I’m in the process of writing this piece that may be a little bit snarky about Eleanor Roosevelt, and it was a healthy corrective to have my seven-year-old cousin instruct me last night. She brought out the book she’d been reading– a kid’s biography of Eleanor, kind of a modern version of a Landmark book. She wanted to read a part of it to her uncle, my father, and show him a picture: it was something that she’d been thinking and talking about, her mother says, ever since she first came across it a couple of days ago. She turned to the page and looked up at us: she had some hard news to tell us. “There was this guy called Hitler, did you know?” she said. “…and he wanted to kill everyone who wasn’t like him. All the Jews. If he was around now, everyone here, he would have killed. Except Mommy.”
My dad nodded. “But we beat him. And if someone like that came back, we would beat him again.” Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, says the book, led the country into war against Hitler. And Eleanor in particular was instrumental– I don’t know if the book got into this– was instrumental in helping bring over refugees… some refugees. Not as many as one would hope. But some.
“Thousands of people, he killed,” says Mia. “Thousands of thousands.”
Later on, of course, we light candles. And at some point Dad takes it upon himself to bring up the story:
Uncle David: “More than two thousand years ago, there was a man called Judah Maccabee. He was like a Jewish superhero… and he fought against a Greek guy called Antiochus.”
Pax [Mia’s five-year-old brother]: “That’s annoying.”
My first memory of what it meant to be Jewish was playing dreidel, and having Dad explain to me that it was a good game to play if you were Jewish because when the Cossacks came by you could pretend to just be playing a game, when you were really doing Jewish things: studying, lighting candles, and so on. (Actually I’d remembered this backwards– that it was good because it was distinctively Jewish but you could really easily tidy it away when the Cossacks came by– but a quick google reminded me of what it was that he would have said.)
This was the major theme of the Jewishness of my childhood: They’re always trying to erase us– the Greeks, the Cossacks, Hitler– but look: look at all these children, look at us, still making latkes. Look.
I am sometimes disturbed by Messianic Jewish congregations: why highlight the divisions within the Church? Aren’t these overcome by Christ?
Yes, they are. And there are Messianic congregations whose theology is deeply problematic, not fully realizing that the Gentiles really have been grafted in, that the promise to the Jews has really, truly now been extended– as we always hoped it would be– to the Gentiles; that finally God has begun– in His own body– to heal the divisions between peoples; that finally there is a holiness– an integrity, a wholeness– that is so powerful, so joyful, so catching that it leaps between people groups like a good infection; that Christ’s covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
But at their best, what Messianic Jews are saying is: the world has always tried to erase us, to erase the reminder of God’s presence and faithfulness and historical intervention that we represent. The world tried to erase Christ, for the same reason, and as the ultimate embodiment of the Jewish people. But look: look at all these children, look at us worshiping the Triune God; look at us, still making latkes. Look. Hitler couldn’t make God’s plan fail, and neither could Antiochus, and neither could the Cossacks, and neither could Herod, and neither could Pilate. Look.
Uh, we also played pool. Well, kind of.
Happy Hannukah, everyone. And happy Thanksgiving.