The Rabbi Wonders When We’ll Discover Our Communal Gag Reflex

This post is by my dear friend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, in which he reflects from a Jewish perspective on the Jews for Jesus video about which I posted last week. He wrote it for Yom HaShoah, which is today’s commemoration of the Holocaust.

I sometimes wonder how much murder, hatred and contempt it takes to provoke a collective expression of utter disgust—a shared communal gag reflex.

The Kansas City murders of three innocent Christians by a known White Supremacist anti-Semite close to Passover shocked most Americans, but this vulgar 73-year-old bigot is no surprise; even his timing was logical.

Terrorizing leaflets passed out in the chaos of Donetsk, Ukraine said authorities had “…decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.” The leaflets were written for the expressed purpose of terrorizing Jews, but disavowed by all authorities in Donetsk. Again, we heard all the correct words, labeling even the threat of such requirements as Nazi-like and disgusting, but in order to remove the sting of the leaflets we began reading that this was a “fake” act of anti-Semitism.

We were disgusted, but when we found out that it was just a false threat, we failed to follow up with our original disgust and affirm that the creating and passing out of such leaflets is an intentional act anti-Semitic terrorism. Donetsk is 700 km from Kiev where the infamous Babi Yar massacre of 34,000 Jews took place in 1941, but those were Nazis, these leaflets only threatened registration of the Jews—from a “fake” government.

Then just in time for Good Friday, I was led to a new YouTube video that puts Jesus in Auschwitz. With Easter and Passover now past, and this Sunday night and Monday as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day for the global Jewish community, I offer this plea to the Christian community as Jews gather to remember.

The video stages the selection process outside the infamous gates at Auschwitz. Two Nazis make the decisions about who will work and who will go to the “showers,” as the YouTube Jesus comes up carrying the cross, the SS officer selects Jesus for death with the punch line, “Just another Jew!” My vocabulary is too limited to express my experience of this video.

Writing about this obscene video obviously provides Jews for Jesus, a “Messianic” Christian missionary group, with free exposure, but remaining silent about this newest outreach to Jews dismisses their intentional defiance that there are basic communal standards of decency. There is a website dedicated to the video with a collection of readings explaining why the Holocaust is a valued and necessary venue for a mission to the Jews: thatjewdiedforyou.com.

This grotesque act of Internet Christian mission demands that we ask: shouldn’t this make us gag in utter disgust?  Sure, a Jew is the asking that question, but this video is not just another Jewish problem. This video is a Christian problem because Christianity has chosen to institutionally and communally remain silent about such Missions to the Jews. Funding and the distribution of Jesus in Auschwitz have one purpose, converting Jews. This video is a public communal act of Christian desecration.

Jews know that there will always be anti-Semites who want to murder us. Jews accept the reality that when there is chaos there will always be a few who use the terror for a cover so anti-Semitism can be picked out of the garbage heaps of history. But Jews will never accept Christians who trivialize the Shoah for the purpose of diminishing the Jewish community—again! This is a question of that common decency that affirms the basic trust of any interfaith relationship.

I want to know if the diverse and collective Christian community is willing to share a communal expression of disgust: With all that continues to plague the human spirit, we must acknowledge our need to wretch that anyone could produce, distribute and justify the demeaning of even this memory!

Joseph A. Edelheit is the Director and Professor of Religious and Jewish Studies at St Cloud State University in St Cloud, MN. He has also been a rabbi for more than 40 years.


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