DAYTON CHRISTIAN JEWISH DIALOGUE

Minutes of Meeting

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Date: November 12, 2000

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall

Meeting Topic: Cardinal O'Connor Videotape on Jewish-Christian Relations1

Facilitator: Robin Smith

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair, presiding; Bert Buby, Corinne Coleman, Steve Coleman, Agnes Hannahs, Eugene Hannahs, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsberg, Eileen Moorman, Tom Oster, Ken Rosenzweig, Robin Smith, Dieter Walk, Suzie Walk, Bill Youngkin.

The meeting was called to order by Felix at 7:50 PM. Bert delivered the invocation which was the Lords Prayer, read in Hebrew. The invocation called for us to strengthen our commitment to each other.

Eileen said that she and Shirley Flacks met with Bert for lunch. They talked about a Dialogue retreat with Rabbi Jack Riemer. Rabbi Riemer is the former congregational rabbi of Beth Abraham Synagogue and has since that time been living in Florida. The retreat would be held at Bergamo and would be scheduled during one of the Dialogue's open months in the spring or summer of the year 2000. Shirley will take charge of inviting Rabbi Riemer.

Felix raised some issues about the Dayton Philharmonic's recent performance of the Saint Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach which he and Erica attended. Felix noted that the music was wonderful. The words of the Saint Matthew Passion, translated into English by Conductor Neal Gittleman, were projected above the stage. The translation included some very hurtful words with respect to Jews, including the well-known "blood curse." There was a discussion of whether such hurtful words should be deleted from such performances or whether they should be presented because they are part of the actual text. Also, if presented, is there an obligation by the presenters to explain in program notes how the words have been used as a pretext for anti-Semitic acts. Another issue was some reflection by Conductor Neal Gittleman in the program notes for the performance about his personal religious journey.

Jack made a number of announcements. Jack's name was printed in the New York Times as a supporter of a statement by the American Jewish Committee in support of Israel. Jack reported on the Ryterband Judaics Symposium which was held at Wright State University on November 7. The speaker was Prof. Steven Katz from Boston University. His presentations were on the topics of mysticisms and the Holocaust. Several members of the Dialogue were in attendance. Jack reported that the Vatican has been asked to intervene in the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Pope has issued a statement regretting the violence and urging the parties to learn to live together. Jack reported that the Judeo-Christian Commission, including six scholars, three Jewish and three Catholic, have been reviewing material on Pius XII and his role with respect to the Holocaust. Jack also reported that Dr. Ellen Fleischman of the University of Dayton's History Department, gave a presentation on the situation of the Arabs in Israel, using a documentary film on the injustice of Israelis with respect to the Palestinians.

Larry Briskin delivered a report on Islamic discrimination against Christians in Africa. One particular problem is the planned introduction of Sharia, Islamic religious law, in the Gombe state in Nigeria. Christians maintain that Sharia will make it impossible for them to practice their religion. Larry desired to bring this situation to the attention of the group, and wondered whether the group would deal with these issues.

Brother Tom Oster was introduced as a visitor to the Dialogue meeting. He is a Marianist and works at a school in Africa. He is in Dayton recruiting people of religious vocations to work in the school. He said that he is concerned about what is happening in Nigeria with respect to Islamic discrimination against Christians.

Robin Smith's Presentation

Robin began her program at 8:30 PM by delivering the remarks in the following four paragraphs.

Cardinal John O'Connor was the archbishop of New York, and he did a great deal to improve relations between Christians and Jews. He urged the Pope to open for research the Vatican archives of the Nazi time period, and he was instrumental in establishing relations between Israel and the Vatican. He was very supportive of Clark University's Center for Holocaust Studies, and the director of that center stated that Cardinal O'Connor championed the study of the Holocaust and used his office to foster stronger relations between Christians and Jews. When Cardinal O'Connor died in May of this year, one New York Jew wrote that she felt as if she had lost a good friend, and she credited Cardinal O'Connor with doing more than almost any other church official in making it clear that anti-Semitism is a sin.

