Monday, May 18, 2009

Counting


On the way to the Feast of Shavuot (Of the Week and the Giving of the Torah - Matan Toratenu) on May 28 / 5 Sivan, this week we start to read the fourth Book of Moses called "Bemidbar\במדבר - In the wilderness of Sinai" in Hebrew and "Numbers - "Arithmoi" according to the Greek Septuagint translation). The reading portion is Bemidbar 1:1-4:20 and indeed begins with the census of the Israelites in the wilderness, of those who were 20 years-old. Thus, 603,500 grownups Bney Israel were counted as members of the "clans and ancestral houses - lemishpechotam leveyt avotam\למשפחותם לבית אבותם" (Num. 1:2).

There are different intriguing points in getting into this new Book. The Hebrew people were certainly the first nation that has been submitted to a systematic census in the history. This happened in very specific conditions, i.e. in the desert of Sinai, as they were on their journey to the Land of Canaan. Curiously, the number of Israelites is rather parallel to the amount of inhabitants who were dwelling in Eretz Israel in 1948 (803,000), all things being equal over time and space...

This means that the Israelites were rather organized. There were the fundamental tribes following the order of the names of Jacob's sons. The census was undertaken as a divine commandment given by God to Moses and Aaron. This should continue the first action conducted by Moses by the time of the exodus from Egypt. He had complied with the advices given by Jithro to appoint the "anshey hayil\אנשי חיל - advisers, judges" who were entrusted the task of governing the people with insights and wisdom. Similarly, the decision to count the members of the “multi-tribal nation” of the Israelites allowed enhancing the level of their protection. They had received to call to take care of the Mishkan\משכן - God's Dwelling place with the Ark of the Covenant, some pieces of the manna, the Luchot-לוחות/Tablets. The census was also a sort of military accomplishment of a divine order. It concerned a rather large group of people that had lived in very settled conditions in Egypt. These people suddenly became again what their “avot\אבות – ancestors” always remained: “wanderers and people of the wilderness”.

The desert of Sinai is a very small part of the peninsula in the first biblical map and the way the Israelites moved for 40 years. The strange thing is that we don’t know much about what really happened to them during the 38 years they journeyed throughout the area, but not too extensively in the South. For us, the wilderness of Sinai is a much bigger space.

Somehow, the Jews are still living as “ancestral houses or mishpechot-משפחות/family units”. Clans have always existed, mainly based on differences, disparity and distinctness. Of course, at that time, the Israelites did not leave Egypt playing Scottish-like bagpipes, eating herring, fish and chips, Viennese kneydlech, hamburgers or hummus. Today, we do not enjoy everyday some fresh desert quails or some tamarisk natural manna. They might have spoken some dialects and developed their East side Nile Hebrew slang. As regards the “tribe”, the word “shevet\שבט” is not used in the text. Names are very important. Names are also this week a strong reminder of the Hebrew name of the Book of Exodus. Thus, we continue to participate in the development of the spiritual move launched by God. And “shmot\שמות – names” are as important as “avot\אבות – ancestors”. They show a plenitude expressed by masculine words taking the feminine plural form /-ot/. So there are names “according to the sons of the clans of their ancestral houses”.

There is, from the very beginning, the separation of another group: “the Kohathites among the Levites – bney Kohat mitoch bney Levi\בני קחת מתוך בני לוי” (Num. 4:2). They will perform the tasks for the Tent of Meeting “which deal with the most sacred objects” (Num. 4:3). They are a special “clan and ancestral house”, the sons of Levi who will own no land properties in Eretz Israel and progressively ensure the sacrifices and the priesthood. The Book of Numbers/Bemidbar-במדבר will give us new information and data about the Jewish whereabouts in time, space and divine connection.

A lot of genealogical websites exist at the present and Jews are indeed fond of their pedigree or family backgrounds, intermingled situations. Two “family trees”, one from Europe and the second from Baghdad show, at the Beyt HaTfutzot\בית התפוצות – Museum of the Diasporas in Tel Aviv, some sample of the development from ancient days till now of Jewish families (the same are on sale as posters). This prolongs somehow the “census”. Who are we? Where did our ancestors go? Yikhus-יחוס / pedigree is a must, either fictive, real or someway interconnected. When Moses proceeded to the census, he certainly faced a rather similar social problem of rationalization as we have at the present with population statistics. But he might have been cooler about the statistical figures. It was a problem of management and functioning. Families were certainly split, social pressure was exercised with much power on women, girls, children but this kind of a structure was certainly not stable. People had to rely upon others and other clans. We have the same in our mishpachah system: “shafach\שפך = to join, unite, secure”. Genealogy shows interest in history. It also proves that links have been broken, family ties broke up, especially by the time of the Haskalah\הסכלה (say, Modernism) in Jewishness. This showed very clearly it became impossible, in a secular westernized society, to ban (cherem\חרם) upon individuals or communities, or even to take any real community decision toward them.

