DAYTON CHRISTIAN JEWISH DIALOGUE
Minutes of Meeting
Date: Aug 6, 2000
Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall
Meeting Topic: Experience with Dialogue around the World
Facilitator: Rabbi Abraham Avnit, Shomrei Emunah Synagogue
Host: Eileen Moorman
PRESENT: Eileen Moorman, Acting Chair; Abraham Avnit, Netanel Avnit, Arthur Auster, Judy Auster, Judith Baker, Joanne Beirise, Bert Buby, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Felix Garfunkel, Sophie Kahn, Stephen Kahn, Eleanor Koenigsburg, Harry Koenigsburg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Arnold Mayer, Bill Rain, Donald Ramsey, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Mary Ellen Schweitzer, Bob Silverman.
Eileen called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. She announced that Felix Garfunkel, Chair of the Dialogue, had surgery during the last two weeks. Eileen was standing in as meeting leader due to Felix's recuperation and the fact that Agnes Hannahs was out of town. For the benediction, Eileen delivered a reading from Deuteronomy 6:5-9 that was selected in honor of the meeting speaker, Rabbi Avnit. The reading was from the first paragraph of the Shema prayer and included the phrase, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. . ." Eileen then introduced two new Dialogue meeting attendees: Mary Ellen Schweitzer and Arnold Meyer.
Ken passed around a thank you note from Mona Malik for her wedding gift; Mona was the leader for the tour of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati held on April 9, 2000. Ken also passed around programs from the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, that has been playing at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. Agnes Hannahs attended the Anne Frank play in Stratford, provided the programs, and recommended the play highly to the members of the Dialogue.
After Eileen asked for a volunteer, Donna Bealer agreed to host the October 29 Dialogue meeting at which Rev. James Heft will speak. Felix said he is recovering rapidly from his surgery. Jerry Kotler reported on a recent 3-day seminar on the subject of the Temple Mount, recently held at the Holiday Inn near Wright State University. The attendees at the seminar were virtually all Christians. The speaker, Joseph Good, discussed in great detail the architecture of the Second Temple, including analysis of the historical details of its construction. At this point, Felix commented that the Western Wall is often regarded incorrectly as part of the Second Temple. Actually, it is just a retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Jerry was surprised and somewhat disturbed to hear Joseph Good state that the time may be right for the Temple to be reconstructed on the Temple Mount. Mr. Good stated that this may occur as a result of the recent failure of the Peace Process at Camp David and a possible war that may result between the Arabs and the Israelis. The reconstruction of the Temple would, of course, require the removal of a central Islamic holy site, the Dome of the Rock.
Presentation by Rabbi Avnit
Eileen introduced the meeting speaker, Rabbi Abraham Avnit, Rabbi of Shomrei Emunah Synagogue. Rabbi Avnit thanked the Dialogue for the invitation to speak. He stated that his wife, Mrs. Navah Avnit was unfortunately unable to be present because her father in Israel passed away, and she was currently en route to Israel to attend the funeral. However, Rabbi Avnit brought his son, Netanel, to the meeting.
Rabbi Avnit stated that he has lived in various countries around the world, including Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Canada. He feels himself to be the "wandering Jew." This is similar to our ancestors who departed from Egypt; they came from the house of bondage to freedom; however, they were required to wander in the desert for forty years. Rabbi Avnit stated that, in the Jewish religion, there is no such thing as saying, "I am free." According to the Jewish religion, the Israelites became free from the Egyptians, who, as a part of slavery, did not allow them to have human feelings and human thoughts. Moses the leader of the Israelites said to them, you are free but not totally free. Now you are going to be under the wings of the Omnipotent and Omnipresent (God). Jews are constrained by laws or rules called Mitzvos (commandments). Many people are mistaken to believe that Jews have only 10 commandments. In fact Jewish sages found 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible, of which 248 are the do's (positive commandments) and 365 are the don'ts (negative commandments). The don'ts are more numerous than the do's. Throughout their journey in the Wilderness, the location was reported to Moses, the Levites, the elders, and to everyone else. There were 42 journeys the Children of Israel had to go through in the desert. It was very important to know exactly where they had gone. The Israelites were provided Manna from Heaven to eat. They did not have to work. They had ample water and food. The Manna tasted wonderful. Every family got its own share of food. There was no shortage, and the food was nutritious. On Friday, the people received a double portion--one for Friday and one for Shabbat (Sabbath, Saturday). This was because on Shabbat, people were not allowed to go out of their homes. Even the Almighty has to rest on the seventh day. The Israelites remained in the Desert for 40 years. The Almighty wanted these godless and weak people to learn to know Him better. The Bible says repeatedly: they journeyed and they camped. For many of the places they camped, we do not know the modern-day locations.
