Caspari Center Media Review – May 4, 2012
During the week covered by this review, we received 5 articles on the following subjects:
Christians in Israel
This week’s review included a variety of Christian Zionism activities.
Yated Ne’e’man, April 29, 2012
This article ran last week’s report regarding the removal of “missionary billboards” in Nazareth.
Jerusalem Post, April 29; Kol HaIr, April 25; Ma’ariv, April 29, 2012
A piece in Ma’ariv (April 29) opened with the line: “A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim got on a plane and take off in the direction of Manhattan. No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke – nor even an eschatological vision. It’s precisely what happened on a special plane organized in honor of Israel’s 64th birthday. But rather than flying past the coastline of Tel Aviv, it flew past the coastline of New York.”
According to Kol HaIr (April 25), a group of Indian Christian Zionists have bought the twentieth floor of a Jerusalem high-rise building at a cost of around $2.5 million and intend to establish a twenty-five room hotel in order to encourage Indian tourism to Israel.
The Jerusalem Post (April 29) noted that “In an attempt to expand its operations and further strengthen ties between Christians across the globe and Israel, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is reaching out to new communities on two continents and has recently opened offices in South Korea and Australia … In South Korea, where there has been an immense increase in Evangelical communities, the potential for pro-Israel activities is tremendous, said [director Yechiel] Eckstein, adding that his operations there will become official this coming September when the Asian nation celebrates 50 years of ties with Israel. The IFCJ’s work in South Korea will include encouraging tourism to Israel and donations to social welfare projects here. If his efforts in Seoul are successful, the former Chicago-based rabbi said he would also look into opening additional offices in other Asian countries such as the Philippines and even China. In addition to Asia, Eckstein told the Post that he is also looking to boost support for Israel in South America, where communities are traditionally Catholic and anti-Semitism has been rife in recent years … the IFCJ already provides regular radio broadcasts about Israel in Spanish, which reach almost every country in Latin America. While the charity has never had offices there until now, plans are already underway to open up in Argentina and Brazil. In South America, said Eckstein, the goal is purely to boost support and understanding for Israel … [he] pointed out that his extensive media outreach to the community, which has included over the years hundreds of infomercials emphasizing the joint Judeo-Christian connection to the Bible and promoting tourism to the Holy Land, has helped to make changes. ‘I would like to believe that we played a significant role in fostering relations by directing their biblical attention to walking where Jesus walked and highlighting the Jewish roots of Christianity,’ finished Eckstein, adding that thankfully he had the foresight to see the potential that ‘nobody else could see.’”
Christians in Israel
Haaretz, April 19, 2012
Under the headline “The priest is a Jew isn’t he?,” this feature article looked at the life of Jacob Weksler. Raised a Catholic and becoming a priest, he “later learned he was Jewish and came to Israel, where he found ultra-Orthodox relatives, a mixed welcome at a kibbutz ulpan and a confrontation with the Law of Return … It’s not at all simple to introduce Jacob Weksler, but the question of definition comes up immediately. Is he a Jew or a Christian? A Pole or an Israeli? Religious or secular? Does he or doesn’t he accept Jesus as a savior? The mind that wants unequivocal definitions, and is barely capable of containing contradictions, finds it hard to believe, but Weksler’s personality and his 69 years embody all those possibilities. Yes, he’s a Catholic priest, but he’s also a Jew who immigrated to Israel two and a half years ago − 34 years too late … In his apartment in Lublin he dedicated a small part of the bookshelf to a collection of sacred items that are meaningful to both religions: The Shema prayer alongside a picture of Jesus, copper Hanukkah menorahs alongside Christian artifacts, and the pictures of his two mothers: Batya Weksler, who gave him life, and Emilia Waszkinel, the Polish woman who saved his life. Weksler was given the name Romuald – Romek for short – from his adoptive parents, along with their family name, Waszkinel. Ostensibly a promising start: life, a home, a loving family. Much more than a Jewish child could ask for in 1943. But Romek never felt protected or safe. His genes were stronger than he … In order to convince himself that he wasn’t a Jew, Weksler decided at a very early age to find refuge in the Church and become a priest … Weksler completed his studies for the priesthood in 1966 and was ordained. Afterward he completed a doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. One of the outstanding advantages of studying for the priesthood surprised even him. He stopped being afraid of Jews after being convinced, as a result of texts he had read, that they hadn’t killed Jesus. ‘I was always afraid of Jews, for religious reasons, because they killed Jesus, and I had a very close relationship with Jesus. We had a symbiosis of suffering and pain.’ Weksler also learned about the genocide of the Jewish people very late. Only in 1968 did he find out about it, by chance. “Nobody spoke about it, not in elementary school, not in high school and not in the seminary, or later in the Catholic University of Lublin, where I studied philosophy. It was mentioned that people had died in the war, but not that they exterminated Jews only because they were Jews. On November 1, on All Saints’ Day, I went to the cemetery. I entered the plot of Russian soldiers, where it was written that they died between 1941 and 1945. I asked myself: But the war began in 1939, why does it say 1941 here? I returned to the university. I was already a lecturer in philosophy, and I told a friend – a lecturer in history – to help me understand, because there was a gap in my knowledge. He looked at me and asked whether I had heard of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said that I was apparently really stupid, and gave me a book about Polish history. I read it all night long and cried, because then I understood that I could actually be a Jewish child. That was the first time I understood. And then, when there were anti-Semitic riots in Poland and they expelled Jewish students from various universities, several students came to us. I looked at them and thought that I resembled them. That was a clue to my secret’ … For three years Weksler played a game of cat and mouse with his mother. He asked questions and she fled. Until on February 23, 1978, the game ended. Weksler calls that day his second birthday. ‘I asked her who lived in our town in Lithuania?’ The town was a shtetl and most of the population was Jewish, and she began to enumerate all kinds of nationalities, but didn’t mention Jews. I asked her: ‘And Jews?’ She burst into tears. I took her two hands and said: ‘The time has come. This is my life, the only life I have, and I have a right to know the truth. I don’t love you less because of it.’ And then she said that I had wonderful parents who loved me very much and that they were Jews who were murdered, ‘and I only wanted to save you from death.’ Weksler was miserable and full of self-pity. The secret weighed heavily on him. He was not yet ready to contain himself and his Jewishness. At first he decided not to tell anyone except Pope John Paul II, who was his lecturer on ethics at the university in Lublin. “He answered, ‘My dear brother,’ and promised to pray for me.” He discovered his family name by chance, with the help of a nun who came to him to confess and felt that he was in greater distress than she. ‘You don’t have to be afraid of anything,” she told him. ‘If God is with you, you’re fine.’ ‘I went back to my room,’ says Weksler, “and on the table there was a note: ‘If the priest wants to tell me something else, maybe I can help.’ I went to her and she said: ‘The priest is a Jew, isn’t he?’ And I shouted at her: ‘How do you know? Is there something wrong with my nose?’ She reassured me and I burst into tears and told her what I knew about my parents.’ In 1992 the nun came to Israel, and one of her acquaintances raised the idea of looking for the organization of former inhabitants of Weksler’s parents’ home town. When she met with them and mentioned a tailor, someone shouted: ‘It’s Yankele Weksler.’ In the town’s memorial book there is a picture of his mother, Batya, and it turned out that he has family in Netanya – a brother and sister of his father. That year Weksler came to Israel and received the shock of his life. ‘At the airport I understood that my uncle is a strictly ultra-Orthodox Jew. I’m also a religious Jew, but from a different group … After the visit to Israel, Weksler decided to adopt his father’s first name and to begin connecting to the little Jewish boy in his soul. Or as he says: ‘I decided to do something with my treasure. I wrote a letter to the pope and told him that I no longer wanted secrets and I had found my name and my family, and that I wanted to talk about it and shout it out. And since then I’m officially registered as Jacob Weksler and Romuald Waszkinel and I also changed my nationality and my parents’ names’ … He encountered an impossible conflict – torn between the only homeland he had, his unreserved love for Jesus and the Church, and for the parents who had raised him; and alternately, something new and unclear that began to flow and blossom and connect to hidden parts deep within his soul. That shook his spiritual and ideological world, and he decided to take early retirement from the university where he had studied and taught … He didn’t resign from the university until 2008, when he retired and continued to serve as a priest in the Ursuline convent. But his life took a surprising turn. It had begun in 2000 with a chance encounter with Adina Steier, a tour guide to Poland and an officer in the Israel Police. ‘I arrived in Lublin with a group,’ recalls Steier, ‘and we met Jacob, who told us his story, which really touched me. I remained in contact with him and when I arrived there the next time, he came again to speak to the groups. And from then on it became part of the visit to Lublin, and we became good friends. In 2005 he came to Israel on vacation and part of the time he was a guest in my home and met my family. During all those years he expressed his desire to immigrate to Israel after his retirement.’ Steier introduced Weksler to Yaakov Ganot, who worked for the Population and Immigration Authority. Ganot made an exception in his case and Weksler was granted temporary residency. In the autumn of 2009, he arrived here with one suitcase and high hopes. His first stop was Sde Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley. The contact had been made by Ronit Kertsner, director of the film ‘Torn’ and Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland. Weksler’s objective was to learn Hebrew in the kibbutz ulpan and become closer to Judaism. The encounter between Weksler and the kibbutz members was problematic. Weksler wanted to absorb the atmosphere, learn the prayers, become familiar with the festivals and the customs. The kibbutz members were suspicious and not sufficiently sure of themselves. Weksler asked them for permission to conduct mass at the Franciscan monastery on Sundays. The kibbutz thought he was overdoing it, and objected strenuously. The members called it idol worship and examined him carefully to understand if he was more a Jew or more a priest … He can only dream of new immigrant status. The reason stems from the early 1960s and the High Court of Justice decision in the case of Brother Daniel Rufeisen, and the question of who is a Jew: someone born to a Jewish mother or someone who converted and is not a member of another religion. Weksler is angry at the decision about him regarding membership in another religion. ‘But I didn’t choose my religion,’ he says, ‘as opposed to Rufeisen, who converted to Christianity of his own free will as an adult. In my case everything was forced on me when I was a few days old. If I were to receive new immigrant status, that would be the realization of my mother’s dreams; she was a Zionist and wanted to travel to Palestine. That would have commemorated her name. The fact that the state is denying me this right – that’s not love of God, it’s simply fanaticism. It’s fundamentalism. I’m sure that the God of the Jews loves me as I love Him.’ The Interior Ministry maintains a dry formalism: ‘An examination of the details of the case indicates that the Law of Return does not apply to Mr. Weksler. Despite that, the Population and Immigration Authority, out of logical considerations and in light of all the special circumstances, decided to grant him temporary residency status. This status grants Mr. Weksler all rights in Israel and has no connection to the residency permit given to clerics in Israel.”
Weksler has meanwhile received permanent residency status and found work in the Yad Vashem archive.