In that sense, traditional Chassidic movements have preserved a lifestyle that other groups did try to imitate: the Amish, Mormons, Russian Orthodox Old Believers, inter alia. “Mishpachah” is more than any concept for a Jewish person: it means that everywhere in the world Jews would help and show warmth, give a hand or two, feed or allow to support intelligent (or messy) projects. When some years ago a famous Israeli bank advertised that “here is your mishpachah\פה משפחה שלך!”, they did not notice that Christian and Muslim business establishments had used the same slogan because of the strong ties required for the coherence of the society.

The Muslim “Umma – nation” has the same “clan of our ancestor houses” structure, as some Eastern Oriental Christians or new charismatic movements born in the West (though strongly rooted in the Oriental Christian traditions).

The Jewish communities lost a great number of members throughout centuries. Today, secularization, getting out of shtetlech-שטעטלעך/villages, the pogroms and the two world wars created a major crisis. In consideration of some historic viewpoints, the Shoah has just ended for a part of the European Jewries, and continues to quake along all calendars and agendas. But, how many youths, young families can truly attest that they are really Jewish? Then does the tremendous task to revitalize Judaism in its various “clans” is a challenging concern lining with the first census in the TaNaCH.. “Yad vaShem\יד ושם” (to provide a burial stele and a Name memorial” as mentioned by Prophet Isaiah) has been the perpetual combat of Jewish memory against the evil forces already shown in the wilderness. The census confirmed names and identities, functions and numbers. It allowed getting some sort of knowledge of the society. We continue to live in similar conditions as a “wilderness wandering people en route to the Land with God’s guidance”

A census also implies the ability to count. God said to Moses and Aaron to take a census “listing every male, head by head” (Num.1:2). This sounds a bit “male power”. Well, nobody could expect a matriarchal census of the Israelites in the wilderness, by listing some women. It seems that the system did not appear to be so relevant in some African, Indian tribes. Moreover, it is not Jewish even if today, the Chassidic way including one mother’s name (Avraham ben Chavah vs Avraham ben Baruch) is en vogue. “Take a census = se’u et rosh kol adat bney Israel\שאו את ראש כל עדת בני ישראל” means in fact: “count every head”. It is linked to “count, calculate, define the number”, i.e. two Hebrew roots: “safar\ספר = to cut, mark, write (record), count”. It is linked to “sefirah\ספירה” as we do it right now with the “sefirat Omer\ספירת עומר, i.e. a precise measure, meaningful to God, the counting of grain measures till Shavuot”.

True, the census is a “sippur\סיפור – an account, a story, a recorded document (which may presuppose some distance with reality or the choice of specific inhabitants as basic elements). “If someone were to be willing to count the mighty deeds of the Lord, he would be ruined (Berachot 9:12d – cf. Job 37:20). This means that God’s acts are too numerous and marvelous. In return, He did a wonder when He promised to Abraham and His descent that they would be as many as the sand and the stars. This first and promising census of the wilderness Israelites underscores the value of each being, each head. Each human corresponds to a sable grain or a star. It is frail and vulnerable. Indeed, it is easier to make a census of “heads” rather than “bellies”. “Heads” can be cut (misparah\מספרה = hair cut, as “safar\ספר”) but in Hebrew and Aramaic “rosh\ראש = head, heading, beginning” is connected with “rash/rosh-רש”(written without the alef) that means “poor, needy”, because “the rich can be dispossessed of property, i.e. lose what he owns if he does not learn the Torah”(Vayikra Rabba 34).

There are a lot of points in the reading portion of this week. It is a repeating pedagogical process that should allow us not to grow eggheads. To keep the simple wilderness mishpuche / mishpachah-משפחה clan emotional look and ties that fit us so well. Are we called to be so numerous as the sand? We have time to reach such a huge amount, some thousands years after Moses made the first the first census of our daddies. There is something similar in the Gospel: “Jesus saying: are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet, not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s (God’s) knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31).

This Thursday, all the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches will celebrate the feast of Ascension of Jesus, as his disciples saw him ascend to heaven and disappear from the human realm, forty days after his resurrection. The Eastern and Oriental Churches will commemorate the feast next week. This is a rich series of praying services performed once a year in a mosque at the top of the Mount of Olives, each Church celebrating under tents. This recalls Jesus’ Ascension and the Churches proclaim their faith that Jesus will come a second and final time in glory. This is parallel to the Jewish expectation to see the Messiah coming in glory in our days and speedily (Sukka 52a).

