January 11: Testing coexistence

The former Toowoomba Synagogue was now a Lutheran church, and we were refused permission to visit the site.

Letters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Letters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Testing coexistence
Sir, – Your fascinating profile of Shlomo and Ruth Brunell (“Under His wings,” Veterans, January 4), who were once Lutheran ministers in Brisbane, Australia, reminded me not only of the difficult relationship between Lutherans and Jews (what terrible things Martin Luther said!), but of an incident in peaceful Australia in which I was involved in the 1980s.
After addressing the centenary service of the synagogue in Brisbane I went with a busload of members of the Brisbane Jewish community to the provincial city of Toowoomba for the reconsecration of the Jewish cemetery.
The former Toowoomba Synagogue was now a Lutheran church, and we were refused permission to visit the site.
(Although the erstwhile Toowoomba Jewish community had been an honored sector of the city, we were Jews after all!) So we stopped the bus in the street, got out and said Tehillim [Psalms] on the sidewalk, and went on our way.
The writer is emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney.
Christmas and Jews Sir, – The pathetic yet quaint need of assimilated Jews to partake of Christmas trees and celebratory dinners is hardly what connects Jews and Christmas nowadays (“Sufganiyot and Santa,” Books, December 28). Indeed, the importance of Christmas to Jews has become one of huge economic consequence as this holiday has evolved into a major orgy of over-the-top spending, with most of the billions wasted on gifts, greeting cards and decorations migrating into Jewish coffers.
Consider that the toy, fashion, jewelry and department store industries are virtually 100 percent Jewish. The liquor industry is largely Jewish as well. And the greeting card industry is significantly Jewish.
Oh yes, the Christmas decoration industry is 100% Jewish.
Indeed the only commercial aspect of Christmas from which Jews are conspicuously absent is the business of killing trees and camping out curbside in the bitter cold to sell them.
Hence, the impact of Christmas for Jews cannot be underestimated.
Nor can the charitable yields to (hopefully) Jewish causes that result from this annual frenzy of material profligacy, beneath which is buried what was once, for Christians, a profoundly meaningful holy day.
J.J. GROSS Jerusalem
Sir, – Even “Theodor Herzl himself had a Christmas tree in his Vienna home,” it says in “Sufganiyot and Santa.” Even? Especially! Although Herzl may be the most revered father of Zionism, his views were anything but Jewish. He adamantly refused to circumcise his only son, Hans. After Herzl’s death, Hans converted to various denominations of Christianity.
He committed suicide at the age of 39 on the day of the funeral of his sister Pauline, who died of a heroin overdose.
Hans left the following suicide note: “A Jew remains a Jew, no matter how eagerly he may submit himself to the disciplines of his new religion, how humbly he may place the redeeming cross upon his shoulders for the sake of his former coreligionists, to save them from eternal damnation: A Jew remains a Jew.... I can’t go on living. I have lost all trust in God. All my life I’ve tried to strive for the truth, and must admit today at the end of the road that there is nothing but disappointment.
Tonight I have said Kaddish for my parents – and for myself, the last descendant of the family.
There is nobody who will say Kaddish for me, who went out to find peace – and who may find peace soon.... My instinct has latterly gone all wrong, and I have made one of those irreparable mistakes, which stamp a whole life with failure. Then it is best to scrap it.”
Herzl’s third and youngest child, Trude, actually died the death of a true Jew in the Germany of the 1940s. She and her husband were both deported to Theresienstadt, where they perished and were subsequently cremated.
Amos Elon wrote a very powerful and poignant history of German Jews from 1743 to 1933, so aptly titled The Pity of it All. Of the 500,000 Jews who lived in Germany before World War II, 70 percent had either converted to Christianity or were completely acculturated into German society. Needless to say, it got them nowhere good. Kosher and Christmas do not go together.
In the words of the famous philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Jerusalem Post Magazine would have done well to promote a book other than this, with all its dangerously misguided messages to contemporary Jewry.
Ginot Shomron
Waiting for ‘emet’ Sir, – In response to “For the sake of Heaven” (Rethinking Jewish Life, December 28), Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit- Halachmi suggests that the way to end the strife of the Women at the Wall, and all the discord between the different sects of Judaism in Israel, is by compromise. She is petitioning for peace among the Jews.
Which Jew doesn’t want peace among his brethren? Which father doesn’t yearn to see the day that all his family members will be at peace? Yes, God is waiting for His children to make peace.
The Gemara states that the reason for the downfall of the Second Temple was sinat hinam, baseless hatred among the Jews.
Our job, in these days awaiting the Messiah, is to make peace among our brothers.
The question is, at what cost? Yes, there is more than one way to live a Jewish life, but this does not mean that all ways of Jewish life are emet, truth. The foundation of a Jewish life must be the Torah, and a life inconsistent with the Torah is not emet, which must be defined by God, not man. True peace, the peace that God wants from us, cannot come without emet. Peace must truly be for the sake of Heaven.
I am writing this letter because I, too, am yearning for peace among my Jewish brothers.
Compromise can only be an option when the two sides are working with emet. I want there to be understanding between us. I am waiting for peace. I am waiting for emet.