. They could be the victims of the local populations and of the invaders that came from the East. Consequently, they developed the same symptoms of terrible suspicion towards those who are openly shouting they require the eradication of the Jewish State.

This note only aims to describe a process. It is clear that suspicion exists and may not in depths be understood by the "others", i.e. the non-Russian-speakers of those who never left a Slavic cultural environment. When the newcomers read the international press, see that most of the nations of the world did betray and continue to cheat Israel in many ways, they are scared. Many left a prison and they could not fully understand what had happened in the after-War II period in the Western society. They discovered a supposedly wealthy cultural and economic Western system; they also got to the lacks of justice and profound imbalance of a society that also had murdered those they have joined in Eretz Israel. Normal Soviet people would basically consider that the USSR had sacrificed more than 20 million citizens. It took time for many to make the specific project that aimed to exterminate the Jews just because they are Jews. Soviets were communists, Gypsies, Slavs, inter alia, all these being condemned by the Nazi rule and Hitler.

This is why somunderstand and to e members of the Israeli Knesset and acting ministers are so strict about their own acculturation and human survival. They are both "mild" and "wild", ready to give or to take over the local bad habits. On the other hand, they can also recall the real and essential fundamentals that allowed until now the growth of Israeli society.

Indeed, the purpose is "beyond" any political views. If we limit our opinions to some attitudes or choices made at the present, we are mistaken. It will disappear rather quickly. It maybe replaced by other frames or patterns. The priority is that for these strict people - maybe only strict with regard to the State - they hand over a wide experience that allowed them to survive in a deadly breathless environment.

Freedom is the most difficult reality to reach and substantiate, making it true and the highest principle.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 23/10, 2009 - 29 deNisan 5769 - כ"ט דניסן תשס"ט

Again and again - IC XC NIKA

An Orthodox Christian
Priest of Jewish Heritage
Serving in Jerusalem

An AGAIN Interview with
Fr. Alexander Winogradsky

this interview was published almost 5 years ago in the famous AGAIN Journal; the interview was conducted by Douglas Cramer. TODAY, IT IS INTERESTING TO SEE THAT THE PROJECTS SLOWLY DEVELOP. IT IS ALWAYS GOOD TO LOOK BACKWARDS AND FORWARD AGAIN! THE PATH IS STEADFAST! HERE IS THE INTERVIEW:

AGAIN: Fr. Alexander, please introduce yourself, and the
work God has given you. How did you come to be an
Orthodox Christian priest of Jewish heritage serving
Orthodox Christians in Israel?

Fr. Alexander: I was born into a Jewish Russian family from
Nikolayiev, near Odessa in the Ukraine. Although I
was born in France after World War II, we were Soviet
citizens. I was educated in France, Switzerland, England,
and the Scandinavian countries, and graduated as a
linguist. At home, we used to speak many languages:
Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian, French, Dutch, German.
My parents were Holocaust (I prefer the word Shoah)
survivors; my mother came out of the horrific concentration
camp of Majdanek, in Poland. I was raised in a
religious atmosphere, which put a certain positive and
permanent mark on my life: a great sense of pardon and

We had a link with Israel because most of our family
had supported the creation of the State of Israel, since
the time of the pogroms of 1880. Because of my parents’
age, I am still connected with some specific features of
a world that seemingly disappeared during the Shoah.
This Yiddish culture and the Eastern European Hassidic
traditions are important for a better understanding of
Jewish and Christian relationships in the State of the
Jews and the Holy Land.

I would like to point out that I do not consider myself
as being “ethnically” a Jew or Hebrew. We should be
careful, because God calls every single human being
without making any distinction. In Israel, there are two
“nations”: the Jews and the Gentiles. But I always refer to
Saint Paul, who said that God “create[d] in Himself one
new man from the two [Israel and the Gentiles]”
(Ephesians 2:14–16).

I don’t want to be misunderstood: I am a Jewish
Hebrew Christian Orthodox priest, but my flock is
composed of people of any nation present in the State
of Israel. My congregation therefore depends on the
Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which takes spiritual
care of the Holy Land, Jordan, and Palestine. As the
believers who come to me are Orthodox Christians, I try
to help them in all possible ways, but they are certainly
not exclusively Jews or Hebrews. There are a lot of
mixed couples, Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian, and
Romanian-Moldavian faithful. There are also people
from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as some
Tatars, Uighurs, and “Nentsy”—Siberian Inuits or
Eskimos—who have arrived in Israel. There are Arabs
and Armenians as well. However, we do use Jewish
languages for the services and the Divine Sacraments:
usually Hebrew, often Yiddish, sometimes Ladino, the
Spanish tongue.

AGAIN: Please help us get to know your flock. Who are
the people you serve within the Patriarchate of Jerusalem?
What are their backgrounds, and what are their
lives like now?

Fr. Alexander: There are first the people who came to Israel
as immigrants from the former Soviet Union over the
past 30 years, especially since the fall of the communists
in the 1990s. A lot of dissidents arrived before that time.
They went through hard times because they had been
baptized during the Communist period and were
ignored by the churches when they came to Israel. Then,
since 1990, about 400,000 baptized persons have come
to Israel under the Law of Return. Most of them were
received into the Russian Orthodox Church, some into
the Georgian or Romanian Churches.
As they settled in Israel, many did not know how to
live as Christian believers. The local clergy of the Orthodox
Patriarchate of Jerusalem had to face a new and
unexpected situation. This is very appropriate for the
Church, which is always on the move. It is important for

us to use the Hebrew language to help pave the way to
a healthy inculturation within an Israeli society that is
basically Jewish. This also has important ramifications
for the reading of the Bible. Every week, the Jewish texts
are explained throughout the country by the media. As
Orthodox Christians, we try to explain the Old Testament
roots of our faith and how the Gospel interprets
the old and new heritage in the land of Jesus.