During the ten days that separate Ascension from the Pentecost, the Eastern Orthodox Church does not invoke the Holy Spirit (next Sunday and following Monday) in the expectation of the Spreading of the Holy Spirit “Who comes and makes her Dwelling in us”, as the Mishkan was guarding the people in wilderness.

av aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

May 18/5, 2009 – 24 deIyyar 5767 - כ"ד דאייר תשס"ט
M. Chagall: Madonna with the Fishes

Cum maxima patientia - Einheit und Bruderschaft (3)

At this point, it is certain that journeys on the footsteps of holiness in the Holy Land, Eretz Israel, Eretz Canaan\ארץ ישראל ארץ כנען is something most important and relevant for the contemporary bishops of Rome, heads of the Roman Catholic Church.

When reading the different news that are published or the breaking news that can be sent throughout the world and to the neighboring countries of Israel, it is still a reality that the event is hardly pending and catching in Jordan right now that the Pope left. Lebanon does inform the readers about the development of the trip, especially in the French-speaking news. The English-speaking press of the neighboring countries are rather vague. Egypt is far more concerned by the problem of pork slaughtering and the barriers that the Coptic Church and faithful have to face at the present. In Germany, the recount of the visit is viewed with special insights, also in Italy. In fact, the Vatican press Information Center exerts a real and rather strict control of the news. The French try to develop a rather neutral, directed toward a more favorable attitude to Judaism rather than an attitude to Israel, based on a journalistic news system that relies upon "La Croix" and specific Catholic media (KTOtv.com and "Radio Notre-Dame" linked, for the event to some former Lyons clerical staff). They also endeavor to launch a new online information service that is in fact connected to the unique initial root.

But I also get in contact with Croatian, Polish, German and Dutch and English-speaking "tourists/pilgrims" and journalists who would look at the event from a general very papal or conflictual problems of relationships in the Holy Land. Or political issues that it is impossible to avoid in such an environment. BBC, Reuters and other press agencies continue to inform on the line of scoops and actions, powers and difference.

On the other hand, "Haaretz" and the "Jerusalem Post" do inform about the declarations and speeches of the pope. They also comment and get a lot of feedback of different natures about the way the Israeli society accepts or is not interested in the event. Curiously, there are the two classical reactions: these days, many ultra-Orthodox youths would scream at me and spit and shout that I am a "damned priest". Others would laugh, mock or not utter a word, except that they show the man in cassock (not only me) saying "zeh komer\זה כומר = this is a priest = a idol worshiper".

In other contexts, people would very gently and nicely ask if the pope would visit all the Christians that live in the Holy Land. But it is not the main question at the moment and it seems that the forthcoming Eurovision song contest would much more be en vogue than the trip of the head of the Catholic Church. The Israeli media in other languages, especially the Russian press hardly recount about the trip - this is also the case for many countries where the pilgrimage is not considered as a "major" event.

Thus, it is interesting to reflect upon the purpose of a journey that aims to consolidate or strengthen the three monotheistic religions. It may also lead to some smoothing of real attitudes between the concerned religions. Why should the pope travel to the Holy Land and underline the plight we have to get closer together? It is the usual task of the bishop of Rome - though discussed at large - to be "the servant of charity". To serve the spiritual and human goal of love in this world into the resurrection.

The Custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Fra Pierbattista Pizzaballa, notes with insights that, in Israel and the region, there have always been numerous interfaith groups and associations or studying entities. But the contacts are getting rarer. In the course of the past nine years, as noticed by the Greek Catholic priest educated in France and widely known archimandrite Fr. Emil Shufani, the groups dropped by four.

It would be difficult for Pres. Shimon Peres not to be joyously positive or quietly realistic in his way. It is his character and mood. Indeed, the visit of the first and certainly last German Nazi-era survivor Pope Benedictus XVI represents a huge path ahead of ages of distrust, true murders and opaque relationships. Still, it re;ains a "scoop". Shimon Peres speaks of history and he is right. In terms of history we may have contrasted feelings.

In tradition theology, the Pope of Rome, bishop of the city, "presides to the charity of the Church" things needs to be clarified in terms of Christian theology. Pope Beendictus XVI is the first Western bishop of Rome who "dropped" his title of "Pariarch of the West". This means a sort of "unknown zone" spiritual activity of his that is not determined with precision compared to the other Eastern Orthodox Churches. This lacks a lot of clarity and subsequently is hardly trustworthy in a frank dialogue.

When Pope Paul VI and Patriarchs Athenagoras and Benediktos (Jerusalem) met at the mount of Olives in 1964, only very few people could envision that Israel would move ahead in such a way as to control the whole of the most important holy sites of Christianity. The main issue was to get to some honorable and credible conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (1965). It could not have been reached without the visit of the two heads of the Church in a cheerful town of Jerusalem that was divided by that time.
"Lumen Gentium" was the conclusive document adopted by the Coucil, defining the Church as "larger than the Roman Catholic Church" and then recognizing the fulfillment of the Body of the Resurrected.

