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In Memoriam: Rina Geftman

Ed. The following article was taken from The Letter, #23, of the Hebrew Catholic community, Miriam, Daughter of Zion, in Paris, France. Translated by Dr. Arnold Linker.. The text of the homily preached by Father Marcel Dubois at the Funeral Mass on October 18, 2001 at ‘The Solitude’ at Ain Karem in Jerusalem:

The Lord has called to Himself our sister and friend, Rina Geftman. So she went to Heaven leaving behind the community of the Hebrew Church in Israel. She was one of its most faithful and radiant witnesses.

Last time Rina received the Eucharist was in her bedroom on September 15th. She participated in the Eucharist in her sick-bed surrounded by her friends on September 15th, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. We have chosen this day because the mystery celebrated on that day was in keeping with the painful trial Rina had to undergo because of her state of health she had been suffering from for a certain time.

At the end of this celebration, the brothers and sisters that surrounded her pledged and promised her to gather at her place to celebrate Mass on her birthday on October 11th, the day when the church used to commemorate Mary’s motherhood, a providential coincidence as Rina used to point out.

As a matter of fact, the course of events has, to a certain extent, changed our plans. She left us on October 15th, her real ‘dies natalis’, her real birthday, was the day when she was born for eternity. It was Saint Theresa of Avila’s Day, a mysterious confirmation of a deep affinity with the founder of the Carmel, a feeling that filled Rina’s heart all her life. Now she is reunited with our brothers and sisters who are in that invisible Jerusalem, that heavenly “Qehilah” (congregation), and whose faces we recall with joy because they will always be present in our minds like those living stones of the building of our Church. First and foremost our Brother Bruno of course, but also all those who belong to our congregation, those who followed in his footsteps: our dear Jean Roger, Fr. Daniel, brother Eliyahu, brother Alain d’Abou-Gosh, Isaac Jacob, our old Abouna Shmuelof, and all those saint ladies around them: Elsa, Marion Reich, Jeanne-Marie de Montalembert, Rahel, Sophie Grunberg, Soeur Marie-Madeleine, our poetess, and not to forget our brother Joshuah Salomon who had been baptised here and his two sons Avi and Moshe, whom death had torn from us too soon. Rina’s going home to our Lord offers us the opportunity to remember our roots, the foundations of our congregation. They are the witnesses of the accomplishment of our Israelite faith in Jesus Christ. At the present moment, it is us, as Rina used to be, the living stones of the building which wraps us up with her spirit.

In her book Watchmen Looking Out for Dawn, Rina told us her itinerary herself. I feel free to mention a detail which will enable us to perceive Rina’s discreet radiance. It was through Cardinal Descour (a Polish prelate, one of the Holy Father’s close friends, who, for years now, has been paralyzed and living in the Vatican) that I learnt that our Pope John Paul II, the one who canonized Edith Stein, studied and meditated on this book with particular interest during his journey on a pastoral visit to Australia. He was struck by the confidences of that daughter of Israel who had discovered Christ.

It is quite a typical story. Born in 1974 in the Jewish community of Odessa, Rina discovered very early in her life the mystery of the Jewish fate through the exile of her People and the wandering of her family. Having escaped from Russia after the October Revolution, at the end of a long migration throughout Europe, the Geftmans ended up in Paris in the early twentieth.

From the very start and all during the recollections of that young Jewess in quest of truth, we are immediately struck by that continuous desire expressed by a feeling of nostalgia for the presence of her Christian friends mixed with a discreet feeling of jealousy, a real hunger for the Eucharist. It was during that search that she met the man who became her real spiritual guide, Father Jean-Pierre Alterman, a priest of Jewish origin. This man very quickly realized the ardor and depth of the expectation in the heart of this daughter of her People. He perceived the remarkable nature of her contemplative calling. It was this priest who led her to Baptism, in the silence and discretion of an approach which, owing to the circumstances, had to remain hidden. Her new birth took place far from Paris on July 9th, 1932 at Sainte Baume, this important place that Rina used to call and rightly so “the cavity of the rock”, the place where the Dominicans keep the memory of Mary-Magdalene alive. Like her, henceforth, Rina devoted her life to bear witness, an accomplishment that finds its source in unveiling a Face, the One of Jesus Christ, recognizing in Him, her Master and Savior: “Rabbouni” (Hebrew for “my Teacher and Spiritual Guide”, translator’s note). From now on, she feels very tight links to the community of Anania’s Home, a Foundation of Fr. Alterman, where she meets a lot of monks and nuns and members of the Christian intelligentsia who will become her friends and whose belief and prayer she shares.

