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May 23, 2015 / 5 Sivan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘church’

Methodist Conference Could Vote on Israel Divestment Motion

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Close to 1,000 delegates from around the world, representing 11-million members, are gathered at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference being held in the Tampa, Florida.

Throughout the 11-day session, delegates will debate the future of the Methodist church, which has experienced a significant participation decline in the United States. Over the last 40 years, US membership has dropped to 8 million, according to church officials.

Four years ago, the conference rejected a divestment motion. But the issue is being pushed again by anti-Israel members, objecting to “illegal settlements, segregated roads, checkpoints, a separation wall, home demolitions and other realities of occupation.”

Methodist Church Unanimously Rejects Divestment Resolution

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) voted unanimously against divestment from three companies which do business in Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights, according to a report by the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard came under attack by several bodies within the United Methodist Church, which recommended the religious organization sell all their shares in the companies.

GBPHB commended the companies for their human rights policies and codes of conduct.  The Caterpillar Company was acknowledged for providing equipment which “improves the lives of the Palestinian people,” according to the Israel Action Network report.  It was also noted that Caterpillar does not sell construction equipment to Israel, but rather to the US Foreign Military Sales Program.  Hewlett-Packard was complimented on its record of environmental friendliness, and Motorola Solutions was praised for its work in conflict areas such as Eastern Congo.

The Methodist vote took an opposite approach from that of the Presbyterian Church, which voted in 2004 to divest from Israeli companies.  In June of that year, the Presbyterian Church General Assembly issued one resolution stating that “the occupation… has proven to be at the root of evil acts”, and another calling on the US government to prevent Israel from building a separation barrier.  The assembly also adopted policies rejecting Christian Zionism.  In 2006, the Presbyterian Church backtracked, stating that it would only invest in companies involved in peaceful work in Israel and Arab occupied territories.

The World Council of Churches and United Church of Christ have also adopted divestment policies.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a pro-divestment resolution in 2005.

ADL Praises Mormon Church Prohibition of Holocaust Victims’ Posthumous Baptism

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

The Anti-Defamation League on Friday welcomed a letter from Mormon Church leaders, to be read during services this Sunday, in which they remind LDS members that Jewish Holocaust victims should not be submitted to the church’s online genealogical registry for proxy baptisms.

“Without exception,” reads the letter from LDS President Thomas S. Monson and other church leaders, “church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims.  If members do so, they may forfeit their new family-search privileges.  Other corrective action may also be taken.”

The church directive comes in the wake of attempts by some members to submit the names of famous Jews – including diarist Anne Frank, slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the parents of the late Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, and relatives of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel – for proxy baptism in violation of Mormon Church policy.

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, himself a Holocaust survivor, lauded LDS for their move and added: “As two minority religions who share histories as the target of intolerance and discrimination, we will continue to work with each other to bring greater understanding and respect to both of our faith communities.”

As Woody Allen once put it, ” The lion and the lamb shall lie down together but the lamb won’t get much sleep.”

Mormons Posthumously Baptized Anne Frank: New Claim

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The Toronto Star reported that researcher Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who revealed the Wiesenthal baptisms, said this week she found Anne Frank’s name in proxy baptism records dated Feb. 18, showing the ritual was performed in the Dominican Republic.

The new allegation came just a week after the LDS apologized for posthumously baptizing the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in temples in Arizona and Utah last January.

The Mormon church immediately issued a statement which did not mention Frank by name.

“The church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism,” the Salt Lake City-based church said. “It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

Elie Wiesel Wants Romney to Denounce Mormon Posthumous Baptisms

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

The Boston Globe wrote Saturday that Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel wants Mitt Romney to speak out against the Mormon practice of posthumously baptizing Jews.

“He is a Mormon, and since he’s running for president – the highest office in the world, not only in America – he should know what is happening, and he should have said simply, ‘It is wrong,”’ Wiesel, a professor at Boston University, said in an interview.

Wiesel’s comments could put Romney in the uncomfortable position of defending one of his church’s rituals that is little understood outside the world of Mormonism and has been the source of controversy with Jews in the past.

Romney’s campaign said yesterday that any questions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be directed to the church.

The church acknowledged earlier this week that Wiesel’s name and the names of his late father and grandfather had been entered into a genealogical database as candidates ready for posthumous rites.