"Nostra Aetate" is indeed a major document - not only for the Jews! With regards to them, it is comparable to a rather short document!The document underwent several drafts and corrections and was clear-cut shortened. It i like a "drop", let's be realistic! Drops are vital in our region! Drops can add to drops and irrigate some well-cultivated contacts. At times, there may be storms or dryness. We are not in a period of ecumenical dialogue. This is also shown with the papal visit to the Holy Land right now.

As said in the Gospel, "we can run till the ends of the world to get and try to save one soul and neglect those who are just in front of us" (Matthew 23:15). It is much more easy to use neutral terms and discuss about the possibility of reviving the relationships between three monotheistic religions born in the region than the correct the profound wounds and scars that affect the bodies of each part of the Church, just the Church. who wants peace? Shlomo-Solomon, the King of Israel, had asked for wisdom; he also stated that we do no see what is close to us but try to to decrypt and explain what is out of sight or far too much away from us. This is what is going on right now. This is why the journey of pilgrim Benedictus XVI is great: he makes very significant statements, in a very significant way and with much steadfastness. Just as he did during his other trips to Constantinople and other countries (France). He continues to point out the main theological fundamentals discussed over the past 70 years and more, basically in the Western Church.

The problem is that the Church of Jerusalem is ONE. This does not appear as evident as it did in hope in 1964. In the present, it is definitely impossible to try to reconnect or not to disconnect with the Jews and the Muslims who do have total different prospects, goals and visions about their spiritual development in the region; AND we cannot simultaneously try to reunify the ONE CHURCH of Jerusalem.

In some bizarre historical circumstances, the Moscow Russian Orthodox Patriarchate did it when it reached an agreement to gather the Russian Moscow Church and the Church Abroad in the Holy Land and in other countries. In this view, late Patriarch Aleksei and new Patriarch Kirill of Moscow did achieve new and very risky moves that promoted the union of the Eastern Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition. They did focus on the unity of their Church or church splits in a way that sadly does not seem to succeed in the Catholic realm.

This is definitely not the case with the visit of Pope Benedictus XVI in Jerusalem. Compared with the last trip of Pope John Paul II only nine years ago, the whole of the journey is totally under control of the Israeli authorities and under strict review of the papal attitude toward Judaism and Israelity. In a country that is known for being very free and where any believer can attend any religious service, the litugical encounters and other events are counted, both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. In Jordan, people seemed to come and attend the meetings more freely. Still, at the present, Benedictus' travel is a bit on the side now in the neighboring countries.

There is a new Latin patriarch of Jerusalem who is a Jordanian citizen. In Jordan, the major actor of the Liturgical Vespers was Patriarch Gregorios III of the Greek Melkites (Catholics). He had been serving for 15 years in Israel and Palestine. I already mentioned that his attitude during the Vespers showed the gap that exists between the local Greek Catholic (and other Eastern Catholic and Oriental Churches in Jordan) and the Latin Church in a context where the Greek Orthodox believers are indeed a majority. Contrary to what is reported, the Pope is indeed a man of the West, deeply rooted in the Latin tradition; dealing with that tradition at first and a bit "aside" of the reality of the living Eastern traditions.

I maintain my total goal of always do my best to show the ONE JERUSALEM Church. This is at the core of my personal call, as a human being, as a Jew who is in the Church and as a priest within the Mother Church of Jerusalem. I explained this in many blogs and articles. I explained this at length and most often this "width, breadth, length and depth" of the Kingdom in my family family, married to a gentile Christian woman of faith met on the Galilee Sea and fianceed in Jerusalem, these personal facts and very harsh realities in their day-to-day accomplishment - has always been a call to total unity. This take more sense in the development of a Hebrew part of the Church because it does not only deal wit ha language, but a whole educational and spiritual inheritage that is linked to Jesus of Nazareth and thus call us to gather together and not to split in accordance to all the splits that happened outside of Jerusalem and throughout ages of cruel and insane hatred system. In Jerusalem, the Church must be ONE. If we run as in a shuk and market our flocks, we make business. And we should not have the nerve, in the very heavy hardships of our survives in the region, to pretend that we do not make business with souls or are afraid to do so because of rising pressures.

Christian in the Holy Land should be under one ecclesiastical entity and others should sustain a true understanding of the theological laws of faith.

In showing that reality, we have firstly to admit the "niches" and the fractures" that do exist. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic clergy could celebrate by shifts and/or together in the Middle-East. This was also the case for the Assyrian Chaldean clergy and the Ancient Oriental Churches. Today, whatever good words shared, the differences do exist; they are persistent and affect the dialogue inside of the One Body of Christ.

The humane and spiritual attitudes of the the representatives of the Jewish and Israeli State do not help resolving such a situation that worsens in spite of good intentions of blurred images of the context.

During his journey, Pope Benedictus will hardly incite or struggle for the unity of the Church as it developed around the Meditteranean Sea, to begin with Jerusalem. All the speeches and discourse dealing with the relationships with Judaism and Islam mask the difficult facts of faily confronting with New Israel that shows to be a "Verus (humanus) Israel". The same is applicable to Islamic States that scarcely accept the presence of the Christians, even if there is a real move in the Emirate countries, mostly because of the important number of expatriate workers from Christian countries.

