I Was Once the Other – Now I Know the Reason Why
My paternal Great-grandparents, Jacob and Tzila Krupnic, immigrated to the United States in 1899 to escape the suppression of Jews in Russia. One of Tzila’s brothers fled to Palestine, but the other seven brothers remained in Russia. In the Kishinev Pogrom of Easter 1903, several of Jacob’s family members were slaughtered. The pogrom began over a blood libel false accusation against the Jews for the murder of a Christian boy. The New York Times described the Kishinev Pogrom this way:
“The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well-laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews the day following the Orthodox Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “kill the Jews”, was taken up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep.”
When my Great-grandmother received the letter describing how Jacob’s family members perished at the hands of Christians, she screamed in horror. Later, Tzila’s family in Ukraine would be murdered by baptized Christian Nazis in 1941.
You can imagine the pain Jacob and Tzila would experience when their eldest daughter, Rose – my grandmother – converted to Christianity. It was as if Rose had joined in solidarity with the murderers of her family. After that, Rose became as one dead to her parents.
I vividly remember sitting in Rose’s kitchen and watching her bake delicacies to send to her parents for the Jewish holidays. She was longing for acceptance, but there was never a response. We were the outsiders – the other.
I would follow Rose’s faith and later attend Seminary to become a Christian pastor. My professors embraced replacement theology – the teaching birthed by the early church fathers proclaiming God had rejected the Jews and replaced them with Christians. This theology was the impetus behind the myth of the blood libel and other Antisemitic Christian beliefs that has led to the persecution of Jews over the centuries. I, too, embraced this false doctrine mainly because of the pain I felt for Rose and the feeling of being the other.
When Rose was dying, she laid her hand upon my head, blessed me, and made me promise that I would go to Israel and find her uncle’s family with the hopes of reconnecting after the many years of separation. Sadly, I forgot my grandmother’s heartfelt plea and spent the next several years as an Evangelical pastor who saw no theological significance for the Jews or Israel. Nor did I desire to find my Jewish family in Israel or discover my Jewish heritage.
There is an offense that comes with feeling like the other. I wish I had moved past the pain of rejection. I wish I knew in those years what I know now about why Rose became the other. I failed to understand the Jewish experience and the long history of Christian Antisemitism. I failed to see the reason why Jacob and Tzila were so painfully torn apart by Rose’s decision.
Remarkably – miraculously really – this all changed in 2002 while sitting alone at my desk in my office at the church I pastored. I was not thinking about Rose or my long-lost Jewish family, but I had a sudden overwhelming sense that I should go to Israel and fulfill my grandmother’s request. A few weeks later, I was on an El Al flight to Tel Aviv. When I arrived, I called my grandmother’s cousin, David. His father was Rose’s uncle, who had moved from Russia to Palestine not long after his sister Tzila had gone to America. In the telephone conversation, I told David I was the grandson of his cousin Rose and he asked me who Rose was. “Rose,” I said, “was the daughter of your aunt Tzila.
“Tzila only has one daughter,” David said abruptly. “And her name is not Rose”! He was ready to hang up on me, thinking I was an imposter when I began to name other members of the family. Somehow I convinced him I was related, and he invited me to his house for the coming weekend. When David greeted me, I was staggered at how closely he resembled my grandmother. He pulled out the book of family genealogical history, and there in Hebrew were the names of Jacob and Tzila Krupnic, the name of their son and daughter and grandchildren – but no Rose! David told me that he traveled over the years to Los Angeles for business and stayed with Tzila (Jacob had passed away), but there was no mention of a daughter named Rose.
Disbelieving, David called his sister in Tel Aviv, who had lived with Tzila as a college student at UCLA. Tzila had revealed to her the family secret that there was another daughter named Rose who had converted to Christianity, and she was never to tell the family in Israel. On hearing this, David immediately wrote my grandmother’s name into the family genealogy, and I was no longer the other. From that moment until now, I have sought to understand the Jewish experience of suffering because of Antisemitism – oftentimes a hatred that has inspired acts of violence carried out by Christians. The kind of Christian Antisemitism that led to the murder of Jacob and Tzila’s family – the experience of which led to the heartbreaking separation from their daughter. I wish that I had understood that experience early on. If I did, I would have known what caused the separation between Rose and her parents, that it was unavoidable, and I would have never felt like the other.
Someone once said that false doctrine always begins with an offense. It was that way for me, anyway. I fell prey to the heresy of replacement theology because of an offense over Rose’s rejection. In Christianity, the offense toward the Jews began with the early church fathers over the issue of Jewish chosenness. If the Jew is chosen, they surmised, the Christian is not and therefore is the outsider – the other. To remedy this, the fathers, with the ease of a theological pen, proclaimed God had rejected the Jews for their rejection of Jesus and therefore needed to be dealt with – often with violent methods.
Tragically, the offense continues. Churches and seminaries throughout Europe and America are dredging up the historic tenants of replacement theology. Age-long offenses tend to fester. It would go a long way in Jewish/Christian relations for pastors and seminary professors to take the time to investigate the Jewish experience of suffering due to the genocidal nature of the false doctrine of replacement. It is this experience that has led to the understandable distrust Jews often have toward Christians. It is this experience that inevitably led to the separation of Jacob and Tzila from Rose.
Knowing the historical Jewish experience of suffering at the hands of Christians may inspire Christian leaders who are teaching that God has rejected the Jews to rethink their theological leanings and work toward healing the age-long offense – an offense that has and will always lead to Christian violence against Jews. If I had known the Jewish experience, I would have known why I was the other and never taken the offense that led me to spend so many years of my life proclaiming a lie.