Sister Rose Thering: Sister Rose’s Passion

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Sister Rose’s Passion is a documentary film on the life of Sister Rose Thering, a life that stood for love of Jews, for fighting prejudice, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. The film won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005, a year after it was made. And the heroine of the documentary, Sister Rose Thering herself received more than 80 humanitarian awards. Among them, the Anti-Defamation League’s Cardinal Bea Interfaith Award, was its first prize ever awarded to a woman.

It was in her early childhood that Rose instinctively rejected expressions of anti-Jewish prejudice. Born on Aug. 9, 1920, the sixth of 11 children, she grew up on a Wisconsin farm where Jews were spoken of in whispers, where in her parochial school catechisms and other religious texts portrayed Jews as Christ-killers. Rose, having learned of the stereotypical messages of intolerance early in life, found them truly troubling. She joined the Sisters of St. Dominic at 16, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Dominican College in Racine in 1953, a master’s degree from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 1957 and a doctorate at St. Louis University four years later. In recognition of her interfaith work, the Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies was established at Seton Hall in 1992; it has given scholarships to 350 teachers for graduate studies on the Holocaust.

Later, as a teacher, she examined the Catholic textbooks of her students critically and was shocked by what she found. She was in her 30’s and had been teaching for some time when she resolved to act against what she saw as a fundamental flaw in church teaching. “I had ordered the most widely used Catholic religious teaching material from high school and grade school,” Sister Rose recalled. “When I began to read, it almost made me ill.” She cited a passage that asked, “Why did the Jews commit the great sin of putting Jesus himself to death?” and another declaring, “The worst deed of the Jewish people was the murder of the Messiah.”

The result of Sister Rose Thering’s indignation was her study of anti-Semitism in Catholic texts and a dissertation for her 1961 doctorate at St. Louis University that propounded the evidence: textbooks and preaching that proliferate calumnies against Jews and Judaism.

In 1962, when Pope John XXIII convened the ecumenical council known as Vatican II, he used Sister Rose’s study to draft portions of the historic Vatican document “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Age”). It was this document that reversed church policy and declared of Jesus’ death “what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” Her conclusion: “The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by G-d,” is a most significant contradiction to age-old church doctrine.

“They were 15 lines in Latin,” Sister Rose commented later about Nostra Aetate, “but they changed everything.” Indeed, in Catholic texts, in sermons, and in other pronouncements of the church, a new attitude toward Jews was officially adopted and discussions between Catholics and Jews have been elevated to a more respectful plane. At Seton Hall, where she joined the faculty in 1968, Sister Rose established workshops on Judaism for church leaders and teachers, helped write a law mandating the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide in all elementary and high schools in New Jersey, and led student groups on 54 tours of Israel.

After her death at age 85, ADL’s Abe Foxman summed up Sister Rose Thering’s life: “She changed the course of history. She was a woman of valor who brought enlightenment, honor, scholarship, and pure passion to remembering and teaching about the Holocaust, to battling the demon of anti-Semitism and to challenging the ignorance and prejudice and the teaching of contempt for Jews.”

Hidden In Plain Sight: The (Jewish) Hague

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Beneath Baruch Spinoza’s smiling bust on his tombstone on the grounds of the Nieuwe Kerk in the Hague is an inscription of his famous motto, “caute” (written cavte on the stone, see image one), or “cautiously” in Latin. Between that admonition and the dates of his life – 1632 to 1677, cut short by an illness whose identity is hotly debated – is the Hebrew word “amcha” or “amach”, Hebrew for “your people” or “your nation.”


The word, which appears on a stone which was provided by David Ben Gurion, a groupie, is ambiguous, to say the least. Is the word’s subject God – meaning, “[Spinoza is one of] Your nation” – in which case the word evokes the declaration of 1 Chronicles 17: 21, “And who is like Your nation (k’amcha) Israel, a single nation in the land?”



Spinoza’s Tombstone

All photos courtesy of the author



Or is Spinoza the subject? Perhaps the church and its community were the true people of the philosopher excommunicated by the rabbis for heresy. If that were the intention, it would be doubly tragic, as Spinoza’s bones were discarded in the church’s yard after his friends and family stopped paying rent for his tomb. The inscription “amcha” defiantly and ironically marks the tomb commemorating a man who had no people and who, even in death, could not seem to rest in peace.


My first of several walks through the downtown area of The Hague occurred somewhat in a jet-lagged daze. Still, that alone does not explain the many Jewish monuments and buildings I walked right past without appreciating their significance. Even after he had shown me hidden Stars of David, former synagogues and a matzoh factory, it caught me completely off guard when Jewish tour guide Remco Dorr led me to Spinoza’s grave on the grounds of the church right across the street from my hotel.