There is nothing to be compared with 1964 and the search for unity between East and West Churches. In Israel, the Greek Melkites and the Eastern rite traditions are more likely to be close to the Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions. This has not changed since the day of Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Locals are imperiled and foreigner twist back and forth in view to find a reason how to stay in the region.

This explains the rather strange request of Jonah Metzger, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, who asked the Pope to consider the resolution of the hidden Jews converted during the Shoah. He dared add to abstain to exercise any act of conversion toward the Jews. Good gracious! This is a dynamic in-born tendency of the Christian Church(es) and then he should firstly ask to remove any prayer for the Jews on Good Friday!! It would be so easy to prove that all the Churches are just driven to this proselytizing activity. The new thing is that they now face a strong Jewish proselytism and revival of positive Jewish and Israeli identity that would never step down as previously in the history. The requirement proposed by the Chief Rabbi is readily a breach into the whole Christian structure and could never be uttered before.

Tomorrow morning, just a few hours before flying back to Rome, the Pope will pay a visit to Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. He heads the Eastern Rum Orthodox and historically represents the Mother of all the Churches of God. The situation has drastically changed since late Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem welcomed Paul VI and Athenagoras in 1964. We were at a time that was a sort of preliminary opening to some dawn of the Church. To begin with, Patriarch Benediktos was veyr positive towards the Catholics. He was als overy realistic and always repeated that locally speaking, the Rum Orthodox Church of Jerusalem should not be really afraid of the Jews or the Muslims. The real authentic and constant threat was showing from Rome. This was a cruel heritage of history: from the sack of Constantinople to the Crusaders' plundering of Jerusalem, time has come to show real forgiveness inside of the Eastern and Western parts of the Body of Christ as proclaimed over the two thousand years.

There is a special spirit here, in Jerusalem. It cannot be wiped out or removed so easily. It is too close to Judaism and to Islam, to Oriental traditions and the newness of Israel. In this land, nobody has the right to oblige people to deny their identity. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Jesuits were asked by Russian children to be educated as Byzantine believers; they had heard the Jesuits could serve in the Oriental rite. The Jesuits did it and many children returned freely to Orthodoxy. Not obliging people to become like chimpanzees and chameleons. We have the same task to achieve here, but it concerns the unity of Christianity without imbalance between the two "Lungs of the Church".

At the moment, dawn is a bit darkening. Still, we are in the time of a dawn that shall deploy over the forthcoming centuries. Chilly times. The streets of the Old City will be closed and the public will not have totally free access to the Mother Church, the Holy Sepulcher (for a prayer...) and a visit at the Armenians. The stores and the shops will be closed. This shows the real meaning of the journey, maybe a journey through illusions for our days.

We use to repeat like parrots here: "Everything will be okay, good". I do believe it will be so because ultimately all things only belong to God. I m still convinced now that the phrase of Saint Luke about "the time of the pagans" is a developing reality : "Jerusalem shall be trampled down by the gentiles until their time is complete" (Luke 21:24). It is showing deeper and deeper. How strange that the Pope leaves the country on the eve of the Samaritan woman Sunday; Jesus said: "salvation comes from the Jews" John 8:58).

In terms of conclusion for this note:

I had written the note at different moments of the day. Then, towards the end of the afternoon - it was 6 pm. in Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate, I had a lemon tea and walked back to my home at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Wow, the pavement was brand clean, whiter than any usual or possible white for these old stones! Fresh watered throughout the day. I stopped, as usual on Thursdays evening, at the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation. The priest sang beautifully in Arabic and I left after the Gospel. There were very few people in the street. In front of our St. Dimitrios school there is a plaque in Latin that reminds that Pope Paul VI had visited the house in 1964. "Welcome" greetings are written on the Holy See white and yellow colors in Arabic and "Herzlich Willkommen" in German! There is a portrait of Benedictus XVI under the plaque. He will certainly pass and this will be mentioned soon.

The shops were closed. There was a great group of Israeli "local tourists", guided by an Israeli tour guide who explained the contemporary history of this part of the Christian quarter. A normal Israeli group composed of of young and rather mature people. No local Christian people. The hair-dresser shop was half closing while the grocery owner was arguing with some special Israeli Policemen in charge of checking that all shops are closed. They also check the locks. And suddenly a second great group came up the street toward New or Jaffa Gate. A group of a lot of young religious Jewish girls! They were speaking loudly and singing all the way joyously.

The scenery was really incredible! When I came the first time in the Old City, in this part that includes the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the compounds were full of nuns, monks of all denominations that could still greet each other. When Pope Paul II visited the Holy Land, we still had this open atmosphere. Times were changing, but softly. I was convinced the minute I entered the place 12 years ago for my ministry that "the time of the gentiles is over". I have no specific or personal wish. God knows how to dispose of our destinies. We are also responsible for our actions personally and as societies, groups, denominations.

