Tag Archives: Dan Hennessy

Yom HaShoah in Church

Passover this year was not a festival of freedom for Alisa Flatow of West Orange, New Jersey. The Brandies junior was rendered brain dead by a piece of shrapnel on April 9, when a Palestinian suicide bomber drove his van of explosives into a busload of Israelis near Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip.

-Ismar Schorsch
“To Love Our Neighbor is Not Enough,” pg 413, May 6, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Kedoshim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

No one is ever to say, “I am too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation.”

“The Ethic of Stewardship,” pg 417, May 10, 1997

In short, holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.

“What is Holiness?” pg 419, April 23, 1994

You may be wondering what all of these quotes have to do with Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m sure Schorsch’s commentaries on Parashah Kedoshim were unassociated with any thought of Shoah, but with the commemoration beginning tonight (Sunday, April 27th) at sunset, Schorsch’s articles on holiness are refactored in my mind into a memorial for the dead and a cry to the living.

I’m writing this before attending church on Sunday morning. I can’t get away from the counterpoint of Christianity’s history relative to the Jewish people and however unmeaning, the Church’s contribution to Hitler’s ghastly atrocities.

I commented several weeks ago on my decision not to attend Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services at church because of how it affected my wife last year. It seems somewhat ironic that I should select Yom HaShoah as my opportunity to return to corporate Christian worship. I hope it’s not a mistake.

My recent reflections on Purim including its meaning for the Church and sadly finding the Spirit of Haman in the Church, point to the relevancy of certain Jewish observances to Christians, especially as a point of education and elucidation.

ShoahIf any body needs to be reminded of Shoah and how the screams of six-million murdered Jews continue to echo down the dark tunnel of history and into our present, it is the Church.

I don’t say this as a way of blaming current Christianity for the Holocaust or any of the other atrocities that have been committed against the Jewish people and Judaism over the past two-thousand years or so, but as a cautionary tale and a reminder that we don’t have to return to the sins of the past. As I’ve said before, Evangelicals are abandoning support of Israel and the Jewish people in droves. The stage is being set in Europe and America for a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred.

How soon we forget.

Which is why we must not only remember but we must teach. We must remind ourselves of the horrors of the past and we must educate the next generation that the return of the Spirit of Amalek is only a heartbeat away.

So my church attendance today will also be a silent reminder, or maybe a not so silent reminder, to my fellow Christians of what this day means to them…to us.

I have a t-shirt. I can’t recall the name of the company that produced it. I bought it many years ago, at the approach of Yom HaShoah, along with the others in the congregation I used to attend. The company making it wanted to sell six million of them, one for each victim. I don’ t know if it worked out that way. I hope it did. I want to represent one of six million. I want to be a reminder of one Jewish soul who died needlessly because of evil men and Christian indifference.

This commemorative t-shirt cries out that Shoah must never happen again. I wear it every year at this time, which is usually during the weekdays at work, as a witness. Only one person has ever asked me what it meant. He seemed surprised when I told him.

RemembranceI normally go to church dressed in “business casual” clothing, but dress pants are hardly suitable attire with a black t-shirt, so I’m “dressing down” for church today. I’m also dressing up, so to speak, and by “up” I mean elevation, both informational and spiritual. My clothing will be a badge of warning and of purpose. We must all do something today and tomorrow (and always) to remind the world around us of what they’ve forgotten, and to tell the news in the world around us to those who have never been told before.

My friend Dan Hennessy is, among other things, a “Holocaust educator, author, and activist.” He has a motto for his teaching which I like.

Education is resistance. Join the resistance.

Rather makes you feel like a freedom fighter when you say it out loud. But that’s who we are when we speak of Shoah, when we tell others what Yom HaShoah means, not just as a piece of history, and not just as something meaningful to Jewish people, but as a vital reminder to the Church” that we, as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, have a responsibility and a duty to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God, never to forget and never to let our children forget. We must never let the world forget about the day when the world went mad.

Dan’s research and teaching led him to write a book: Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust. I’m fortunate enough to own a copy which I reviewed last year. At less than one hundred pages, it can be read in just an hour or two and serves as a perfect devotional for the remembrance of Shoah.

What do you do on Yom HaShoah?

You can learn more than I could possibly insert into this brief missive. You can read the story of a Holocaust survivor and put a living, human face on the Holocaust. You can watch video reminders of the past so you may strengthen your resolve that the past does not also have to be the future for the Jews. You can realize that Shoah is continually lived out in Jewish experience today and in the history of modern Israel.

The Holocaust did not end in 1945 when the Allies liberated the Jewish survivors from the Nazi killing centers and concentration camps. Still shadowing the world’s moral, political, and religious life are the consequences of what happened, and did not happen, in the period of 1933 to May 1945 in predominantly Christian Europe.

-Daniel Hennessy
“Educational Activism,” pg 82
Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust

I quoted Ismar Schorsch above in saying that we are not “too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation” and “holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.”

Yesterday’s Torah Portion Kedoshim includes the following:

Hashem spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God.

