Maybe I am overly sensitive about it because my last name is Rosenberger, and people would inquire about my Jewishness with intent that made me suspicious. Exactly why do you need to know? Exactly why is establishing this important? It sensitized me to something I might have never realized: that haters will single out Jews in ways that you and I can only begin to imagine.
Never mind that we are German Mennonite by name. It doesn’t matter. I watched people bore into my mother with the same question. I was proud of her that she always refused to answer. More than once I saw her turn up her nose at the questioner, respond “God’s chosen people!” and walk away in a huff. Why was I proud of her? Because to answer such questions invariably made us feel like the disavowal of, “Oh no, we are not one of them!” Better to not answer at all.
Courtesy of our First Congregational Adult Education leaders, this Sunday at 5 pm we will watch a film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer at church. Bonhoeffer was a leader in the German Confessing movement, one of the few Christian bodies in Europe who opposed Hitler and stood with Jews during the darkest years of the 20th century. Martin Niemoller was a pastor in this movement.
Niemoller said, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Niemoller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp, and regretted not speaking out much sooner.
Hundreds of Jewish Community Centers have suffered bomb threats since the start of the year. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, led by Morris Dees (the college roommate of Habitat for Humanity’s Millard Fuller), over 892 hate groups are active and alive within the USA. Those numbers more than tripled during the two terms that we had our first black President. They’ve spiked and energized again since the beginning of 2017, as indicated by bomb threats.
We must take this very seriously. For as Christians, we have a special relationship with Jews. Christianity is impossible and makes no sense without having been built upon the foundation of Judaism. Nearly every time Jesus says something we think to be brilliant, he is merely quoting the Torah, the Psalms, or the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible. Karl Barth, another pastor in the Confessing movement, once said that to become a Christian we must all in some sense first become a Jew. Barth said that Jesus’ life and ministry, his death and resurrection were only a reconfiguring within one man of everything that had come to pass in Judaism for generations. Judaism and Christianity agree on most everything, except upon the Messiahship of Jesus. And having said all of this, let us be completely clear, that Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus was a Jew.
Maybe I am overly sensitive about this because in college I lived with four Jews as the only Christian. Not only were our religious conversations spirited, candid and searching, these four supported me as I went to divinity school, when my Christian family and friends did not. Bob, Howard, Eliot, and Ed are part of who I am. I could no sooner turn my back on them or their children, than I can cut off my nose to spite my face. See you Sunday morning and afternoon!