The media can write whatever they want. There are facts they better know. There are things I have the task to store for memory because we are also witnesses. Curiously, tonight, the Christian Quarter resembles some ghetto/shtetl and people are removed from the steps of Benedictus, the one who is supposed to be blessed (Benedictus) by coming in the name of the Lord.

Un point de non-retour. A non-return point.

Strange! Some time ago, I was exceptionally coming back lately around 11:30 pm. home. There was not a soul at Jaffa Gate! Total silence, absence. On the way to the Patriarchate, I saw two Israeli soldiers. We knew each other because they were often stationed on the square. They did not understand why I was there: "You get home immediately, you know, quick, quick, hurry! Putin (the Russian President) is about to pass here in a few minutes.

Cum maxima patientia - some time in the Katholikon (2)

Cum maxima patientia - Geduld u. Weisheit (1)


I pay a lot of respect to Joseph Ratzinger. True, his life, his path, his reflection are indeed so deeply rooted in our contemporary history. As a theologian, I had the pleasure to be published in the Communio review, the International Catholic Review of theology on some occasions. He was, at that time, responsible for the review in Rome. His is a great theologian and it would be totally ridiculous to ignore this aspect during his visit in Israel. The German nation has given the worse and the best to the Jews. They have developed very strong and profound theological studies about Judaism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Hans Urs von Balthazar was another man of God, a God-seeker, just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Karl Barth crossed the way that could lead to some dialogue between Judaism and Christendom in its Western civilized part.

I celebrated the Divine Liturgy this morning as I do every week. It is mainly in Hebrew, but often a lot of Modern Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian some Arabic and Greek and any other language if required by the participants. Today was a special day. It was (it is over now) the 9th of May, i.e. the celebration of the end of World war II for the Soviet Army and the Eastern European countries. We are never really aware of the opinions that are so wildly passionate, especially in Israel or when reflections deal with the Jewish people. Firstly, the non-Jews try to compete to show how better they can understand the nature of the related issues, if any. Or, on the contrary, infuriated passion can lead others to stubbornly reject any kind of recognition of whatever Jewish existing system, if any!

This morning was special because as it often happens, I had Ukrainian faithful and thus we partly celebrated in Ukrainian. Because of the end of the war, there were also two prayers in Yiddish in memory of all the victims - Jewish and non-Jewish who perished during this terrible period that we define today as the "Shoah".

Joseph Ratzinger's mother dialect is Bayrisch, i.e. the same initial High German dialect of Bayern/Bavaria and Regensburg where Yiddish started its long and all-over-the-map-European and more journey through hell and beauty, humanity and compassion, humor and sense of life. I am convinced that Joseph Ratzinger is thus much more connected to our Israeli society than any other people would ever suspect. True, they would suspect, but not in a positive way.

I knew a very nice and amicable Jesuit, a German. He was 17 years old on May 9th but was caught by the Soviet Army on the 8th of May 1945; therefore, he was taken to jail and he spent many many years in Russia, in prison. He could also supposedly be accused to be a member of whatever open or underground Hitler-something.... In fact, just as Joseph Ratzinger, he was looking to becoming a priest, was against the Nazis but had to forcibly cope with some of the pending rules at that time. He paid a high price, became a very specialist of the Russian iconography and gently welcomed every person to teach them how to get to the real human face of the "icons" showing "divine situations".

We are driven by scoops, not human or spiritual realities in the region of the world. It does not mean we don't know how to manage. We are struggling for our life, our lives, our survival. And history has been a series of tragedies. We can criticize the journey to the Holy Land as it is developing for Pope Benedict XVI. As a pope, a man, a priest, it is normal for him to come and visit the places where the history of redemption is showing with much subtleties. We have time to consider why the Pope of Rome is paying a visit and not, e.g. Patriarch Bartholomaios of Constantinople. It is evident and normal for the new Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill I, to come to Jerusalem. Late Aleksey III had come after his election.
Of course, the prestige of the Pope and Rome is so important that things are special.

But we should also consider some other aspects of Germany in Israel. Prof. Gershom Scholem, lining with Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, had initiated the department of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was a typical German-born thinker and he paved the way to many meaningful insights that he and others developed in the country. He reflected upon many philosophical matters that do meet with the spiritual questioning of cardinal Ratzinger. Gerschom Scholem had also the nerve to oblige the young Jewish scholar David Flusser to teach Christianity at the Hebrew University, which was a yoke for the new immigrant from Prague, a German speaking Jew that recently had converted to Jewish Orthodoxy! David Flusser accepted and dedicated his life to a task that not obvious in his days, neither for himself nor for the nascent Israeli society. He never taught in Hebrew - with a few exceptions - and his books were only recently translated into Hebrew and published.