I am very respectful of the laws in force which guarantee
“full freedom of speech and conscience” [Law 140/
1977]. This is a good rallying cry for the faithful who
want to be authentic Christians and to baptize their
children within a varied culture. A good understanding
and experience of Israeli society enables the faithful to
feel at home and not to view themselves as permanent
displaced persons.

Once, I was waiting for the bus at the Western Wall,
and a man came to me and asked in Spanish if I was a
priest. I said I was an Eastern Orthodox priest of the
Jerusalem Church. He then told me that he had arrived
two years ago as a newcomer from Argentina. His family
had left Harbin in China after World War II, and he
spoke Russian and Yiddish as well as Hebrew. This is
usual for the faithful here.

I try to hear confession a lot, and at length. Migrants
are often reluctant to speak or to confide. The soldiers
who can serve as “Orthodox faithful” in the Israeli Army
need also to tell about their spiritual path. And it is
important to visit the sick and the elderly. But some
people do not feel at ease, and a lot of patience is

I insist on the fact that we must serve the Divine
Liturgy strictly according to the Byzantine tradition.
Therefore, men of any age come to help as servers in the
altar in order to pray and better understand our tradition.
And it is essential for the faithful to pray and to
have access to catechism books as well as the Scripture.
We are very poor and need books in Russian, Ukrainian,
and Hebrew.

AGAIN: Please spend a moment discussing language.
You must be one of only a few priests in the world
serving the Liturgy frequently in Hebrew, and you serve
in many other languages as well. Are there any interesting
language-related stories or insights you’d like to

Fr. Alexander: I always use different languages in the
services because the main point is to be understood, to
get to what the celebration means. Therefore I serve
in Hebrew, but also in Ukrainian, which is a major
language here, as well as Modern Russian. I serve in
other languages depending on who is attending the
services. Sometimes it is necessary to sing in Romanian/
Moldavian, or Georgian. I use Church Slavonic for the
Feasts. In the South, I need to serve mainly in Russian
and Hebrew, as the youth have forgotten the Slavonic
At the moment, there are very few priests serving
in Hebrew. This was not the case some 20 years ago
in Jerusalem, when Hebrew was more in vogue in the
churches. It is indeed my “Father tongue.” I have always
used it, heard it, and written it, and it is the language of
the Father in the sense that God is Our Father in Heaven
and gave the first Covenant in this language. I pray every
day with the faithful in Hebrew, and I can feel today how
living Modern Hebrew is growing and developing. I
consider it is a part of the resurrection, because a speech
shows that a people are alive and can communicate.

It is important for believers to enlarge their understanding
of Hebrew, and not to exclude themselves
from society by their language. Our Christian Orthodox
faithful may sometimes be shy about speaking and
writing Hebrew. They have a Soviet background that still
can imprison them within a sort of Russian nationalism.
I do my best to avoid any kind of nationalism. The
Orthodox tradition has always supported the translation
of Holy Books and prayers into every tongue. People do
not seem to be aware that the Hebrew text of the Divine
Liturgy has been used for 150 years, since a Russian
Jewish priest in Jerusalem made a translation that was
blessed by the Holy Synod of Moscow.

I would never have imagined that I would one day use
such languages as Yiddish or Afrikaans (South African
Dutch) for the spiritual benefit of Israeli citizens. But it
is very important. I have a spiritual daughter in Jerusalem.
She is 34 years old, with two children, originally
from the north of Russia. We speak Russian. Many years
ago, I came to visit her, and her mother and grandmother
were there. There was a long silence. Suddenly
“Grandma” (Bubele) said something in very bad Russian,
and I answered her in Yiddish. There was such
relief! We all continued in this tongue: we could just be
who we are.

The same sort of thing often happens in confession,
because most believers mix their speech with Hebrew
words or sentences that most Russian or former Soviet
priests would never understand. As a Yiddish saying
states: “The tongue is the pen of the soul.” And spiritual
life consists in opening it wider and wider: quite a

AGAIN: As has often been the case before, events in the
Holy Land are playing an important part in world affairs,
particularly as they pertain to the current war. Do you
have any insights regarding how the Arab and Jewish
peoples can move towards healing and reconciliation,
and how we in the West can better come to understand
them and their world?

Fr. Alexander: This is more than a challenge, and it is
important not to dream, but to act. Arabs and Jews are
part of the present Israeli society and its development.
I don’t discuss war, politics, tactics. It is a challenge for
a people who were absent for more than two thousand
years to create a modern society with those who have
lived here for centuries. I serve in Hebrew and different
tongues in a church located in a Jerusalem Old City
Arabic compound. The Arabs know I will pray some in
Arabic, and they are very friendly Orthodox faithful.
They know that I pray, and am not using any language
for political or ethnic reasons. God is far beyond that.
We have to search for God, to truly say “Christ is risen—

Christ is in our midst,” rather than emphasizing linguistic, cultural, or strategic differences.

AGAIN: Is there anything else you would like to share
with our readers?

