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An Opportunity Lost In Silence


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Special Note: I am interrupting the sequence of my columns regarding Kollel wives to comment on the events that have unfolded during the past few days. There is a saying in Yiddish, ‘Z’er feel mohl es is shver tzu redden, ober es iz noch shverer tzu schveigen’ – ‘Very often it is difficult to speak, but it is even more difficult to remain silent.? Such is the sense of outrage that I and every decent human being must feel in face of the shameful silence of the Pope during his recent visit to Syria. Our people are being killed, our innocent little children are barbarically murdered. Even as I write this column, two young boys have been slain, their heads crushed by stones, and the Pope visits Syria, a hotbed of this type of terrorism, and not only does he refrain from speaking out, but he remains silent while Bashir al Assad vilifies our people and calls for further violence.

Almost 30 years ago, at Hineni’s first t’shuva gathering at Madison Square Garden, I spoke out against the ominous silence of the Princes of the Church during the Holocaust. A letter arrived soon afterward from a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York assailing my remarks and demanding that I apologize. In response, I wrote an in-depth documentation (later published as a booklet entitled ‘The Church and the Jew’ by our Hineni organization) of the vicious anti-Semitic stance of the Church throughout our long and painful history. Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, courageously published that article and printed thousands upon thousands of additional copies for distribution to the general public. But that was more than a quarter of a century ago, and since then, we have been assured that changes have occurred in Church Doctrine. Pope John Paul II was reputed to be different. Indeed, he made gestures of apology to the Jewish people for the centuries of oppression, forced baptism, and slaughter that the Church has inflicted upon us.

But this past week in Syria, in one fell swoop, he disabused us of all such illusions. The ‘new’ policy enacted by Rome remains the same as it has ever been. Unfortunately, that which I so carefully documented 30 years ago is as valid today as it was then. Alas, nothing has changed.

Not too long ago, it was Hillary who fell into the Arab trap. It was she who sat by in silence while Suha Arafat accused Israel of poisoning the drinking water of innocent Palestinian children. We were enraged, but Hillary is a politician, and what Suha said cannot compare in evil to the venom that spewed forth from Assad – but most importantly, the silence of the Pope, a man of G-d, from whom we have the right to expect more.

Some people might argue that the Pope was a guest in a foreign land and couldn’t very well have objected to the hateful diatribe of his host. Such arguments don’t hold water. If, in face if evil man must speak out, who, if not the Pope should do so’

Thousands of years ago, Pharaoh had three principal advisors – Bilaam, Jethro, and Job. When the ‘Jewish problem’ came up for discussion, Bilaam recommended the murder of all Jewish male infants. Jethro (the future father-in-law of Moses) protested and had to run for his life. Job, upon witnessing all this, concluded that it would be futile for him to speak out and remained silent. And it was for this silence that he was later condemned.

It’s natural for people who experience pain, even from a minor injury, to cry ‘Ouch!’ Such a reaction is an involuntary reflex. The one who is hurting does not calculate, ‘What’s the point of my crying ‘Ouch” It won’t help anyway.’ His reaction is automatic, beyond his control. If he remains silent, if he does not cry out, we can assume that he did not feel the pain with any degree of intensity. Job remained silent when Jewish blood was shed, and the Pope remained silent when the Jewish people were so viciously attacked by Assad. Obviously, he did not feel any outrage, nor was he pained by these heinous calumnies that were once again flung at us.

When I was a little girl growing up in Hungary, I remember how on Sundays and Christian holidays, our good neighbors would shout odious epithets at us, calling us ‘Christ killers.’ It was this climate that made it possible for Hitler’s henchmen go about their gory task.  No on protested, no one cried out,, and today, 53 years after the Holocaust, after myriad interfaith dialogues and visits to Rome by Jewish leaders, we are back where we started from. Syrian President Bashir Assad called upon ‘all good Christians and Moslems to unite against the Jews – the enemies of G-d – who betrayed and tortured Jesus,’ and the Pope listens to it all and remains silent.

To be sure, this silence does not impact upon us. We have survived silence before. In face of every blood bath – inquisitions expulsions, gas chambers, crematorium – we survived, but this silence is tragic for all those who place their trust in the leader of the Church. He let them down…

As I write this article, it is Parashat Emor, and I have always maintained that the parsha illuminates the events of the day. It is in this parsha that we study about ‘Kiddush Hashem: ‘ bringing honor, glory and sanctification to the Name of G-d. What an awesome concept. G-d invites us puny mortals to sanctify His Holy Name through our words, through our deeds, through proclaiming G-d’s eternal truth. By championing the cause of justice, compassion, and loving kindness, G-d’s Holy Name can be sanctified.’

How differently events could have unfolded had the Pope borrowed a page from our Torah and raised his voice on behalf of truth and justice… He could have said, ‘Mr. President, I, as the Prince of the Church of Rome, cannot sit by silently while you vilify the Jewish people who endowed humanity with the Word of G-d. I cannot be a party to these lies that gave rise to 2000 years of persecution, suffering and martyrdom. I cannot allow this moment to pass. The world is waiting for us to usher in a new dawn for humanity.’ But the Pope remained silent, and an opportunity was lost.

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