On the other hand, this means that Joseph Ratzinger got along his own path with the way the Israeli secular society envisions faith and philosophy according to more scientific prospect. I thought of that during the morning celebration. It is possible to consider that the Ukrainians and the Jews are only linked by the horrible past of the pogroms, assassination, murders perpetrated by the Ukrainians against the Jews. No, there are indeed a lot of positive aspects and Israeli society does show, at the present, how Jews and non-Jews who for a great part come from the Ukraine or were deported from there, can get along peacefully beyond all the tragedies of history.

Indeed, it depends on how we consider history and anticipate the future. There are many reasons to think that the visit is also a huge combat between different parties for power and taking the spiritual lead, in any, in the region. Islam develops everywhere in Europe; it could be stopped in Vienna and the Ottoman empire could not capture some areas. Today, it is simply a matter of internet, migration, human flow from various countries to other nations and States and it is a fact that Europe is getting "Muslim". It is true that the references of our history are mixed with the failures and successes of Islam vs. Christendom, some periods of co-existence with Judaism as in Spain (Cordoba).

Let's be aware of the very confrontation that exists at the present between the re-emerging Eastern Orthodox Churches and the frontiers they have to put in order to get shielded from some new crusaders who may not understand the still shaking shock that affects the Oriental Churches in Greece, East Europe and Jerusalem, the whole of the Near and Middle East.

Again, it would be ridiculous and "childish"and even "churlish" to pretend that the visit does not carry together with a real pilgrimage, the sophisticated intermingled hardships that every denomination, nation and culture must face right now, in particular in the State of Israel. Still, we welcomed so many young German people in the two past decades, some made their home here in the country. It is a huge sign of "living and silent reconciliation". The German politicians could speak in German for the first time at the Knesset, with limited and controlled protest. Today, some Israelis would appeal to the Supreme Court against the Pope for "stolen belongings". We need here to utter such things, but would ever thought that the Vatican flag would hang in the streets of so many survivors?

There were a lot of tourists and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem this afternoon of May 9th. Inside of the Holy Sepulcher or the Church of the Resurrection, there were crowds of Russians, young and older, poor or rather wealthy, flooding like swarms and eager to discover the Holy Land. As I was welcoming the Ukrainian faithful this morning and seeing so many of them in the Old City, I could not help but think of late Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytzky, of Lvov (Lviv, Lemberg) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. A giant of the faith, beyond all norms as stated Prof. Gutmann (previously in charge of YAd VaShem). He has saved so many Jews, written a famous metter "Thou shalt not kill - Nie Ubyi" (1942 directly linked to the fate of the Jews in the concentration camps). He read, spoke Hebrew and Yiddish and had journeyed to the Holy Land with a large group of Ukrainian believers in 1916; He allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to get the permission to enter Europe (France), thus allowing her to grow during the period of the communists. He is still not canonized by the Catholic Church and not recognized as a "Righteous among the Nations" by Yad VaShem.

I often suggest to the faithful to read the books written by Metropolitan Sheptytzky, in particular his "Trudy - Works". He spoke the language of his time, and had the nerve, the courage to face the problems. And these were very similar to those we have to encounter insode of the present-day Israeli (and Palestinian) society. The real problem is that we cannot trust too much for the moment. There are many people who are "too much". They are not left aside. They do not comply with the standards defined by the West European culture or ways of thinking.

Pope Benedict XVI called today to open the gates to mixing the different segments of civilization. There is one point that does not appear. Until last world war, we had been living according to a pattern of civilization that was and is still rooted in Sumer, then between Mesopotamia and Egypt, Eretz Canaan and Israel. In the present, the world exploded, grew much wider and 2000 civilization systems are questioned about the way they can be released from the bonds inherited from the past. Newness obliges us to conceive new structures, new waves, new developments and we may not be ready t o welcome such a spiritual and human "abandonment" to newness. What is true in the West is not real in the East and vice versa. It is stunning with regards ot the media and information that simply gossip about non-reliable facts or data. Everything can be questioned by any "alien" reflection system.

I came back to the Jerusalem Patriarchate at the end of the day. I have no television and usually listen to the radio. At the entrance, the gate-keepers were looking at the Jordanian program. The Vesper service was broadcasted, live from Amman, in the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of Saint George. I was glad to recognize Patriarch Gregorios III (Ltfi Laham, the former Greek Catholic archbishop in Jerusalem and Israel/Palestine. A great man of faith, who developed a lot of social and medical services and is very concerned by the social, educational development of the Arab Christians. He continues to write many very insightful articles about the subject.