Fr. Alexander: I suppose most readers are North Americans.
I always have fascinating discussions with the pilgrims
and tourists from the United States and Canada. They
are always welcome to attend our services, and then to
get some information about how and why we pray the
way we do. In Hebrew, “Again” would usually be translated
“Shuv”: “new, renew, create anew.” In the Holy
Land, God gives me the chance to make things new,
open, peaceful.
For two thousand years, the Resurrection of the Lord
has been proclaimed everywhere in the world. Now we
renew our Faith in the Resurrection here, in a land
where every single person is facing the question, “Who
are you?” With God’s help, may they reach their own
identity to the full. .

Since 1998, Fr. Alexander Winogradsky has set up a variety of ministries centered
in Jerusalem, serving Orthodox Christians from the former Soviet Union and
Eastern Europe. He is delighted that the unexpected emergence of such a
significant number of Orthodox Christians in a Jewish-Arab society is providing
tremendous opportunities for dialogue and reconciliation. Yet the challenges for
one priest to oversee this extensive ministry are overwhelming. His fervent hope is
to develop a spiritual education training program, allowing his ministry to expand
and include many others desirous to serve the Church.

Funds to help support this important ministry can be sent:
through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.
Please make checks payable to OCMC, and also earmark on the checks:
“Winogradsky/Jerusalem Ministry.” Send to OCMC, P.O. Box 4319, St. Augustine,
FL, 32085-4319. Funds sent through OCMC are tax-deductible.


For more information:

Fr. Alexander Winogradsky
P.O. Box 14136
Jerusalem, Jaffa Gate 91141 ISRAEL

Passkha 2009 in my church of Hagios Nikolaos close to the Patriarchate and the Anastasis.
Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - Anastasis
(Credit photo: A.K.)

Shoah and Shemini

A special Shabbat Shemini\שמיני (Eighth), that, in the first Shabbat after the end of the feast of Passover, enters a eighth day and the description of Aaron and his sons' ordination as Kohanim\כהנים (priests), the death of the two sons, Nadab and Abihu, kosher animals, i.e. sanctity, sanctification, holiness, cleanness or impurity. All Israel also relates to this Shabbat the inauguration of three contemporary events that constitute the major memorials for this State of the Jews and its citizens: on Nissan 27 (04/21), the Shoah and its Heroism Day, then, next Sunday Iyar 4 (04/28), the Remembrance Day for those who were killed for Israel, followed, on Iyar 5 04/28-29), by the Yom HaAtzma'ut - Independence Day of the State of Israel.

I previously tried to propose some seasonal reflections, in these times of hardships and temptation of narrow nationalism. Then, I tried to make a choice in the Jewish tradition showing how it expanded from Abraham till the first destruction the Temple, from Sumer to Egypt, causing God's desire to give the Israelites the Land of Canaan as a "permanent rental/lease". All that remains coherent and spiritually “clean/kosher”, as far as we can measure and intellectually accept this sort of determinism or God's freewill. He could of course have chosen other nations, other races, other tongues. Not the Northern hemisphere and a tiny piece of land without rich resources, but some gorgeous country with multiplied produces and mixed economical richness.

The country has changed many times over the past 4,000 years, but it was wealthier by the time of King Solomon than when some people came back from the exile to Babylon. In the past 2,000 years, the region was mainly devastated by various conquerors of all sorts of Christian and Muslim beliefs. It hardly developed the way it does at the moment. In the coming days and weeks, the Israeli media and the people will feel profoundly moved by the major catastrophe of the Shoah\שואה that substantiated the launching of a project to exterminate the European Jewry and subsequently all the Jews as well as other categories of people: Gypsies, Slavs, gays and lesbians, handicapped and mentally disabled, the communists. But this day, just after Pesach\פסח/Passover deeply connects and ingathers the Jews together. "Shoah\שואה" comes from a root that is also used in grammar: "shva = to reduce to silence (suppression of any sound/existence", especially a vowel that allows to detect a consonant. I prefer to speak of “churban\חורבן – destruction (cf. destruction of the Temples, Batei HaMikdash\בתי מקדש; Yid. “khirb’n\חורבן”) ,firstly used by Elie(zer) Wiesel and Manes Sperbes. The word refers both to the Temple and to the vineyard (Talmud Kilayim 4, 29c). “Holocaust” can allow a proper link with the Torah reading portion and the first offerings presented by Aaron. “Katastropha”, both in Greek and Russian, is very strong etymologically but too vague about the event, its nature and goals.

The reading portion of the week is Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1-11-46. It begins with the new account of the consecration/ ordination (semichah סמיכה) of Aaron and his two sons; Moses ordered Aaron to offer a calf and a ram, lamb without blemish, in front of the Tent of the Meeting. Aaron did offer the calf and his sons brought him the blood that he put at the corners of the altar (cf. daily memorial prayer of “Shacharit\שחרית – morning prayer”). He dipped his fingers into the blood. Now, the whole thing – I mean what is the purpose and target of the weekly reading, cleanness, sacrifices, Shoah and Memorial days after Pesachפסח\ – all that is strictly and absolutely a bloody blood stuff, either in English or Australian style. It is totally unthinkable to kid with such counterpoints that cost so many atrocities.

“Dom\דום” as “silence, silent flow of life, soul, energizing forces” and, inhuman offerings, slaughtered beings and grill-dried and fried in a minute to the skin of our teeth or a hair’s breadth if slang could cope with some Auschwitz-Birkenau parallels. And here, we must be very careful, in this country and inside of any Jewish society. We ought to show a spirit of prudence, but also a sense of insightful wisdom. We are overly, excessively far much too much Shoah-overdone. There seems to be no other way at the present. As a survivor, I was brought up with these piles of teeth and hair, shoes in memory. I got more: I was taught the Yiddishkayt in accordance with the normal Yiddish and Eastern Oriental and Jewish Orthodox way of being a sign of hope and life. This makes a huge difference, that nonetheless does abides some parts of Israeli society.

