After my parents ended up in Japan as stateless Jewish refugees from Egypt and Iraq, I was sent to Catholic missionary school in Kobe, because it was the only viable option for me to get an education at the time.
There, I learned that Hitler would go to heaven but my Jewish soul was eternally damned for rejecting Christ as my Lord and Savior. I was routinely scolded by the nuns about how stubborn we Jews were for not quitting Judaism.
The school I went to is now long gone, but the refrain I learned all too well still continues in one form or another. “Quit being a Jew.” “Quit Jerusalem.” “Quit Israel.”
When the Jew, Saul of Tarsus fell off his horse and had a seizure of faith that replaced Judaism with Christianity, he expected Jews to move on and get with his program.
The original Christians were Jews. When Saul/ Saint Paul founded the enlightened form of Judaism (Christianity) he expected that Jews, ALL Jews, EVOLVE into New Jews, known today as Christians.
There was no room for Jews to keep their traditions and remain Jewish. How dare we refuse to move on, let go and refuse his invitation to disappear?
This line of thought continues to this day.
Take for example the seemingly bizarre episode of Dr. John Strugnell, former chief editor of The Dead Sea Scrolls. Strugnell who was a Professor of Christian origins at the Harvard Divinity School was eventually fired after an interview he gave Ha’aretz where he is quoted saying that Judaism was “a Christian heresy.” He condemned Judaism; “It’s a horrible religion. It’s Christian heresy and we deal with our heretics in different ways.”
When I heard about his interview I thought back to my personal experience in Catholic schools.
Strugnell did not hide his feelings about being enraged that Jews, and now Israel, continue to survive as a people and as a Jewish country. It upset him deeply and he didn’t hide his feelings. He took it very personally, that the Jewish people “still” existed.
“The correct answer of Jews to Christianity is to become Christian,” he declared before his eventual dismissal.
In my schooling, I was taught that converting was the “correct answer.” It was imperative that sooner or later we Jews become Christians.
Why? I asked in fourth grade when my favorite nun stood me under the great crucifix in our hall and said “Racheline, why don’t you see that he is your God? He was a Jew, just like you.”
“If he was a Jew like me, why do I have to convert?” I asked.
The answer was penance in front of the statue of the Virgin Mary in our Grotto by the Chapel. Kneeling next to the statue of Bernadette I was forced to ask for forgiveness for my “stubbornness.”
In eighth grade, my last year at Stella Maris, I was thirteen and I came across a book on the holocaust. I thought I finally had a way to combat the prejudice I had endured since kindergarten. I would give my oral history book report on the holocaust, on what I read in this book and everyone would see what prejudice against Jews could and did lead to. I had no idea that my teacher, Mother Robert believed that the holocaust and Anti-Semitism was the natural result of our intransigence, our refusal to stop being Jews.
I didn’t know that the leader of the Catholic Church during the holocaust, Pope Pius XII, whose image hung in our classroom collaborated with the Nazis by staying silent, claiming “neutrality” while Jews were herded into death camps. The Vatican took a minimalist approach in intervening in the torture and murder of six million Jews. The Pope did go out of his way however to help those Jews who were baptized and “converted” to Catholicism. After the war, the head of the Catholic Church helped Nazis flee Europe and used his influence in Latin America to provide defeated Nazis with sanctuaries via “ratlines.”
I naively (and bravely) got in front of the class and gave my report. Most of the class was not aware of the holocaust. Our synagogue in Kobe, Japan was comprised of Arab Jewish refugee families like mine and holocaust survivors, but I didn’t know the details of the stories of the holocaust survivors until I read the book on Hitler’s “final solution.”
I accidentally came across this book in the tiny second hand bookstore by the Sannomiya train station on my way home from school. I was sure this information would make everyone give up Anti-Semitism.
I gave my report in front of my class.
When I was done, a classmate shot her hand up as I was getting back to my seat.
“My father (a known Nazi sympathizer) told me Hitler built good roads for Germany,” she said.
My heart sank and my confidence eroded as I heard the nun, Mother Robert reply, “Yes, he did build good roads for Germany.” Another hand shot up, “What happened to Hitler, would he go to Hell for killing so many Jews?”
“What if he repented before he died?”
Ah, a worthy discussion Mother Robert responded,
”Hitler was a baptized Catholic,” she explained, “so if at the last moment before his death, he truly repented, TRULY REPENTED, he would eventually (after doing time in purgatory) go to heaven.”
The silence was deafening. I the Jew, could never make it to heaven, but Hitler…
Shaken, I went up to her later. Surely she didn’t mean it. Mother Robert was very clear: “Jews will be punished until they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
Until we change. Give it up. Give up being a Jew.
And today, we hear more and more about Israel being a “rogue” country, where people feel free to actually discuss whether Israel should exist or not.
How does it make sense that intelligent people don’t care that most countries of the Middle East and North Africa were able to do what Hitler could not, that these countries are today virtually Jew-free. Since the inception of modern day Israel, these same countries have vowed to wipe out the Jewish state. How is it that Israel is singled out as the only country on earth with racism? The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement with the likes of author Alice Walker feels free to caution artists, telling them that performing in Israel will “destroy your soul.”
How different is all this from what the nuns taught me about “my soul” and the Holocaust?