By Harriet P. Gross
On this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for all my “usuals”: loving family, dear friends, the beauty all around me and the eyes to see it with and my welcome opportunities to share thoughts and ideas — on paper and in person — with many others.
But as Thanksgiving collides with Chanukah this year, I offer very special thanks just for being Jewish. I am thankful our faith does not insist it is the one and only path to heaven ,that we would not murder those of different religions in the name of our own and that we do not make conversion of any others a prime aim of our belief system. I am especially thankful for my undiluted Judaism on this double holiday since I am once again being courted by those who call themselves Messianic Jews. Somehow, after a year or so without it, I’m back on the mailing list of “Issues,” a slim, slick publication whose purpose is to infuse with Jesus everything we Jews believe in.
Please know that I know about Jesus. I’ve read his stories in several different versions of the Christian scriptures. I respect him, from this 2,000-plus year perspective, as the charismatic teacher, the social reformer, the believing Jew he was. But please also note I stress that I “know about” Jesus — I do not “know” Jesus as the Messianics wish — as humankind’s or my personal savior.
“Issues” current issue makes some humorously broad connections between Chanukah and Thanksgiving: Both the Pilgrims and the Maccabees refused assimilation, suffered hardships as a result, then found religious freedom. But it also offers outrageous comparisons such as this: Judah Maccabee gained a great victory over religious oppression, but Jesus offers a greater victory — over sin and death — for those who believe in him.
We can laugh at the lack of logic above, but we should not be laughing at the intent of “Issues.” Its intent is the same as that of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, the Dallas-based organization which you surely know had former President George W. Bush as keynote speaker during its recent major fundraiser at the Irving Convention Center (see related story on p. 4). And what were those funds raised for? To further the organization’s mission, which is, at its base, to educate Christians about how to “save” Jews by bringing them to belief in Jesus. There was plenty of publicity on the matter, with debate raging over whether or not this was an appropriate venue for a major Bush appearance.
All Jews know that a Jew cannot accept Jesus as the Messiah and still be Jewish — Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, so those who place their faith in and build their religion around the man they call “the Christ” are Christians. This is not just a matter of linguistics — it is a fact. Of course, Bush is free to speak wherever he wishes. But should he have wished this? Jewish institutions and leaders across the country sent out a resounding “no.” The message of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas was brief and to the point: The former President’s “support of this group is a direct affront to the mutual respect that all mainstream religious groups afford each other to practice the principles of their respective beliefs.” I think the simplest and best local remark on the matter came from Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Andrew Paley, who said he hoped that at least Bush’s message would be one of ecumenism rather than evangelism.
So on this day of gratitude, I will light my candles, say the traditional blessings and add a few words of thanks that we are a people welcoming of Jews by choice, but never putting pressure on anyone to convert. My bywords on this subject are, as always, “respect” (for the beliefs of all others) and “restraint” (to refrain from making others the targets of offensive religious outreach).
Now let’s eat turkey and latkes! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Chanukah!