It is true that both the Jews and the non-Jews were caught into the system of Nazism. The Jews often thought they could either flee or overcome or worse than that consider that the Nazi system will disappear by itself. We still behave as in the time of these horrible lack of common sense and we are also today be able to hide our faces. The Israeli programs have finally the nerve this year to openly declare that Israel has been abandoned by all the Nations, among which the United States, Canada and other Commonwealth countries that closed their borders to the refugees. On the other hand, they continuously underlined how many Christians did save the Jews... often at the cost of baptizing them and making them unwillingly leave their native communities. I met and still meet "broken souls" that would never reach their real "self" because of these socio-cultural turbulences. It goes very far: this year, because of the incredible level of denial that Israel has to face in her daily existence, the Rav Israel M. Lau, a death camp survivor, was bot weeping and shrieking at those who do not respect the Jewish identity. He had been exaggeratedly rude toward late Cardinal J.M. Lustiger who always maintained that he was a full Jew. Rav Lau had told him: that a Jew who converts to Christianity is committing a sin as big if not bigger than the Shoah". It was terribly offensive toward a man who had the courage to convey so many positive things for the sake of the Church and Judaism alike.

I still consider that Rav I. Lau was and is right in such a "ruthless" statement. Judaism may be destroyed by unconscious assimilation (as by the time of Hanukkah). Curiously, late Fr. Hruby had warned the cardinal not to go too far in assuring he was a Jew. It only depends on the Jewish community to declare who is or is not a Jew after ages of estrangement and alienation. Jews are indeed the "natives" of the Church, but becoming a "Christian" implies to leave a community that today revives in a very unexpected way the return to the Land, in a climate of international distance and hatred. True, the Iranian President's words echo those of Hitler. But this is not the real problem. The real matter is how to implement the heart of the Mitzvot. The period of the Shoah has cut down the daily experience of the Mitzvot in a specific human and spiritual context. I told once the Rav Lau that I agree with his words. I had said that years because in the course of discussions to Fr. Lustiger; there is a right not to agree and I don't say I know who is right. But it is clear that the day-to-day and month-to- month, year after year practice of the Mitzvot obliges us to dig much deeper into the mystery of faith. I do consider that the Rav Lau is right. I told him that once we met in Yad VaShem and, in Yiddish (the only language I speak with him when I rarely see him) that his words also apply to myself. His "extreme" point of view makes sense and echo to Paul of Tarsus words: "For my brothers (Jews), I would prefer to be anathema" (Romans 9:3).

The Shoah is at the core of the existence and survival of the European community and its eventual development as a united body. The Shoah is not a directly Jewish concern. It is of course and Jews cannot break themselves from the national Nazi or Fascist choice made by their "guest countries. Wherever they live, the faithful Jews know by experience that they are rooted in Eretz Israel. But the Shoah i a question for the former Roman empire early Church development around the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Europe. The question is not the same from the Persian plateau up to Caucasus and India, Mongolia and Asia. This is why The Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Protestants face a specific interrogation about what the true meaning of the Cross and the Resurrection is.

The weekly reading, describing Aaron’s offerings of the calf and the ram and his dipping into blood should not lead us to a constant confusion with our victimization through heathen and monotheistic centuries of harsh and steady anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. The extermination camps projected the annihilation of the Jews, but also of others. The Communists immediately murdered the comrades that had rescued and had dared come home.

Once anointed as priests, Nadab and Abihu,, put each a pan, put fire in it and incense and the “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them (vatochal otamותאכך אותם); vayamutu lifnei HaShem\וימתו לפני ה'- and they died in the Face of the Lord (=at the instance) (Lev. 10:2). And then, Moses said to Aaron: “This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show myself Holy / bikrovai ekadesh\בקרבי אקדש – and gain glory before all the people.” And Aaron was silent/ Vayadom Aharon (Vay.10:3). Aaron remained silent, in a silence that is “dom\דום” and not “sheket\שקט – quiet silence”. Why did his sons suddenly perish, speedily, swallowed by the fire they came to offer? Is it for the sake of the merits? Were they in a situation of some “Kiddush HaShem\קידוש השם –Sanctification of the Name” in which instant death and rush to God is a sign of holiness for the assembled elders and the Israelites? No or maybe yes, because “the Lord had not commanded them to offer this fire, so they offered a “esh zarah\אש זרה – alien fire” (10:1). R. Y. Leibowitz underscored an ancient tradition that is more than important in our present situation, especially this year, that is a bit “mebulbal\מבולבל – confused”. They were “lo tziwwah\ךא צווה – not commanded”, a special cantillation mark (merchah kefulah\מרכל כפולה) is under the /L/ of lo, suggesting a real command not to perform the offering, but still they could not refrain from doing that. And this is true. We may have in front of us the most impure object but our inner desire to tend to God is so powerful but mistaken that we are overcome and seized by off-beam feelings. Instead of worshipping God the right way, we behave like the pagans and practice idolatry (Avodah Zarah 5b).

This is why freedom from slavery also applies in worshiping, sacrifice of the offerings and of our prayers. This is why it is so difficult to act without any spiritual pressure exercised by the society or for formal reasons of civilities.

