Further reflections inspired by the most recent Town Hall meeting I was able to attend (“Shall We Change Our Name?” on September 2). Last month I wrote about the challenges of being a Christian at UUCPA. Something else I realized as I listened to the open-hearted sharing is that something I take for granted, something I’ve known since before I could put it into words, is not obvious to everyone who did not grow up immersed in Judaism: Christian terms are particularly hard for many Jews to adopt as their own. Let me see if I can explain why.
Anti-Semitism is subtle, and largely a non-issue for U.S. American Jews of my generation, but its scars are not so easily forgotten. Survivors of the Holocaust populated my synagogue and their stories were told firsthand – an education for which I am grateful. Members of my own family fled Eastern Europe in part because of its hostility to Jews, and most Jewish U.S. Americans have such a story in their backgrounds. Growing up Jewish, one learns about pogroms, conversions under torture, and other persecutions that Christians never even hear of. And most of the time, this anti-Semitism has come wrapped in Christian clothes, committed for the sake of “the church.”
It’s not that I grew up with a particular suspicion of Christianity. My parents taught me by example that the only measure of the worth of someone’s religion is what kind of person it makes them, and Christians abounded among their moral exemplars. My mother joyously sang Bach’s Passions in the New Haven Chorale, and I accompanied her and other Jewish members of the chorale in Christmas Day carol-singing at the hospital, smiling at each other at lines like “Christ the Savior is born”– we didn’t need to believe it, to sing it, for those who did. I helped my best friend decorate her Christmas tree and learned to make pysanky Easter eggs from a Ukrainian friend. We knew that people who truly followed Jesus’ teaching would never turn on us, both because Jesus himself was Jewish, and because he taught love and acceptance. But none of that erased the knowledge that a long enmity existed between our faiths.
That enmity can weigh on people who consider joining a religious community like ours, even though we are explicitly welcoming of Jewish practices and don’t require Christian ones. Awareness of the lives cut short in the name of “the church” can make it hard even for the most passionate new Jewish-UU to say the words, “I’m a member of a church.” I am religiously multilingual and don’t mind going to “church” (where I’m a “minister” who’s hailed as “Reverend”), but I get it. I hope that our congregational conversation has helped people who grew up without this awareness to begin to get it as well. If so, whatever we call ourselves, we’ll have advanced in our understand- ing and acceptance of each other. —Blessings, Amy