William A. Gralnick
It is an old coal mining warning. A canary was lowered into the mine for a while. If it died the miners knew that the mine was too filled with poisonous gas to enter.
In the modern era, the expression evolved as a warning about anti-Semitism and racism. The Jews were the new canary. If a society turns on its Jews then in short order it would turn on its other “foreigners.” This we see today: Nazis in front of synagogues, synagogues attacked, nor its Asians and of course people of color, especially noticeable color shortly added to the list.
This brings us to a news note from the Jewish Journal in south Florida, published and distributed by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper as originally run by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The headline seems innocuous enough or at least the first half. of it does. “Christian seder with challah…” We have this phenomenon, actually an oxymoran, called the Jews for Jesus. They celebrate the Jewish sabbath and Jewish holidays with a decided Christian twist.
Challah, a delicious, famous egg-bread is braided or twisted in shape. Now comes the rest of the headline “….in the shape of a cross.” Innocuous it no longer is. Let’s take a look at why.
First is religious stupidity. One family totally didn’t get it. The seder marks a period in which Jews are forbidden to eat things with leaven. It is break out the Matzah time, start rolling the matzah balls and whipping up the matzah brei time. Cross or no, like they said in the Bill Clinton campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Jews can say, “It’s the bread, stupid.” You don’t eat bread, challah or not, on Passover.
Then we have the “if we call it a dog then it doesn’t matter if it quacks” approach. The Journal quotes a family member as saying, “Today we celebrated Passover in our own way for the first time as a family. We had a modified Seder modified seder to start with a reading of the first Passover and recognizing Jesus as the final Passover lamb sacrificed for us.” Mind you, the so-called “first seder” comes from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. Mind you I did not, and will not, call it the Old Testament. No where in that Bible during that Seder do we read about Jesus, he being the sacrifice, and it being the “final” seder. This approach takes the Passover celebration and turns it into an op ed piece. Some go so far as building a bridge from the Jewish testament to the Christian. They take the afikomen, a symbolic piece of matzah that is hidden for the children. A prize is given for its finder. Low and behold, what is found has now been proclaimed the bread of the Eucharist.
If it were left as polemical arguments fine but when people get beaten up, flayed, burned at the stake, or tormented with semi-automatic weapons, well we’ve left polemics in the rearview mirror.
To me this is a “you can’t have your challah and eat it too” situation. Jews believe one thing, Christian another. And there are dozens of other faiths that believe yet other things. As an Evangelical pastor friend said to me, “Let’s let it be. We’ll get the answer when we get, or don’t, to heaven.” I liked that approach.
Here is what Jews don’t believe and what born again and other devout Christians do: that Jesus was born from a virgin birth to his mother Mary. The son of G-d, he was killed on the cross, and rose to the Heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father. This is a version of what is called the Apostle’s Creed. Jews believe that there is no division of the “G-dhead” and that you can not call yourself a faithful Jew if you believe in anything other than the one, true G-d. There’s plenty in there to quibble about but it pretty much covers that basics.
We could continue this by citing what Moslem’s believe, what Buddhists believe, what Hindu’s believe and so on. It would be equally interesting and provide equal hours for quibbling but space does not permit. A good text on comparative religion would help the curious.
So we come to the end of it, but with a story. Two former colleagues of mine, both from Brooklyn decided to take on the role of peacemakers. Both from Brooklyn, one Jewish and one Italian, they both spoke pretty much the same cultural language. The Jew, Irving, created a seder ceremony that covered all the bases but it was Passover 101 so the family of his Italian friend Joseph, and family, could hear and see the seder story before they eyes and ears. The two families came together in celebration. For the unfamiliar a good seder requires a lot of food, a lot of wine, and a lot of time. Both teachers, the men thought at the end that going around the table for some “what did you think?” commentary would be fun, interesting, and valuable. Joe wanted to start with his elderly mother. “So mom. What did you think of Irving’s seder.” Smiling in pride over what had just taken place at her table, she exclaimed with a broad smile, “Sonny, at’s a da best story of the Last Supper I ever heard. Irving, it was wonderful.”
As ruth anne from Laugh In would have said, “And dat’s the troot.” For me, it was the way religious difference should be handled, with peace, love, and respect—at least from my perspective.
Most Jews are thrilled with the end of Passover. It’s a long haul that takes care and dedication. So Bill isn’t thrilled to be dragged back into it. This whole subject is so annoying that he’s ready to punch up Amazon and re-read, “The War of the ITchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn” just to turn that frown upside down. He’s also waiting for summer that will bring the sequel, “George Washington Didn’t Sleep Here.” It’s a book about his college years that if he had read before he went…he might not have gone… See you next week.