By Larry Peterson
Too often throughout history man has allowed hate to control his actions. Anti-Semitism is a hate that has been around for far too long.
My empathy for the Jewish people began when I was a twelve-year-old, but the journey wasn’t completed until about five years ago. I now I harbor a sense of “passion” about anti-Semitism. It is an evil bound at the hip with anti-Christianism.
Growing up in the Bronx
I was born and raised Catholic. The Jews were always ‘those other people.’ Yes, I know, Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the apostles, et al, were all Jewish. But as a youngster, I never cared about that or even really thought about it.
I grew up in the South Bronx, in a mostly Catholic-Irish/German/Polish neighborhood. But there were some Jewish families in the neighborhood, too. The Catholic kids went to Catholic school and Mass while the Jewish kids went to public school and synagogue. Our social lives at school and church and synagogue were quite different and this caused an invisible separation among us. That was just the way it was. But there was no hate present. We were not anti-Semitic. We bore them no ill-will and to the best of my knowledge they felt the same way toward us.
As such, the first real experience I had with our Jewish neighbors impacted me significantly. It occurred when I was about twelve years old. I remember very well that Friday night so long ago. It was September, and the screaming started at about midnight. The windows were still open because it was hot, but the wailing seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up, and my seven-year-old brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”
Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz
“Down there” was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. We got up and followed him. Dad walked down the flight of stairs and up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened.
Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who, crying unashamedly, buried his head in Dad’s chest. My brother and I were stunned. Leo was our landlord and everyone in the building seemed to be afraid of him. Not Dad. Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo and did not leave for several hours.
When Dad came back up to our apartment, Danny and I were waiting for him. We wanted to know what happened. Dad took a deep breath and began to explain. As he did, ‘those people’ in the neighborhood morphed into real people. Two of them were named Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.
Sophie Rabinowitz had been having nightmares that were created years before. Dad took us back to 1943, and a city called Krakow The Nazis occupied Krakow.
Sophie’s continuing nightmares were of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis. Leo and Sophie had been forced to watch as their children were horrendously murdered. Leo and Sophie begged their captors to kill them and spare their children, but the Nazis tortured the parents further by allowing them to live.
Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their children as godless people clubbed them to death simply because they were Jewish. Such evil can only come into people from the very bowels of Hell itself.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
My father has been dead for many years, but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12 – The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That is what my father did on that night so long ago. The lesson stayed with me and it proved to be profound many years later.
I love my faith and use it frequently as my steadfast companion. I am always ready to lean on it, and I often do. Today I find myself sickened by the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping our nation and other parts of the world. My first thoughts go back to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. My own people are being defiled by those consumed by hatred towards people they do not know.
Note that I just called them “my own people.” That is because they are my people. Let me explain.
Our maternal Grandmother was an immigrant from Austria who arrived here as a teenager in 1908. We kids grew up with Grandma living with us, and we took her for granted. We gave no thought as to where she came from, or what her life had been like. She was just always there. There was never a man in her life. We never even thought to ask “what happened to Grandpa?”
Grandma died and Mom and dad passed on too, and we never had a chance to ask them about Grandpa. There had never been any mention of him at all. The questions only came after we grew up. I wrote a book about it a few years ago. (If you are interested in reading the story, the book is The Priest and the Peaches, available from Amazon, HERE.)
Our feeble search for Grandpa became virtually non-existent. Years went by with no information. But you never know how things will turn out.
About five years ago, I received a message out of the blue on Facebook. It was from my long lost cousin, Vicki (that reconnect is a story for another time). She had been on a “quest” and managed to locate me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, after almost 40 years, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected.
Vickie had tenaciousness that none of her siblings or cousins possessed. She had plunged into the murky waters of genealogy and found our long, lost grandfather. His name was Isidore Schul. He was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the very same city Leo and Sophie were from. Mom’s dad, our Grandpa, was Jewish. The immigration and naturalization papers all confirmed it. He made it to America in 1907. Just like that, I felt connected to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.
Jesus was a Jew
I have written a number of times about how the very first Catholic/Christians were Jewish. Jesus was a Jewish man. His mom, our sweet Blessed Mother, was Jewish. His step-dad, St. Joseph was Jewish, his apostles were Jewish, and many of His first followers were Jewish. Many of these Jewish/Christians died for following and proclaiming Jesus Christ. They were martyrs for their new faith.
Understanding my heritage caused a transformation of sorts. I now embrace in my own heart the concept of my Jewish connection. My maternal grandfather was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the same place Leo and Sophie’s children were butchered. He was the only one on his side of OUR family who made it to America. What we have discovered is that the rest of OUR relatives from his side died in the Holocaust.
We have no way of knowing the fate of our great grandparents, Simon and Regina Schul. Either they died before the death camps began or died in one of them. Now, when I read or see programs about the Holocaust, it has a whole different meaning for me. Members of my family were killed there. It is almost impossible for me to describe.
During the Holocaust, supposedly civilized people, both men, and women, willingly went about participating in the systematic destruction of close to 12 million people, including six million Jews. Their leaders wanted to eliminate Judaism from the face of the earth. And the ‘”good” non-Jewish, Aryan citizens did as the authorities ordered. They “followed orders” and they almost succeeded in their quest.
A Spiritual DNA
I have never understood such hate but I know, too, that anti-Semitism will likely continue unabated. Today, its ‘blood’ relative is a monster known as anti-Christianism. It’s now rivaling anti-Semitism for world dominance.
When you think about it, it was inevitable that Judaism and Christianity would be defiled and denigrated together. The worldwide hatred of Jews and Christians will continue, and we are now joined together in this hatred. Thomas Merton once said, “If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”
We Catholics read and hear during Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass from the Roman Canon the following words said by the priest before the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles . . .”
Were not all of those mentioned Jewish? Yes, they were. There is no denying this fact. And they are all canonized saints. Their Judaism was always part of who they were, and it all extrapolated into who we Catholic/Christians are today. A kind of Spiritual DNA joins Jews and Christians together forever.
Satan is Hate
Satan rules hell. He put himself there, and his followers plunged right in with him. When I bring Holy Communion to someone, the first prayer I say is, “We come to know and believe that God is Love. And he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.”
Satan is the opposite of love. He is hate. And those who choose to embrace “hate” embrace Satan, with Satan heartily embracing them back. This war between Good and Evil will continue until the God of Love decides to end it. We, as believers, must fight for the God of Love, no matter what the cost, up to and including our lives.
It is 2020, and both Judaism and Christianity are under severe attack in the United States of America. It is in our face. We here, in the USA, have had the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so choose for as long as we all can remember. I think it is the greatest freedom the Founding Fathers gave us.
Still, even that freedom is under assault as the pandemic gives the secularists in power the authority to order churches closed while allowing casinos and race-tracks to remain open. However, we have a most potent weapon against secularism. It is the Rosary. We should pray our Rosary every day for our nation. It is a weapon that Satan cannot overcome.
SHALOM and PEACE BE WITH YOU!