Rabbi Avnit then told a story. A king grew to old age and he said to his son: I would like to go somewhere with you. The king prepared two horses. The son wondered where his father wanted to go. The two went to a place, and the king asked his son: do you remember this place? The son said he did not remember. He said here you were sick and we provided you with medical care. This process was repeated for a second place. The king said to his son: here I taught you. At the third place, the king said: here we celebrated your first birthday. The king then said to his son: I took you to all these places because you should know where you came from. In this way, you will be able to teach others and become the best possible king for the people.
Rabbi Avnit told the attendees, "I was told by my late father who was also a rabbi and a Chasid: don't forget your past. There is an unbroken chain from your past to your present to your future. Rabbi Avnit's children have asked him from what places the family came. Luckily, he obtained some information about the family background for them to pass on to their children.
Eileen asked about the places where Rabbi Avnit has been. Rabbi Avnit replied that he was born in Israel. His parents fled Europe just in time before World War II. His mother was not so lucky as the rest of the family since she lost much of her family in the Holocaust. Rabbi Avnit said that in Israel, he was mainly involved with Jews. At the age of 26, he was living in a small place outside the city of Tel Aviv where he served as the assistant rabbi. He was approached by someone who made him an offer. A relative of the person in Sweden had left an inheritance to form a synagogue in a small town in southern Sweden. Rabbi Avnit was concerned that in Sweden his children would not be able to get a good Jewish education.
Later, he was sent by the Jewish Agency and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to a place called Oudtshoorn in the Cape Province of South Africa. When he and his wife told his parents about the South Africa assignment, they cried because they thought the new location was in the jungle. In South Africa, Rabbi Avnit's eyes were opened. He saw all kinds of people, all colors and dialects. He was excited at the prospect of getting to know people different from himself. However, he did not know about the rules of Apartheid. When he shook hands with a black person, he was told that this was not proper. In his new location, the local Jewish people took Rabbi Avnit and his family to a beautiful house with large rooms. The Holy Ark of the synagogue was a copy of an ark from the town of Kelem in Lithuania. There was a large kitchen in the synagogue. In the kitchen, there were two women-workers who were colored. These workers greeted Rabbi Avnit and his wife as "master" and "madam." Rabbi Avnit and his wife were not used to being addressed in these terms. Mrs. Avnit began to work in the kitchen, and she was told not to do this. She wanted to do the work by herself. However, according to our (Jewish) religion, we are supposed to follow the law of the country. After the first night, Rabbi Avnit and his wife heard the bell of a church across the road. He received a telephone call from the priest of the church, welcoming him to the community of Oudtshoorn. Rabbi Avnit returned the priest's telephone call and thanked him for the welcome. He then went to visit the priest, and they discussed the situation on .Oudtshoorn There was no hatred between religions in that area. Rabbi Avnit invited the priest to his own home. Later, Rabbi Avnit went to the church hall to explain about Passover to the church members. Afterward, the synagogue received visits from groups of students from the public schools. Rabbi Avnit explained aspects of Jewish ritual to the school children. Rabbi Avnit was the principal of the local Heder. Heder (meaning room in Hebrew) is a term for the place where young Jewish children in Eastern Europe beginning at the age of three went to learn the Jewish religion. The students learned Hebrew and Torah by repetition. The South African version of Heder met every afternoon and had students beginning at the age of 6. It covered such topics as Hebrew, Bible, Jewish history, prayers, laws and customs, and Jewish holidays. Schools in South Africa let out early, about 12:30 PM. Then Jewish children went to Heder. When there were celebrations such as the Independence Day for the State of Israel, Rabbi Avnit invited non-Jewish community people. Sometimes, Rabbi Avnit was asked by Christians about the Jewish view of Jesus. These Christians accepted his explanation that Jews do not view Jesus as god, but do view him as an important religious teacher.