The gate-keepers who are Arabs were singing along with the choir and the "Melkite patriarch". Indeed, the Arabs are beyond any splits that affected the Church of Jerusalem. They feel at home, simply at home. I recently explained that to a tv program. But there was more. Gregorios III was leading the Service. You could feel he was managing the celebration. The Pope was sitting, frail, a bit shy and it was evident that he was not used to such Oriental (Byzantine) services. In the public, all sorts of bishops, patriarchs were reading the text in Arabic and the atmosphere was typically local, i.e. "bon enfant". It was not aloof, stiff or blasé. Then, something happened, oh a simple thing at the end of the service. The Greek Catholics (as the Greek Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox) use to sing "Eis polla eti - many years wishes!" in Greek. This is usual in the region and can be sung either in Russian, Romanian or other tongues. It consist of mentioning the name and the titles of the "patriarch or head of the Church". They know of course that they have to hold the two candelabra (the first with 2 candles: human and divine nature of Christ) and the other with 3 candles (Father, Son and Holy Trinity, among other explanations) and they cross the two candelabra in order t omake a sign of blessing toward the faithful.

Benedict XVI was left with the two candelabra, holding them with timidity while his servers were also very surprised. There is definitely nothing pathetic in such a behavior. He was certainly tired, was caring for his speeches. Still, rituals and the way we serve - Liturgy is the action/work of the whole body of the faithful and it is a living act and therefore, in such a circumstance, it also show the existing distance that does remind us of the internal split between East and West in the Catholic and Orthodox Church born in Jerusalem.

The miracle is that the Light continues to be given with faith and much desire to be more authentic.

Arutz 7: Rav Lau Cautious on Papal Visit


Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau explains Pope Benedicts’s two “mistakes” and how he differs from the last pope – but says we shouldn’t rebuff his visit to Israel.

Speaking with Arutz-7’s Hebrew department, Rabbi Lau, now the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said:

‘The current pope is totally different than his predecessor. John Paul II was a bishop in Krakow during the Holocaust, saw the Holocaust with his own eyes, and did not agree to baptize any Jewish child given over by his parents to Polish neighbors or to a church for safekeeping. He said, ‘We owe a debt to our older brother, the Jewish People.’ These are facts; I can even name names."

“But the current pope was born in Germany and was a member of the Hitler Youth," the rabbi said. "I don’t know if he was in the German Army, but his background is totally different than that of his predecessor.”

_________

REMARK:

This position should be taken into account and also corrected: the so-called "bishop Williamson" was not ordained by the official and recognized Catholic Church, but by a schismatic archbishop, Mgr. Lefèvre; bsp. Williamson is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church; he only asked to be recognized and eventually installed, which is not the case. The mistake is constant and is bad because it is false.
I am convinced that Joseph Ratzinger, in the whole of his life and after-war reflection and the reflection he conducted with the most significant German philosopher of our time is more updated and able to in depth iunderstand the real dimension of the Shoah - even much more than a lot of Israelis and Jews in the present. This does not appear right now because we are are pain; Israel knows the horrible price of solitude, harassment and opaque replacement by the others. In that sense, Rav Lau's call is still important.He is one of our surviving consciences, of a world that passed.
(av aleksandr)

The Vatican’s official biography for Pope Benedict XVI states, “During the last months of the war he was enrolled in an auxiliary anti-aircraft corps.” His Wikipedia entry states, “he was drafted at age 16 into the German anti-aircraft corps. [ then trained in the German infantry, but a subsequent illness precluded him from the usual rigours of military duty.”

The Pope's Two Grave Mistakes

Rabbi Lau, himself a child survivor of the Holocaust, stated that the current Pope “made two grave mistakes, in my opinion, in his relations with us over the past year, casting a shadow over the entire issue. First, he agreed to reinstate Bishop Richard Williamson, who denied the Holocaust, and who said there was no systematic murder of Jews. [Williamso said that what happened was that ‘only’ 200 to 300,000 Jews died in the war, but not in the Holocaust, because he says there was no Holocaust. He also said there were no gas chambers. The pope agreed to reinstate him after he apologized – but even then he didn’t retract his words, but said only that he wouldn’t have said them if would have known that they would offend his friends in the Church…”

Pope Benedict’s second grave error, Rabbi Lau said, “was at the Durban II conference two weeks ago. Everyone knew that it would be a stage for incitement against Israel and that the star would be [Iranian President Mah Ahmadinejad… But despite this, the pope announced that his representatives would attend and that he blesses the participants. Many countries boycotted the conference, including the U.S., Poland and Germany, but the pope sent a delegation. The European delegates who were there left the hall when Ahmadinejad spoke – but not the pope’s delegates. They remained there throughout the whole speech.”

Despite the above, Rabbi Lau says, “We must not rebuff the visit. We need not bend over backwards or flatter him, but it should not be rejected. This is a visit initiated by the pope himself so that he can follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. We must welcome him, if only for the fact that millions of Jews still live in the Diaspora, and many of them in places where the Catholic Church is strong, such as Latin America, Poland, Ukraine and elsewhere. We must not give our enemies ammunition or pour fuel on the fire; we must not endanger even one Jew.”