As God took them “in His Face – by instance”, these verses maybe suggest other subtleties of our souls and life choices. There are people who are not mature enough to achieve a task or a certain way of living and still they will be given the abilities to get across the intricacy of the challenge. And then bifurcate. Say, God might have called Aaron’s sons to bifurcate abruptly and with love. At the instance, Aaron’s silence shows that he got to his priesthood. He reached the place where a man is in the position of total obedient and silent presence in the Face of God. He went to accomplish the duty that he had accepted, i.e. to be nothing, nil, nigh in order to open the ways of God.

This is the Jewish priesthood and way to holiness, wherever the Temple exists or not, for all time, any place (maybe compared to Jesus harsh words: “Follow me and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22)).

It is interesting that for years many groups came to visit the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a must. It has a pedagogical power, it is a place that is unique and denial of the witness was brought to endless crime. Many Jews consider today the possibility to rebuild the local communities that disappeared in the flood of extermination executed amid full apostasy that is applicable to all the concerned parties. Rav Shlomo Aviner (Ateret Kohanim\עתרת כהנים ) recently suggested something else: not to return to visit such places of death. This can be considered as a provocation as all the State of Israel constantly reminds the significant meaning of the Shoah. Rav Lau did track back to the project of assassinating Moses and the children of Egypt. But there is something very insightful and profoundly Jewish: there are times of dispersion and times of ingathering for the exiled. Thus, why should the Jews look backward? The question was real for the Lubavitcher Rebbe: is a Jew allowed or not to quit Eretz Israel once he put a foot on the Land? And Leon Askenazi _ the French reviver of Judaism - was very correct when he looked at Eurpe as having lost in the murder during the Shoah a major part of its spiritual capacities.

* * * * * * * * * *

Animals can be terribly anxious, on guard, as the “gazelles and deer of the fields” in the Song of the Song. Jews have often experienced this feeling that accounted David Ben Gurion on Friday 5th of Iyar 5748/May 14, 1948 when he proclaimed the independence of the State of Israel. “I feel no gaiety in me, only deep anxiety as when I was a mourner at the feast” (B.Gurion, The Peel Report and the Jewish State, p. 86). This “Yiddishe angst – feeling of anxiety mixed with fear and rejoicing” runs through the Bible. Joy always prevails.

The Jewish Communities are proposed this week to read how they are called to be holy or to sanctify their lives in order to witness that true holiness is indeed their part. For different reasons, the Nissan 27 (i.e. after-Passover) Shoah Memorial Day was established in1951 and gathers people of different opinions and backgrounds, as the Israeli State, being Jewish in the diasporas or in Eretz Israel. In the past years, as hatred against the Jews, but not only them – say racism and xenophobia - go far beyond rationality, also in our country, Israel. On the 27th of Nisan, this is the State of Israel that commemorates the victims of the Holocaust. Some citizens should be educated to get deeper involved into what and how things happened in a Christened Western and Eastern Europe that hardly can define the Christian fundamentals of the European Community.

On Nissan 27, any citizen of this State has the duty to keep silent… remain in silence for the blessed memory of those who perished only sixty years ago. The Christians can join this prayer of memory. The Shoah happened, for a part that is too difficult to measure at the present, because of “the teaching of despise”, irrational blood libel accusations, forced conversions and theological contests between Judaism and Christianity. Still this day cannot belong to any Church nor be “seized” by any denomination. On the other hand, it will take centuries for the Jews and the Christians to get closer to a real and reciprocal dialogue. This cannot be imposed by decrees or rules to the Christians. Eyes must get opened and mouths need to utter things slowly and with compassion. As Jews pathetically need to slowly discover the positive existence of the Christian Creed as well as the living heritage of the Church in this country.

Many Jewish Orthodox movements visit more and more the different Shoah memorial centers and, thus, they may pave the way, with other local groups, to research what means a period of darkness. They also reconnect with Aaron’s silence and divine call.

Av aleksander [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 21 , 2007 – 12 b'Omer 5769 - י"ב דעומר תשס"ט


One of the most fundamental actions conducted in the name of faith in God is to assist the sick, the injured, those who suffer in their bodies and souls. It is a strong and a high priority. Since ancient days, the Christian hospices, clinics, hospitals, convents and monasteries have been dedicated to the assistance to the needy and the poor, but also the elderly and the sick and their families. At the present, it must be admitted that the best organized system is the Catholic network even if it faces some difficulties.

The Orthodox Church, present in the Holy Land since the Apostolic times of the Early Church and considered as the Mother of all the Churches, has no permanent elderly home for the pensioners and the retired bishops are hosted by Catholic houses. This is a part of our responsibility, as Orthodox believers to develop a true and authentic system of assistance for the believers. It shall certainly be a priority at the moment for the new patriarch Theophilos and he is willing to update the actions.

"Anyone says "I love God" but hates his brother is a liar; whoever loves a brother whom he has seen cannot love God Whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). The Eastern Orthodox Church of Jerusalem has and will always have ahead of her an immense task to help spirituality all the inhabitants of the Israeli society, Jordan and Palestine. Wounds and scars of wars, history, cross-time dramatic situations have hurt and constantly wounds the inhabitants.