Whether he was discussing the temporary posts and chains rabbis set up beside canal drawbridges to allow residents to carry outside the ritual boundary (t’chum) on the Sabbath or the cultural and economic gulfs between Sephardic (Portuguese) and Ashkenazi Jews in the 17th century, one cannot say too much about Dorr’s breadth of knowledge except that it was rivaled only by his enthusiasm for his city’s history.


From its start, Dorr’s two-hour tour reflected the Jewish crisis in the city which is the seat of the Dutch government. Before World War II, 17,000 Jews lived in The Hague. The Jewish population of The Hague today is about 2,000. The former shtetl is now Chinatown, and walking along Wagenstraat, strung with hanging red lanterns, one reaches a mini supermarket called U-Shop with a fa?ade of two ram’s heads and two lambs still intact, betraying the storefront’s prior identity as a Jewish butcher’s shop (image two).






The next stop on Wagenstraat was a 19th century synagogue and mikveh (used from 1844 to 1974), now a mosque (since 1979). According to Dorr, the only aspect of the synagogue (image three) that remains is balcony that was the women’s section. An inscription on a cornerstone close to the ground, far beneath the minarets, still attests (in Hebrew and Dutch) to the building’s origins: “The first stone of the construction of the sanctuary of God, this Ashkenazi congregation Yeshurun , the holy congregation of The Hague, may God defend it, which was placed on Tuesday, the 25th of Nissan, 5603 [1843].”


Walking from the synagogue-turned-mosque to Spinoza’s former attic apartment (17th century rent, 50 guilders per year), Dorr explained that Jewish scavenger hunting in The Hague is different from say Germany.


Whereas stone doorframes in Germany still divulge the locations of mezuzahs past, Dutch frames were made of wood, which has long been replaced. There are some inscriptions – Dorr noted one, “H. G. Klausmeyer, 1922″ in particular – that remain, but many landmarks, like the Jewish orphanage on the Paviljoensgracht, which was a holding place for Jews before they were deported during the Second World War, were destroyed and rebuilt.


A monument on the Rabbijn Maarsenplein square (named for the former chief rabbi of The Hague, Isaac Maarsen, and just steps from Spinoza’s grave at the first Protestant church in The Hague) is particularly poignant.


The square is the grounds of an old playground at a Jewish school where 1,700 children were rounded up before being deported to concentration camps. The sculpture, created by Sara Benhamou and Eric de Vries, consists of six empty chairs (inscribed with the names and ages of martyred children) arranged in a manner that conveys ladders leading upward toward the heavens. The chairs are surrounded by Hebrew and Dutch texts identifying the subject of the memorial. According to Dorr, there used to be seven chairs (an understandable number for a Jewish memorial), but one was stolen.



Storefront, previously Jewish butcher



The remainder of our tour addressed laws preventing Jews from being buried in the city limits, a former Jewish department store De Bijenkorf (which Dorr’s mother remembers being barred from as a Jew during World War II) and a former synagogue turned into a department store, which still has its foundation stone intact, and where rabbis insisted that no bathroom be placed on the site of the former ark. It also included a Holocaust memorial (image four), which bears the biblical quotation, “Remember what Amalek did to you Don’t forget,” and which Dorr said he was displeased to see so haphazardly placed so close to a restaurant.


In some senses, one would have hoped that there would be more spotlights and attention showered on the Jewish memorials and former synagogues in The Hague. Perhaps if they were more conspicuous, I wouldn’t have walked right past them the first and second and third times. But somewhere along the way, dazzled by Dorr’s engrossing woven narratives, it struck me that the hunt for The Jewish Hague required no reconfiguring or modification.



Holocaust Memorial



The Stars of David and former synagogues need not hit every pedestrian over the head. It is enough that they can be teased out and revived in the hands of someone like Dorr (though one fears he is irreplaceable and hard to imitate). Maybe there is no better metaphor for the Jewish life that was and is (albeit downsized significantly) in The Hague than a series of inscriptions and works of art hidden in plain sight.


“We have no idea where he is,” Dorr said solemnly, looking at Spinoza’s tomb stone in that church backyard. “He’s scattered around the church somewhere.” Can one imagine much more pitiful than that?


              Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


This article is the second in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/hidden-in-plain-sight-the-jewish-hague/2010/12/22/

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