The following appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #64, pp. 26-27. All Rights Reserved
AHC Impact on One Life
I was raised in a mixed marriage Jewish home during the 1960’s in a small college town. My Jewish father originated in Squirrel Hill Pittsburgh. My gentile mother came from Indiana Scotch Irish stock.
Despite the fact my parents disliked organized religion and espoused a secular humanist viewpoint, I was raised with a strong Jewish identity. We celebrated the holidays, ate Jewish foods (my favorite childhood snack was matzo and peanut butter) and eventually became members of the local Jewish community. My father had fought during World War II in Italy because he always said, “Hitler was coming for me!” As a child I was told about the holocaust and how people in Europe had ignored what was happening. I remember my father angrily refusing to attend a university social function because the country club hosting the event discriminated against Jews and Blacks. In second grade I gave a presentation on Hanukkah with the other Jewish child in my class. I can still see myself in the front of the classroom singing the dreidel song.
Unfortunately, during this period of my life a tragedy occurred. It came to the attention of several community leaders that he was of mixed ancestry through his father. Since my mother had never converted to Judaism, he was not considered Jewish and could not be presented for his Bar Mitzvah. Obviously, we could no longer be members of the local Jewish community. Suddenly, we ceased to be Jewish.
During this period, I remember finding the yarmulkes used for holidays in a cabinet drawer. Angrily and tearfully, I threw them in the trash. We didn’t need them anymore. We weren’t Jewish anymore.
Several years later, when I was about eleven years old, my mother converted to Catholicism. I was brought into the Church with her. My father followed suit a year later. Despite the fact that I was strongly attached to the Catholic faith, I always felt something was missing in my religious life. I felt like I’d lost something. I had.
Amazingly, AHC has given it back to me. I am Jewish again but in a different and more meaningful way. I once read a travel ad for Israel that said, “In order to discover who you are, you must find out where you came from.” AHC helped me to do that.
During the last two years (when I became interested in things Jewish after meeting some members of AHC) I decided to do some genealogy research. To my delight, I have discovered that I may be the great-granddaughter of a slightly famous Hebrew scholar and Zionist, Ralph Baer Raphael. I obtained a copy of his book, The Jewish Question (written completely in Hebrew). I went to The American Jewish Historical Society and read his manuscript entitled The Bible and Science. It was interesting to note he read and was familiar with the New Testament. I even found my great grandfather mentioned in a history book on the Jewish community in Western, Pennsylvania. To put it simply, I was given back my Hebrew heritage in a truly profound way.
God is much easier for me to find now. We all have to relate to him on an emotional child-like level at some point and I find it easier at times to do this as a Hebrew Catholic. Praying the Novena to Edith Stein, celebrating the holidays and calling Him Yeshua are all acts of healing praise for me. Within the Catholic Church community, I no longer feel strange or different among its members. I have seen others like myself and can now accept my perceptions of God.
I heard a priest once say, “Grace, not race!” He was talking about how the Old Testament covenant with the Jews had been extended to the Gentiles after Jesus came and died for all of us. I think this phrase sums up for me one of the reasons I am a Catholic. It is a church that is truly based on universalism and one’s personal relationship with God.
Ironically, I think it unbelievable that the instrument of my restoration is the Catholic Church. An organization infamous for its persecution of the Jews (Crusades, Inquisition) is now becoming a tool of restoration. Thank you, AHC.
Ed. Mary’s last comments affords us the opportunity to say a brief word about subjects that are at times addressed to us, subjects that many of us must wrestle with.
We are seen, or may even feel ourselves, as people in whom apparently irreconcilable histories or backgrounds have converged. The matter of these backgrounds have often become the basis for polemics and condemnations rather than dialogue and understanding. Someone once said that within the history books of Catholics and Jews, each is missing the pages found in the other.
History is a very complex affair. We attempt to reconstruct events and assign causes, responsibilities and, sometimes, motives. And we generally do so with very limited source material. Further, as the historical personalities operated within the culture, perceptions and values of their time, so we operate within the culture, perceptions and values of ours. While we have the advantage of hindsight and, hopefully, a deeper understanding of the mysteries of our existence, so those in the future will have the same advantages.
It would seem, therefore, that we ought always to remain humble in our conclusions and generous in our judgments. With the Holy Father, we can today recognize the faults and errors of some of those who preceded us. But, the point of that recognition should be to gain wisdom and grow in humility and love.
We must also be careful in our conclusions and judgements to distinguish the human elements within the Church from the Church itself. Jesus, in His Mystical Body–the Church, must never be assigned responsibility for the faults of its members. For its members-all are sinners.
May we, of the AHC, serve as the bridge to these “apparently irreconcilable” histories, histories that do converge in us. May we, in the work of our apostolate and in our lives, give witness to the reconciling and healing love of our Lord, in Whom all histories and all futures converge.