The arrival of the numerous newcomers in the State of Israel does constitute an important and numerically rather clear number of faithful, especially among the doctors, physicians, surgeons, medicine professors, male and female nurses and simple room cleaners in the hospitals. These people often dare show their faith in a natural way. I visit the children and also people suffering from traumas in Jerusalem other diseases in Tel HaShomer (Tel Aviv), Soroka in Ben Gurion hospital in Beer Sheva. It is a tradition to visit the sick every week and especially during the feast of Passkha-Anastasis. For the Jews, it means three full days before the Feast of Easter, often combined with Pesach because of family days-off and possible visits. Visits to the numerous victims of diseases: the alcoholics, to those who were deeply injured during a terror attack. There is no difference in an Israeli hospital between nationality and faith at this point.

Thirty years ago, at the hospital of Nazareth, yes, people used to compared the rites and customs of each Church, which was funny in a way and normal. Then, we understand that the country does count a lot of Orthodox faithful. It is a must to visit them, to confess and bring them the Holy Gifts during this period of Resurrection that is the answer to the Way of the Cross/suffering - Derech Yissurinדרך יסורין - in Hebrew.

This can also question the Church because our Sacrament of the Holy Oils is long, tiring for a sick person that cannot follow the texts adequately. I often have to give the Oils in a situation of emergency. It is also beautiful then that the Jewish personnel - many doctors or surgeons are also learned talmudists or rabbis - would remain silent and give time to pray with much decency. Their presence, with other co-workers of all denominations, prove a real respect of God.

Priests and all people dedicating their lives to God are constant witnesses of His goodness. In this country, this is also the possibility to heal through conversation and trust and not by framing each other, rejecting the foreigners and aliens. Encounters are a major action in the service of the Church, as of the Jewish communities, not because it would be useless to proselytize: people here are thirsty to speak and get into contact.

Great Lent is a time for visiting the sick without focusing on our own destiny. We often perform good deeds in order to be refunded in terms of divine gratuities or graces, gracious acts towards ourselves or our fellow people. And then we think we are entitled to glorify our actions as being sustained by God Himself. We know nothing. Jesus says to his disciples that the Son of Adam does not even recognize those who visited him in jail, when he was sick, naked or hungry (Matthew 25:36). Religious people are more likely to be sensitive to actions that are linked to eternal life, i.e. the quest of what resurrection means: thus, it requires no limits in time. Good deeds also imply that we are respectfully handling the people we want to help and not to harass them either by our presence, words of comfort or other actions. We are often in the situation when we want a blind to cross the street, while he did not want to cross at all!

The Israeli Kupat cholim קופת חולים and Bituach Leumi\ביטוח לאומי (Medical and social care assistance services) were launched by the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Mea Shearim at the turn of the 20th century. Religious Jews now visit and participate in the researches carried out at Yad VaShem (Deportation Memorial) as a part of a constant prayer that can heal and exorcise old clutching demons.

In terms of healing, there are no demons, no hideous memories; indeed, they are there, but because we betray them: when we discover the unbelievable treason committed towards the concentration camps survivors inside the very Jewish State of Israel. The same applies when some Christian take over should and capture cultures and societies to their own profit. It restricts the goal: God want to heal and to cure and not only concentrate on a few mirroring aspects that will break into pieces sooner or later in history.

True faith can be profoundly wounded by death. Faith know by intimate conviction than life and reinvigorating forces are there as the sign of God's sign that He resurrects the dead (the prayer is said three time at least by the Jews everyday).

This year, the context of an international crisis and threats of increasing war situation in our country require much understanding and patience. Internet has become the modern and up-to-the minute network where opininos can be shared and quickly shared, distributed. It should not convey the mental and irrational deviating reflections that may kill the works of such a wonderful technical tool. We cannot get addicted to this. We cannot use the instrument as a robot. We cannot reduce ourselves to unknown egos and groups. Or we cannot spread hatred and constant quarrels.

We live in different cultural areas. In Israel, we encompass many different ways of living and thinking and we experience how difficult it is to build up a coherent positive open-minded society. This is the challenge that we have to face. Healing is a task that envisions all sorts of betterments: sufferings do exist. Many people spend their lives in terrible pains. There maybe different reasons for such a situation. But loving-kindness does exist, not the one we figure out in order to gain power over the others, but when we feel that we are lost and still, God's Finger shows ans saves us.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

April 17/4, 2009 - 23 de Nisan 5769 - כ"ג דניסן תשס"ט

The voice of the Church (4) - Hebrew in the Church

Is there any connection between the destiny of St. Sergius and St Vladimir Institutes of Orthodox Theology and, eventually the actual development of the Church in Israeli society? It is well-known that many Arabs from various Middle-Eastern countries were educated at St. Sergius and St. Vladimir and graduated, at times in both Institutes. Indeed, clergy and lay people of all origins study in the two educational theological establishments. I focus on Israeli society only with rejecting the Arabs. The Arab Christian Churches are very important and numerous priests were trained in France and in the United States.

In fact, St. Sergius and St Vladimir’s Institutes are somehow connected with the renewal or new possible to challenge the creation of “Hebrew in the Church” within Israeli society. To begin with, this is due to the reality that many theologians who taught or studied at the two institutes were of Jewish descent, converted Jews or married to people of Jewish origin. Many settled for a while in Israel and left the country for various reasons.

