Friday, November 11, 2011

A letter from Rabbi Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere

It's nice to see a Rabbi stand up for what he believes!!


Dear Congregants,As the crescendo of protest rises on my gmail address, my telephone, and in person, I feel the need to explain my position on the invitation I extended to Father Patrick Desbois to speak in the Young Israel this coming Shabbos morning. I want to be clear from the outset that I neither have regrets nor will I rescind the invitation nor the venue of his talk. The plan is for Father Desbois to to talk in the JKMMS after services and following a Dvar Torah by the Rabbi who will first (briefly) address a Bar Mitzvah in Shul. Immediately after services the men will be asked to remove their Talaisim (I suspect that "talaisim" is grammatically incorrect). That will symbolically end our religious service. I will then address the Bar Mitzvah and then introduce Father Desbois.

From my perspective Father Desbois is a human being who happens to be a priest. He is one of the Righteous Amongst the Nations (I hope that my share in the world to come is qualitatively on his level). He will not be wearing any religious icon on his chest. He is not a 'meshumad'. He comes from a family of Christians who sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. He comes from a family that was active in the French Resistance against the Nazis. His grandfather was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in Rava Ruski, Ukraine. Everyone heard of Babi Yar. But most people do not realize that there are tens of Babi Yars unknown to the world and the Jewish people where 1.5 million Jews of all genders and all ages were brutally massacred by the German Einzatsgruppen and their allies from the local population. Father Desbois has made it his life's work to uncover these mass unmarked graves in order to give respect to our people (the Jews), these forgotten victims of the Shoah. On Saturday night at 6.30 PM you will have the chance to see a riveting video of his work, if you are able and choose to attend.

I think that it is important for us to learn about this. It is important to thank this kind righteous human being who happens to be a priest for his efforts on our behalf. And it is important to give him money to continue his work. He is doing what we should be doing but what we cannot do. That is because the last remaining living Christian witnesses will not speak to us. But they will speak to a human being who happens to be a priest. That makes Father Patrick Desbois our agent ('shaliach'). Do we have hakarat hatov? Usually the answer in YIW is a resounding YES!

Over the last few days, I have been the beneficiary of linguistic lessons, history lessons, and lessons in comparative religion. I will add that all of those who spoke to me were respectful. I do not mean to boast when I say that I was already familiar with the word 'galach' (technically I am a 'galach' as well). I also am well aware of the history of Christian anti semitism and its strong link with Nazi racial anti semitism. Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, I am not naive at all (I studied with the Rov and have absorbed his thinking on the subject). And I am very familiar with the axioms of Christianity.

Father Desbois will not be leading a mass in the YIW this Shabbos. He will not be preaching! He will be lecturing and sharing his experiences as our agent in giving respect to Jewish dead and revealing to the world more of the evil of our enemies. Could we have had this event in the SKSH? No, for two reasons. First, it is not practical to move such a huge crowd effectively on Shabbos morning. Secondly, the SKSH is booked for a simcha. But even more important from my point of view, I believe that it is most appropriate for this event to take place in our main sanctuary. The sanctuary is the place where we try to sanctify HASHEM's name each day. We have the opportunity to do that in receiving Father Desbois this week with respect. If someone is uncomfortable, he/she can leave quietly. I think that perhaps we should ask ourselves, "am I mature enough to receive a righteous non Jewish human being who happens to be a priest in our sanctuary?"


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