Tag Archives: Jewish

The Jewish-Christian relationship, 50 years after ‘Nostra Aetate’

December 3, 2015

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Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul, gave the following remarks Dec. 2 at a banquet at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.

If you stand in front of Notre Dame in Paris and gaze up, you will see below the famous gargoyles and among the many sculptures, two particular figures in prominence, one on the left and one on the right of the main entrance to the cathedral. Synagoga and Ecclesia.

Synagoga representing the Jews is a female figure that is bent, with a broken staff symbolic of a broken covenant. In contrast is Ecclesia, also a female figure, representing Christianity that is upright and triumphant.

I mention this because when I first saw Notre Dame as a kid in 1982 it was in a context of harmony between Catholics and Jews. I never saw those sculptures as anything but history. That is the remarkable legacy of “Nostra Aetate” and the paradigm shift it ushered in for the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and Catholics to Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus and eventually to all interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Adam Spilker

Rabbi Adam Spilker

In the Jerusalem Talmud we are taught, “Upon three things the world rests: upon justice, upon truth, upon peace. And the three are one, for when justice is done, truth prevails, and peace is established.” In a world sorely in need of all three, it is important to celebrate an area where justice to the Jewish people was done and truth and peace became possible between Catholics and Jews.

No institution is an island and immune to changing times. When an institution as immense as the Catholic Church makes any change, it is done with considerable thought and prayer. Without addressing its many dimensions and manifold perceptions, I stand here tonight to praise the Catholic Church for a decision in 1965 that ushered in a remarkable new era for the Jewish people. For Jews used to taunts of being called “Christ-killers,” the power of this Vatican statement was breathtaking.

In many ways, 1965 captured decades of growing relations. In St. Paul, contributions for the beautiful cathedral that graces our skyline and is now over 100 years old, came from many people outside of the Catholic community including Jews. This parallels the funding of my own congregation, Mount Zion’s third building on Holly and Avon Streets finished in 1903 that came from across Minnesota from Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike. St. Paul with its more Catholic milieu than Minneapolis was in general more accepting of the Jewish community.

Protestant Christian churches did take their cue from the Catholic Church but it took longer. My congregation has a dialogue with a Lutheran Church, Gloria Dei, which is part of the ELCA. The ELCA did not come up with a parallel statement on clarifying history about Jesus’ death and the relationship with the Jewish people until 1994.

I remember celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” when I was given the opportunity to teach a partial credit “Jewish-Christian Relations” class at Duke University with my friend Ted Smith who became a Presbyterian minister. As students we were given the ability to design a class to be taught to our peers. When we decided to put together the class, it was at a high point for Christian-Jewish relations in America. There were biennial national conferences attended by hundreds of scholars, clergy and laity which I had the fortune of attending in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Connecticut. Today the interfaith landscape is more diverse and complex but thankfully still strong in some parts of the country including here. One teaching from that class I will never forget from Roman Catholic priest Raimondo Pannikar who says that we will never fully know whether the messiah has come or not, that is we will never fully reconcile theological differences. In the meantime, let’s roll up our sleeves and work for justice and peace in our community together.

Religious pluralism should never be taken for granted. Just listen to what some are saying about our brother and sister Muslims in America and around the world. We have a common covenant through Noah that has never been abrogated and we need to honor God by seeing everyone first and foremost as in the image of that God. Interfaith work takes commitment, persistence and trust. And it is essential in our world sorely in need of religious voices of tolerance and peace.

I am grateful for the efforts of the Archdiocese through Father Erich Rutten whom I have had the pleasure of working with over many years now and the partnership that the Minnesota Rabbinical Association has in the JCRC under the wise leadership of Steve Hunegs.

The Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Relations recently hosted a two day conference at the University of St. Thomas to commemorate this 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate.” There I learned from Professor Mary Boys (Union Theological Seminary, New York) about a recently made sculpture that captures the change in Church doctrine. It is in Philadelphia made for the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” Synagoga and Ecclesia are situated side by side, both triumphant, Synagoga with a Torah scroll, Ecccesia with a book of the Word, their equal covenants honored. Pope Francis blessed this sculpture during his recent visit. This is the vision of a world redeemed, ancient faiths in partnership. May our understanding across faiths continue to grow in our own community and may God grant us strength to sustain a world of justice, truth, and peace.

Rabbi Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple for the past 18 years. Mount Zion is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Upper Midwest, founded in 1856, and is situated in its third location on Summit Avenue. Rabbi Spilker works with his wife, Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker, the congregation’s first invested cantor, and Rabbi Esther Adler and Cantor Jennifer Strauss-Klein.

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Baseball’s Jewish slugger: Hank Greenberg

February 23, 2013

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GREENBERG COVERHank Greenberg’s name comes up less often than that of other baseball greats, even though he hit 58 home runs in a season, four times led the American League in both homers and runs batted in, twice was named most valuable player and is in the Hall of Fame.

But the slugger from the World Series-winning Detroit Tiger teams of the 1930s and ’40s deserves a place along side Ruth, Gehrig and Aaron, and Minneapolis writer John Rosengren presents persuasive evidence and compelling reading in a new biography, “Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes” (New American Library).