Firstly, in the middle of the 19th century, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem did bless Fr.Levinson to celebrate the Divine Liturgy and the other Eastern Orthodox Service in Hebrew. The translation was given the blessing of the Moscow Synod in 1851 and I was given a photocopy of the text in 1980. It is sheltered at the present on a microfilm at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is in Slavonic and Hebrew. The Slavonic part includes prayers for the then-reigning members of the Czar. The Hebrew version is very rabbinical, which is quite overwhelming in the present. By the time the translation was officially allowed, the Russian Synod was somehow aware that the Hebrew language - as Arabic with regards to Qu’ran Arabic - must correspond with the native tradition of the speakers: Jewish and Muslim people. This corresponds with the Aleutian language used for the translation of the Divine Service in the Eastern Orthodox church by the time St. Tikhon was a bishop in Alaska and decided to allow the Services in the vernacular Aleutian language.

This confirms that - at that time - the decision was very forward and insightful. It was also correct and respectful of the meaning of the words. This is not the case at the present for the Hebrew text in use in the Roman Latin Rite translation of the Mass and the other prayers. So, it means that the Russian Church intervened in the process of Hebrew in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the then Holy Land. In 1851, Hebrew was slowly reviving. This is why Eliezer Ben Yehudah did find some speakers from Jaffa to Jerusalem. There is more: The Eastern Orthodox anaphora’s and Services have phrases that show very close to the Jewish roots of the prayers, in particular, those used in the Machzor\מחזור [festive prayer-books] linked to Yom HaKippurim\יום הכיפורים, the Day of Atonement.

It will certainly be possible in the near future to survey the existing connections in a similar way that has been used by the Western theologians and proved that Judaism and Christianity rely upon the same founding basements. It may take some time for the Oriental Churches and the present Jews because of the profound and real estrangement that separates Jewishness and Eastern Christianity. It should be interesting not to scan this connection with any missionary spirit. Many students of St. Vladimir’s Seminary do experience a unique possibility to be in a sort of “regular” soft encounter with the Orthodox Jews of New York. This would not be thinkable in any other place. Still, it is also the heritage of a close relationship that existed in the East-European countries and Jewish settlements and villages.

By the same time, the Church of England decided to assign Bishop Solomon Alexander Pollack who was the first Anglican (now Episcopalian) bishop in Jerusalem. He translated the “Book of Common Prayers” into Hebrew, also in accordance the the rabbinic roots. Fr. Kurt Hruby, whom I replaced at St. Sergius Institute for the “Journées Liturgiques de Saint Serge”, had given me a copy of the original book in 1978. The bishop is barely reminded in St. George Cathedral in Jerusalem. The Anglican-Episcopalian Services in Hebrew ceased in 1947. The Messianic movement took over the heritage of the movement that survived after World War II in Bessarabia and Siberia. I made a full “euchology” prayerbook [thanksgiving prayerbook] “Zevach todah\זבח תודה - Thanksgiving Sacrifice, fruit of the words of our tongues” published at Peeters in the Orientalia, 1989. It is a proposal for a “native Hebrew prayer” on line with the Oriental fundamental traditions. it was used by some scattered groups of various origins.

On the other hand, it should be noted that shortly before the time of the perestroika and the fall of the communist regime in the Soviet Union and the satellite countries, some Russian and Romanian arrived in Israel and were willing to pray in Hebrew within the framework of the local Church that is under the omophoron of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. By that time, the two Russian Ecclesiastical Missions (Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad) were not reunified as at the present. The Russian archives had no file with regards to the use of Hebrew in the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem in the19th and 20th centuries.

After the perestroika, some pious Orthodox believers arrived, in particular after 1988 and the big “rush” with numerous Orthodox newcomers. The goal of this part of the note is to show the involvement of the two Institutes. Thus, the local Patriarchate of Jerusalem accepted the presence of some priests and allowed them to celebrate in Hebrew. Interestingly, this has been possible 20 years ago though they had to face a lot of hardships.

The Church process is still intriguing and appealing. Archbishop Georges (Wagner) of Evdokia was born into a German Lutheran family in Berlin. He came to Paris and was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1955 by Metropolitan Nikolai of the Moscow Patriarchate in Paris. He was a specialist in Liturgics and Canon Law that he taught for years at the St. Sergius Institute. Indeed, he was in touch with Fr. Alexander Schmemann and the Board of Professors in the United States. He was tonsured a monk in 1971 and elected assistant bishop of Archbishop. Georges (Tarassoff) of Syracuse, head of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Russian Orthodox Exarchate. in Western Europe. He was consecrated as bishop in Paris on October 3, 1971. In May 1981, he was elected to be the successor of Abp. Georges (Tarassoff), a capacity in which he served until his death in Paris on April 6, 1993.

He ordained two priests so that they could serve in Israeli society. This was a meaningful decision. I do not discuss the context and circumstances. His follower, late Archbishop Sergei of Evkarpia, also took the decision to ordain me in the same move. I was sent to Jerusalem upon the personal recommendation of Patriarch Bartholomaios Ist, with the spiritual support of late Metropolitan Emilianos of Silyvria and several other theologians of various jurisdictions.

“Hebrew in the Church” will be one of the existing challenges that the future patriarch of Moscow and All Russia will have to meet with insights and adequacy. Late Patriarch Aleksii II was against Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. In fact, the two words refer to two separate matters.

It may be a bit provoking, but the Russian Church enjoys, for the time being, the opportunity to expand and bring forth the real value of the Slavic and native Eastern Orthodox tradition as shown by the Slavonic heritage. This heritage has too often been barred and denied by force. Church Slavonic is basically a word-to-word translation from Church Greek into a pan-Slavic sort of Esperanto. Greek has to face the same problems and would need some “revamping updating”. Indeed, the Eastern Churches cannot avoid Greek. They implement something that has been carried by this special Mediterranean tongue, full of Semitic vernacular phrases.