After Rabbi Avnit completed his term in South Africa, he returned to Israel; then he was assigned to Australia. Rabbi Avnit explained that besides being a Rabbi, he is also a schochet (ritual slaughterer), a mohel (circumsciser), and a scribe (qualified to write the Torah). He ended up in Sydney. There, he slaughtered the animals, was Rabbi of a synagogue, and was a chaplain to nursing homes and hospitals. He also had another job: to give a talk on the portion of the week on the radio. Rabbi Avnit enjoyed visiting the Jewish people as well as the gentiles in the nursing homes and the hospitals. He said, "for me, it does not matter what is ones religion or race. A person is a person. Every person in this world is a son of God or a daughter of God. God created us all." When the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, the people began singing and praising God for saving them by drowning our enemies (the Egyptian soldiers). But the rabbis said this is bad; one must not rejoice at his enemy's demise. For this reason, we must not say the full Hallel prayer (the Hallel is comprised of praises to God from the Psalms) from the third day of Passover to the eighth day. Rabbi Avnit used an analogy to illustrate the importance of tolerance for other people: We each have five fingers. Every finger is different. Yet, we need all five fingers to hold something. These five fingers represent the diversity of different people. Even though Jews are the Chosen people, they recognize the equality and value of all people. However, a kingdom cannot have two rulers. Every person has his own unique role in this world. Through the process of living, we will learn the importance of our unique role in the world. Rabbi Avnit knows that women want equality today. However, marriage works better when the husband and wife have different roles, which complement each other.
After Australia, Rabbi Avnit was assigned to Zimbabwe. There, he was the Chief Rabbi of Zimbabwe. He also slaughtered animals and officiated at marriages and funerals. He was involved as a teacher from kindergarten through college level. Besides being involved as a teacher in the school, his wife, the Rebbitzen, also helped by going to the butchers as maskgicha while he went to the slaughterhouse. Rabbi Avnit was the administrator for Kashrut as Rav Hamchshir for the whole country of Zimbabwe. He also circumcised infants. Rabbi Avnit worked in the Jewish school; people of all races and religions attended the Jewish school because it was a good school. On Fridays, he was at the school for an assembly at 10:00 AM. In the school, there were people of all races and religions. At this assembly, the Sabbath candles were lit. Girls of different religions lit the Sabbath candles. Then, boys, also of different religions, said the prayer over the bread. Rabbi Avnit taught in the school. Rabbi Avnit felt that it was nice that, under one roof, Jews and people from other denominations were asking about their roots in Judaism.
After Zimbabwe, Rabbi Avnit was assigned to Northern Canada. He arrived in February when it was extremely cold; he did not have adequate winter clothing. His job was to serve two synagogues in northern Ontario. His family was provided with a special house. At the welcome for his family, the men of the community told Rabbi Avnit about his role. At the same time, the women told his wife (the rebbitzen, wife of a rabbi) about her role. Another part of his job was to inspect the Kosher department in a grocery store. Rabbi Avnit was surprised to find that non-Jewish people were buying in the Kosher department. Rabbi Avnit was also involved in interfaith activities in Canada. He visited the public schools to teach about Judaism. Rabbi Avnit taught his own course in Jewish philosophy at the Laurentian University as an assistant professor. Also, the synagogue housed a Montessori school.
After Canada, Rabbi Avnit was asked to go to Cincinnati. He noted how it was hard to get the Green Card for the United States. He was pleased that in the United States his kids could attend Jewish day schools. This was too expensive in Canada.
Rabbi Avnit's formal presentation concluded at 9:20 PM. Eileen asked Rabbi Avnit how long he has been in Dayton. He replied that he has been here since the beginning of the year. Lorraine asked whether he was replaced when he left the communities in various countries. Rabbi Avnit replied that in some places there was a replacement and in some not. He left Canada primarily so his kids could get a Jewish education.
Steve asked about who sent Rabbi Avnit to various locations. Rabbi Avnit replied he was assigned by the Jewish Agency. Ken asked whether Rabbi Avnit is a Chasid. Rabbi Avnit replied that he was a Chasid. Ken then asked whether he must be assigned by his rebbe. Rabbi Avnit explained, that, once he receives an assignment from the Jewish Agency, he then asks the blessing of his rebbe. Jerry asked what Chasidic sect Rabbi Avnit is a member of. Rabbi Avnit replied that he is a member of the Vorke Sect. Vorke is a place in Poland not far from Warsaw. Rabbi Avnit noted that he is a descendants of the famous Jewish commentator, Rashi. He is also a Cohen (member of the priestly tribe). His father always told him when he was a child: remember you are related to a person who was a king of Poland for one day.
The meeting adjourned at about 9:35 PM.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary