Healing Process Still in Its Infancy Jewish Reaction to Reconciliation Complicated

Article excerpt

Christians may be seeking reconciliation, but, after nearly 2000 years, that's a lot to absorb for Jews.

The memories endure as an indictment, a painful history, a stinging litany of discrimination, ghettos, crusades, expulsions, the Spanish Inquisition, blood libels, pogroms and the slaughter of the Holocaust.

In other words, the Jewish reaction is complicated.

And a completely new relationship -- free of suspicion -- can't be forged in just a couple of generations.

Still, Rabbi A. James Rudin, who oversees interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee in New York, found tears welling up in his eyes as he watched Pope John Paul II arrive in Israel in last month.

"Here the Jewish state is playing host and protecting the spiritual leader of 1 billion people,'' he said with pride.

And the images of the pope at the Israeli Holocaust memorial, at the Western Wall and in meetings with Israel's political and religious leaders provided another milestone, he said. The Jewish world saw acceptance and repentance in word and deed that animated the carefully worded texts of Vatican statements, Rudin said.

In Jacksonville, the pope's actions struck a chord with Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider of Etz Chaim Synagogue. The Orthodox rabbi said he found himself impressed by what he views as a process still in its infancy.

"We realize that these are steps, and not easy steps, for them [Catholics] in terms of looking back, in terms of apologizing and asking for reconciliation,'' Goldscheider said. "We really look forward to a new time.''

Such a drawing closer seems part of the foundation for a Messianic age, he said.

Still, such expressions of hope come with healthy doses of caution and a tendency to reserve judgment.

The path of reconciliation is just that, a path, said Rabbi David Gaffney of the Jacksonville Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue. Maybe the image of a long twisting road would be even better. Real progress takes time, work and patience, Gaffney said.

"We don't hurdle from one plateau to another,'' he said.

And Gaffney indicated that among the Jewish laity, doubts run deep.

"I would urge the Jewish community to be receptive to the changes that are taking place and to not suspect that some other agenda is being promoted,'' he said.

Fears of that "other agenda,'' however, break through the surface more readily when it comes to conservative evangelical Protestants.

For Jews, reconciliation means ''a total respect for the other person's faith ... and to be accepting of the fact that we are different faith communities,'' Gaffney said. …