It’s a book about a man’s life, about homers, RBIs, slugging percentages and dramatic moments on the diamond in the era when the nation was glued to radio sets to catch the games. But Rosengren’s meticulous research makes the case that Greenberg is due recognition not just for the way he played between the chalk lines, not just for volunteering for military service after Pearl Harbor when he was the highest-paid player in the country, but for lifting up an entire people in an atmosphere of religious and ethnic prejudice

Greenberg was Jewish.

Jews didn’t play baseball. Jews themselves thought it not a worthy profession, and much of society at the time thought Jews weren’t built with the strength or attributes to play sports.

Hank Greenberg changed that, pushing assimilation forward for a generation of immigrant Jews and their children.

Sept. 10 was Rosh Hashanah in 1934, and the Detroit Tigers were in a pennant race. Jews were to neither work nor played on Rosh Hashanah.

But on that Rosh Hashanah star first-baseman Hank Greenberg went to the synagogue in the morning and in the afternoon hit one home run to tie the Boston Red Sox then another, walk-off homer in the ninth inning to win the key game that led to the Tigers winning the pennant.

With that balanced approach “He had begun to change the way Jews thought about baseball,” Rosengren writes, “and the way baseball fans — Americans — thought about Jews.”

Outright bigotry

Much the way Jackie Robinson would be heckled in the late 1940s and early 1950s when he became the first Black player to break the major league’s color barrier, Greenberg faced the anti-semetic prejudice of the 1930s. Opposing fans and players alike called out slurs like “kike” and “sheeny” when he came to bat.

Rosengren shares several anecdotes that tell what that was like for Greenberg, none better than the following.

Playing against Chicago one day, Greenberg was harassed all game from the White Sox dugout. As he was running down the first base someone shouted, “You big, yellow Jew bastard!”

After the game, Greenberg walked into the Chicago clubhouse and announced, “I want the guy who called me a ‘yellow Jew bastard’ to get to his feet and say it to my face.”

“No one moved,” Rosengren writes. “Hank walked slowly around the room and looked at each of them. . . . Not one of the dared stand up.”

Rosengren puts the ballplayer’s biography into the culture of the times, combining baseball stories with references to what was going on around the globe as well as what was happening in American life — Shirley Temple dancing in the movies, Walter Winchell gossiping on the pages of the nation’s newspapers and Detroit’s own Father Charles Coughlin spewing diatribes on the radio against bankers, Jews and Franklin Roosevelt.

The prejudice Greenberg faced plays against the background of quotas that were prevalent to limit the percentage of Jews in various areas of life in the United States, the bias he found in the media and the world stage, where Hitler’s ethnic cleansing would have a fateful impact on Greenberg’s career.

Warts and all

Greenberg is no saint, though, and this is no hageography. The star’s competitiveness at times makes him his own worst enemy. After four years serving in the Army Air Force during World War II — including duty overseas — steals what may have been prime years from his already outstanding career, Greenberg gets involved in the front-office end of baseball as a general manager and part owner, and at times is as ruthless as the front office people he battled when he was a player himself.

He crafts a team that in 1954 breaks the strangehold the New York Yankees have on the American League pennant, but his lack of skill in the public relations realm eventually gets him fired.

Yet he was also a man ahead of his time, advocating for a pension plan for ballplayers, arguing for baseball to drop the reserve clause, calling for a football-like draft to equalize the talent among the teams, championing interleague play and urging expansion to California, all of which eventually happened.

What Rosengren has done, it seems to this fan of baseball past as well as present, is bring to life a man and a baseball era worthy of being better known by those who love the game.

Like another Henry when Aaron was harassed by bigots as he chased the then elusive 60 home run mark, Greenberg too heard the catcalls and received the threatenting letters in the year he hit 58. America’s prejudices die hard, if they ever die.

But given the background of Nazism abroad and bigoted ignorance at home, Greenberg’s accomplishments deserve an airing with just the excellence Rosengren’s source-filled, reader-friendly, baseball-loving treatment provides. Perhaps he put it best:

“In a dark time, Hank was certainly giving the Jewish community something to cheer, but he was doing something even more significant: In an age when Jews were considered weak, unathletic and impotent, Greenberg stood as a mightly figure and, in his image as a home run slugger, a symbol of power. He changed the way Jews thought about themselves. And the way others thought about them.”

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German Catholics in WWII play role in modern mystery

February 16, 2013

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“The German Suitcase”  (Premier Digital Publishing, 2012) is one more novel to feed my World War II addiction.
Greg Dinallo puts complex, likeable characters into an interesting plot with flashbacks to Nazi Germany to fill in the mystery.
Prescient readers may solve that mystery relatively quickly, but that doesn’t make “The German Suitcase” any less of a good read.

german suitcase coverThe fictional story includes a family of Catholics who assist Jews to escape the Holocaust. The fact that a contemporary author is writing anything positive about Catholics makes Dinallo’s bit of fiction unique today.

Of course, the page-turning story was going along swimminglywhen for some unknown reason there is a gratuitous reference to how the Vatican has handled the clergy sex abuse crisis. For the love of God I can’t understand why Dinallo included that in the novel; it doesn’t do one thing to advance the plot.

But here’s a theory: Major publishers think it helps sell books if there’s something in them to bash the church. Have you noticed, too? I’d love to hear from those who’ve found evidence in other novels that either prove or disprove my theory. — bz

 

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