In the video, Cardinal O'Connor quotes a few lines from Hitler, and I believe those few lines help to shed light on why the Holocaust happened, why Hitler wanted the Jews dead. Hitler said, "Conscience is a Jewish invention. Like circumcision, it mutilates man. There is no such thing as truth; one must distrust mind and conscience.... The tablets of Sinai have lost their validity." Hitler was right when he said that conscience was a Jewish invention. According to Thomas Cahill, the author of "The Gifts of the Jews," the idea of something being right or wrong, good or sinful, came from the Jews and their god. Pagan gods did not care how their worshipers treated other people, and the pagan gods set a very poor example of how to treat others. Pagan societies such as Rome saw kindness, mercy, and a forgiving heart as weaknesses. Ever since the events at Sinai, Jewish consciences have been very aware of the existence of right and wrong, and the formation of a good conscience--a conscience that realizes when it is encountering sin--is an important concept in Christianity, a concept which comes from Judaism.

If you are Hitler and you want to do things that you know will shock and offend conscience, then the logical thing to do is to destroy conscience. Once the Jews were dead, Hitler could do no wrong, because the people with whom the idea of right and wrong originated, would all be dead. Christianity, the daughter religion of Judaism, would be motherless and much easier to destroy, and since the mother was dead there would be no new children to pester people with the idea of right and wrong.

Hitler had a special hatred for the Eastern European Jews, and this is usually attributed to his hatred of Slavic peoples, but I believe Hitler especially hated the Eastern European Jews because so many of them were pious, practicing Orthodox Jews. They were living witnesses to the Law, and as such, they were the biggest threat to Hitler and his plans for the world. I once heard Dr. Laura Schlesinger talk about her first visit to a synagogue, and when she saw the Torah, the Law that God gave to the Jews who in turn were to be a blessing to all humanity, she said she was overwhelmed at being entrusted with such a profound task. It is a profound task, and it was because of this profound task that Hitler wanted to wipe Jews and Judaism off the face of the earth.

A Few Notes from the Videotape

Cardinal O'Connor said that he was very affected by reading Ellie Wiesel's novel, Night. O'Connor was particularly affected by the part of Night that reports that Wiesel's father was bludgeoned by a concentration camp guard for calling out Ellie's name. After being bludgeoned, Ellie's father called for his son, but Ellie could not respond for fear of his own life. In the morning, Ellie's father was gone. When O'Connor had the chance to meet Ellie Wiesel, he asked him whether he was driven all these years to write about the Holocaust because he did not respond when his father called for his help. Wiesel replied, yes.

O'Connor stated that he is not very patient with those who want to forget what happened in the Holocaust. He reported that Ellie Wiesel said that he writes not to incriminate but to plead that we not forget.

This is what Hitler had to say. This is the end of the age of reason. Intellect has become a disease of life. Nazism represents a tremendous overthrow of the moral aspect of life. Conscience is a Jewish invention. If the people are to be free, they must learn to hate. Hitler was not just attacking Jews. He was attacking Judaism. He was also trying to destroy Christianity, religion, and God. Nazism accused Christianity of being a Semitic religion which was trying to destroy the natural strength of the German people.

We cannot dialogue by being neutral. Catholics should be good Catholics, and Jews should be good Jews. The Catholic proudly respects his roots in the other (Judaism). Holocaust studies are important for Jews. But they are more important to Christians. To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Catholic. Catholicism is rooted in Judaism. O'Connor reminded Jews of their responsibility to be Jews, to be good Jews.

O'Connor discussed some Hassidic Tales from the Holocaust. He also discussed a story by Haim Nachman Bialek which included the following: "The sun was shining, the trees were flowering, and the killer kept on killing." O'Connor's visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp changed his life. When O'Connor put his hands on the bricks of the floor of the crematorium at Dachau, he felt he communed with the victims. He was impressed with the ordinariness of Dachau. O'Connor read from a letter written by the chief psychiatrist of Dachau to Hitler. The psychiatrist reported that he loves his work and it will do much to purify the human race. He feels privileged to carry out his experiments at the camp. However, he requested a transfer--not because he was bothered by the human suffering at Dachau--but because he did not like the weather there. It was very cold and very chilly at Dachau.

Discussion

There was general agreement among the meeting attendees that the Cardinal O'Connor speech on the videotape was extremely meaningful and affecting.

The meeting adjourned at 9:20 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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1 John Cardinal O'Connor, Christian Jewish Relations, Speech at Clark University, Worcester, MA, September 17, 1998, C-Span Archives videotape.