The Russian Church reflects something of a widely open and broad-minded universal spirit that is unique. This is why it would be so important for the upcoming generations to overcome spiritual, theological, ethnic, cultural and linguistic prejudices against Jewishness. Many metropolitans, bishops and priests of Jewish descent have been ordained in the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, in the Church Abroad and various Russian jurisdictions over the past century till the perestroika and the fall of communism.

Interestingly, Hebrew disappeared in the two Ecclesiastical bodies that had viewed with favor the use of Hebrew in the 19th century in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Strangely, it took place at the dawn of the revival of Hebrew as a living tongue. Pioneering Church bodies like the Russian Moscow Mission and the Church of England (and Ireland, sic!) progressively and intentionally got astray from Hebrew way of living.

In the reports and articles that I wrote over the decade, I had the opportunity to describe with much precision the negative attitudes of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, in particular the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Russian Ecclesiastical Missions. I did it with the care to understand a process and definitely not to adopt any judgmental views or to convey any kinds of gossiping. I was told that “I got what I had been looking for” as said a very high-ranking Orthodox leader in the West.

Indeed, “Hebrew” is not the real question faced by the Russian Orthodox Church. There is a very serious theological interrogation about how to define present day Judaism with regards to positive existence of the State of the Jews (Judenstaat). The Russian Federation considers at the present that Israel would be the “second Russian country in the world”, as stated by Vladimir Putin some time ago.

During the time of the communists, a lot of Jews found their way in serving in the Church at all the levels of the Russian hierarchy. This is still the case until now for the elder ones, in particular for some important bishops who would never speak of that openly. It has been a serious matter for the positive survival of the Russian Orthodox Church in many areas. The same phenomenon is known for Poland and Romania. Many “pnevmatiki - duchovniki - spiritual fathers” were and are still of Jewish descent and showed their heritage in the way they developed their ministry among the faithful. Late Fr. Elijah Shmain who was ordained by Archbishop Georgyi Wagner, served in Israel for years before he returned to Moscow via Paris was much aware of being a Jew… and an Israeli Eastern Orthodox priest. Nonetheless, he has spent many years in a camp. Still, he experienced the rejection of the Russian hierarchy, though was always supported by the Russians in the West. Before the perestroika was implemented, Fr. Alexander Men became a symbol of this hideous and uncontrolled hatred towards Jews and “aliens” in the Soviet society. The ax that killed him reminds both the pogroms and the murders of so-called “uniates”. I am totally baffled to meet with numerous clergy educated in the Soviet society that are systematically denied any ministry in the Church “at the present”. It is a period of transition.

The issue does not deal with individuals. The real question is to know how Judaism and the constant parallel development of the most important spiritual Chassidic movements inside of a profoundly Eastern Orthodox context can positively allow a mutual recognition between Israel and the Church.

This is why Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s 25th anniversary also makes sense in this view. It may appear that it is not a fundamental aspect of his theology. It is indeed. Fr. Alexander Schmemann - as the school that showed up in the West by the time of the “émigration” and the creation of St. Sergius Institute widely opened the scopes of the Russian Orthodox Church to universal and local, native and planetary envisioning of the plerome of redemption, the Ecclesia universa.

The approach of the “native” Churches as reflected in the West and North America should allow some in-depth reconsidering of the relevant value of Jewishness and Israelity today for the future of the Eastern Orthodox Church, in particular the Slavonic-speaking communities. There are numerous significant factors that should open the gates for overcoming hostility and estrangement.

It will take time. The passing away of late Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Rus, eternal memory, is a founding moment. I pointed out that there is some glimpse from Above. He was the patriarch who headed the Russian Orthodox Church from the time of communism over perestroika till the fall of communism. He maintained and enlarged the integrity and redeployment of the Russian Church inside of the former Soviet Union. He gained the return of the Church Abroad. Those who remained out of the Communion of the Russian Orthodox Church (Church of the Resistance, Fighting or Alternative Church, Church in Exile) still position themselves as somehow “linked from afar at the moment” from the Moscow Patriarchate. This means that he led a tantamount work that can show frail or dubious. His time was made of “incredible events and changes that only launched a tremendous process. Hopefully, the Russian Church will get astray from wrong-doers of all sorts that will give them the opportunity, for the first time after the atheistic period of apostasy, to meet with the Jewish and new Israeli body as survivors rescued by God’s Providence.

The Israeli Church reality is a basic notion that also relates to other Churches: the Romanian, Polish, Slovak, Serbian, and even Albanian new-released autocephalous or self-ruled or indefinite ecclesiastical Bodies. This also concerns, for instance, the Macedonian community as I experienced in the past two years. At this point, this is coping with the discussions and research conducted by Fr. Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff. I am convinced the Russian Church will show its “breadth, length, depth, profundity” provided she will not be denied or put aside by the others.

This will require more than patience. It will require a lot of quiet and peaceful spirit of pardoning actions. The Jews are the natives of the Church and they do remain according to Paul of Tarsus (Romans 9-4). We hardly can understand with exactitude what the apostle meant or how we can update it for the time being. The matter is new for the Russian Orthodox Church. And it will take time before they will accept that the former Soviets visiting Israel or birthing Palestine as pilgrims, or sick hosted in Israeli hospitals or tourists are not Russian anymore. It will pass rather quickly. Still, Jews and Russians are intertwined to bear witness of Divine Providence and loving-kindness.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December/ 9/November 26, 2009 - 12 deKislev 5769 - י”ב דכסלו תשס”ט