We know practically nothing about her. What we do know comes from a single document written in 1947. From a family that included impressive Torah scholars, she was highly influenced by a man born and baptized a Catholic, raised for the priesthood, yet spent all of his adult years in the study and teaching of traditional Jewish texts, including the Mishnah and Kabbalah. And she saw a beacon of light in a new and fledgling organization dedicated to the promotion of the ideals of the Decalogue faith on a universal basis. Still, she was haunted by a tragic past.
Her name was Virginia Clark and she earned a Masters degree from Columbia University soon after World War II had ended. In 1947, she wrote a short essay describing her views of Israel’s role on the world’s stage and offering several examples of the individualism of a faith internalized. Her narrative revealed a personal reflection of her own self-struggle amid painful memories of personal loss. Her essay contained a dedication page. And that’s all we know about her.
While combing through the vast United Israel archives, I discovered the short composition by Virginia Clark, a piece that mentioned United Israel and a remarkable individual by the name of Aime Palliere.
Mentioning that she had been raised in the Christian faith, her further study and investigation led her back to the original mother-faith of Israel. She explained her search this way: “A mature scholar will logically go to the original source (language and people) for their facts and will arrive at mature conclusions. I use mature as not applying to age, but applying to the use one makes of their mind.”
She then cited several examples of remarkable single and mass incidents of the appeal of the Hebrew faith to others. Two historical examples were the conversion to the Hebrew faith of the King of Khazaria and his subjects in the second century A. D., and the conversion in recent times of thousands of Russians, whose present-day descendants are living in the Kirgis-steppes along the banks of the Volga and the Caspian sea. Then she mentioned Aime Palliere.
A French writer and theologian, Aime Palliere (1868-1949) was born into a devout Catholic family and as an adolescent began his studies for the priesthood. Instead, his spiritual odyssey led him first into the Salvation Army and eventually, as the result of a chance visit to the Lyons synagogue on the Day of Atonement, toward Judaism.
Though Palliere practiced the commandments of the Torah and lived the life of an ardent and ascetic Jew, he never made full conversion to Judaism. He was a Zionist who sensed the spiritual significance of the renaissance of the Land of Israel and the Hebrew language (which he both read and wrote well), yet he never visited the Land. Although he recognized only Orthodox Judaism as authentic, he became a spiritual guide to the Paris Liberal Synagogue and the French Reform movement. He also lectured at the Orthodox Ecole Rabbinique de France.
In 1928, Palliere published his autobiographical work “The Unknown Sanctuary,” chronicling his amazing pilgrimage from Rome to Israel. The book was later translated from the French by Louise Waterman Wise and published in English by Bloch Publishing Company in New York in 1985. Aime Palliere and United Israel World Union President David Horowitz exchanged warm letters in the summer of 1947 following an article about Palliere’s amazing spiritual odyssey that appeared in the United Israel newsletter.
At the conclusion of ‘The Unknown Sanctuary,” Palliere quoted the words of the famous Elijah Benamozegh, the rabbi of Livorno (Leghorn) in Italy, as he summed up universal history, envisaged from the viewpoint of the divine:
“Mankind cannot rise to the essential principles on which society must rest unless it meet with Israel. And Israel cannot fathom the deeps of its own national and religious tradition, unless it meet with mankind.”
Aime Palliere, the French Gentile, sought to convert to Judaism until encountering Benamozegh, who convinced him to accept the Seven Noahide Laws-the traditional Jewish formulation of the Torah’s universal teaching for non-Jews.
Virginia Clark wrote her short essay on June 15, 1947 soon after Nazi destruction had claimed the lives of six million Jews. It is the only record we have of her to this day. Perhaps the following lines of her dedication page offer a measure of closure, yet hope, for the new dawn she saw breaking over the deep darkness that was:
“Dedicated to the memories of my grandfather, Abraham I. Schindler of Munich, who died in the Concentration Camp of Theresienstadt; of my uncle and Hebrew teacher, Rabbi Elazar Steinberg-Rathenau of Berlin, and his wife Judith Schindler Steinberg of Munich and their three little children who died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz; of my relative Rabbi Dr. Jacob Neubauer, the spiritual leader of the Rabbinical Seminary of Amsterdam who died in the Concentration Camp of Berger-Belsen. May the souls of these martyrs rest under the wings of the Shechinah.”