Leviticus 19:1-2 (Stone Edition Chumash)

These words, or something similar, are not foreign to Christians:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

Remembering Shoah and teaching others to remember is an act of Holiness and perfection. It is honoring God, for God asks each of us to love kindness and to do justice (Micah 6:8).

candle shoahToday, I will stand in the sanctuary among other Gentile Christians as a witness. Pastor Randy, who lived in Israel for fifteen years, is on vacation this week so he won’t be leading services. Pastor Bill will be giving a sermon on David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) and my Sunday school class will be teaching on Ephesians 2. Nothing wrong with any of those lessons.

But given what is on my heart as I write this, I can think of something better to teach in church today. I pray that there’s someone who will listen.

This year, Yom HaShoah begins on Sunday, April 27th at sundown and ends on Monday, April 28th at sundown. If you can teach someone about Shoah then teach. If you know little or nothing of Shoah, then learn.

Remembrance and Repentance: A Book Review

shoahBone wet
I watch
as Council members
under rifle
dig obediently
and the earth opens up
to swallow my rabbi
and his sons.

Mach schnell! I hear in my nightmare…

and as I turn to leave,
I notice that the earth still moves
where they buried my heart.

-Lois E. Olena from her poem “Behind the Monastery”
quoted from The New Anti-Semitism

Daniel Hennessy’s new book Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust is generously sprinkled with such “Holocaust poetry.” This one particularly spoke to me as I imagined the love of the Rabbi and his sons buried and still moving within Olena’s heart as their dead bodies were roughly interned in a shallow grave.

Hennessy’s book is written to speak to all of our hearts, especially the Christian heart. His book begins by juxtaposing the betrayal and murder of Jesus with Christian indifference to and even tacit approval of the death of millions of Jews at Nazi hands.

In the Gospel account, we hear the good news of redemption that Jesus rose according to the Scriptures. In the book of Acts, we see Peter — who at the moment of his betrayal was no doubt one of the most miserable human beings on earth — eventually lifted up out of the grip of despair, rising to become an apostle and dynamic leader, a fisher of men used powerfully by God at the very onset of the Messianic movement.

As for the indifferent Christian European world that stood outside the circle of doom, eyes to the ground, during the Holocaust era, it is as if Jesus alive and seated at the right hand of the Father, is looking straight into our eyes today, grieved by the ongoing Silence and indifference associated with the twentieth-century betrayal of his people. Unlike Peter, we as Christians have not yet been restored to fullest spiritual character.

-Hennessy, pp 16-17

That’s a most scathing indictment of today’s Christian church and Hennessy doesn’t let up on the comparison between the ancient betrayal of Jesus and the modern betrayal of his people Israel by Gentile Christianity. According to Hennessy, Peter stood outside the “circle of light” (pg 17) of the fire he warmed himself by as he wept bitterly, and so do we in the church who are beginning to forget the Holocaust and our part in it. As the last aging Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust fade and die, so does our own remembrance and even our own conscience.

Perhaps the circle is light, the light in our hearts, is what is diminishing in our world and when it finally grows dark and cold, what horrors will spring forth from the blackest night?

There’s hope, but only if we choose to remember and act righteously in the cause of justice.

This year, Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day was on Sunday, April 7th, so you may be wondering why I’m reviewing this book now. On a practical level, it was because I didn’t receive this book until last week. On a more important level, perhaps the most important level, it is because we do not dare to reserve our remembrance to a single day. When we limit our memory and our caring to just one twenty-four hour period, once it’s over, we can safely tuck away our guilt and our desire to see justice done back in its dusty, cardboard box, and shove it back on the top shelf of some forgotten closet or on a rack in our garage until next year, just like our Christmas ornaments.

But if we choose to read, to experience, to remember Shoah each and every day, then each and every day, we can allow the fire of righteous indignation to burn within us, we can ignite the flames of justice, and burn on the pyre of our own responsibility, lest we ever let ourselves and especially our children, forget.

R-and-RDan does an excellent job in this short book (less than 100 pages) of reminding Christianity that it was not just the Nazis who were guilty of atrocities. They were only the outgrowth of anti-Jewish history. It was our own nearly two-thousand years of church supersessionism that formed the massive foundation upon which rested Hitler, his camps, his ovens, and his bloody legacy.

And if there are Christians who do not feel responsible for the past and perhaps the future persecution, torture, and execution of Jewish people and of Israel, lest we forget, we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court, a King sitting at the right hand of the Father, who watches and waits and who will judge and the Earth. He will also judge us for what have done and what we failed to do.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:61-62

Jesus watches still. He looks into our eyes. And at his gaze, we also should remember the Lord, and remember his people, and remember Israel, and we should weep for the dead and their children and grandchildren. We in the church can either say “Never again” and cradle the children, the descendents of those who were once herded into cattle cars and driven into ovens, or we can use our own hands to do the herding and the pushing of these Jewish children into some future Shoah.

That is, until Messiah returns to judge us for who we are and what good or horrible things we have done.

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, every day I eagerly anticipate that he will come.

-The twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith

Moshiach is coming. Let him move in your heart.

148 days.