In spite of her deep awareness of her Jewish identity, constantly renewed by her untiring reading of the Bible, Rina immigrated to Israel only in 1966, at the age of 55. It was Fr. Bruno Hussar, founder and Superior of the Home of Saint Isaias in Jerusalem, who brought her from Paris, as he was on his way back from the Second Vatican Council filled with hope and joy. The ship that brought them to Israel had in fact a predestined name: “MOLEDET” – Fatherland. At that time she had just one desire and that was – to return to the soil of the Bible and to share the life of her People in Israel, “to pray and receive her brethren” as she wrote in those days.

We had the pleasure to receive her in our home of Saint Isaias where she shared our life of prayer and collective meditation, Bible reading and finding in this country the vitality of her roots. There is a wonderful sentence about that discovery in her book: “The Words of the Gospel drew their sap in the soil of Israel and they ripened in the sun of Jerusalem, under the Eyes of Christ”.

It was in those days that Rina heard the appeal inviting her to participate, in Jerusalem, in activities which she certainly had not anticipated, to which she gave her best. There was first the inspiration and the ripening of the plan for “Neve Shalom”, the village of peace. It was the beginning of a dream that came true, a genial and generous intuition, an idea conceived by Brother Bruno. Rina was the first witness of that birth.

Then followed, in a more profound and silent way, without noise and publicity, her prayerful and studious testimony of the “Mambre Center”. We all remember her apartment on the Prophets Street that accommodated for a certain period of time, the office of the “Neve Shalom” secretary. That was the place where Rina received all those who were captivated and attracted by the mystery of Jerusalem, as she was.

Located at the junction of the two parts of the city, it was neither a checkpoint nor a border post. It was a kind of oasis, a meeting place of dialogue and communication. Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, kibbitzniks and academics, local Christians and Pilgrims all together discovered the spirit that united them beyond and above all oppositions and conflicts. Rina used to be the guardian of this place of prayer and peace.

In spite of that, for a long time, she was a fulltime professional worker, a job she carried out with competence and reliability. Rina did not enjoy good health and was often threatened by fatigue and illness. Her forces were wearing out and this fact overshadowed her last years. I was comforted by the fact that, several months ago, I administered her the last sacraments – the Unction of the Sick – in the Chapel of the Community of the Beatitudes. In spite of her fatigue, she remained at that moment quite clear-thinking. She received that unction in the same spirit as the unction of the stones of any church on the day of the celebration of its consecration. Living stone of the church, she perfectly understood that it was that unction that marked her and strengthened her in her calling of a suffering member of a living community. On her sick-bed she continued to bear witness to her faith and hope that shone in her eyes.

Of course, considering her state of exhaustion and inevitable slackening off due to her old age, in her loneliness, she was sometimes overcome by a feeling of uselessness and inefficiency. Being confined to this silent retirement, Rina never complained, nor did she show any bitterness. We would say “I want to see the Lord”, putting these words in her mouth, applying to her the outcry of her great friend Saint Theresa. That was her impatient search: “I want to see the resemblance of the Father as it is reflected on the Face of Christ”. All her life she was faithful to the fascination of that Face, the certainty of that presence.

The texts that we read during that celebration reminded us of all that.

“It is the same God that said: ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’ who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory of the face of Christ.”(2 Cor. 4,6)

“And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.”(2 Cor. 3:18)

And above all, the wonderful text in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians:

“All I want is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and to share His sufferings by reproducing the pattern of His death.” (Phil 3:10,11)

I thought of that verse when I was at the Shaharei Tzedek Hospital, a few days before her death, contemplating her poor and strained face, her looks marred and spoiled by suffering, veiled by an oxygen mask: “To know Him, to be recreated, transformed into the same image”.

Renee, Renata, Rina. “If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: to those who prove victorious, I will give the hidden manna and a white stone, a stone with a new name written on it, known only to the man who receives it.” (Rev 2: 17)

Rina, at present you unveil on the “white stone” the secret name by which the Lord calls you to eternity. It appears now in full light. That is the meaning of the psalm verse that we repeated with you: “Those who sow in tears, reap in joy.” Rina, our sister, looking forward to our happy resurrection, intercede for us that we may participate at the secret of your joy.

Fr. Marcel Dubois O.P.