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October 14, 2010

Hedy Epstein at Pilgrim UCC in Duxbury, MA

Pilgrim Church of Duxbury, part of the United Church of Christ, will be hosting a talk by Hedy Epstein on Oct. 24. The talk, which is open to the public and scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m., is billed in the church's October newsletter as giving listeners "new insight to the conflict in the Middle East."

Hedy Epstein is a German-born Jew who escaped from pre-Holocaust Europe in 1939. She rode on a child transport trip to Great Britain. Her family died at Auschwitz. She was a researcher for the prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials.

Today, she is a supporter of the Free Gaza Movement, a group that has worked to demonize Israel and undermine Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Hamas is an inheritor of the Jew-hatred that forced Epstein to flee Germany in 1939.

Nevertheless, here she is providing moral support to Israel's enemies several decades later. According to the ADL, "Epstein compared Nazi treatment of Jews to Israeli treatment of Palestinians" while speaking at Stanford University in 2004.

Epstein is, as acknowledged by Gene at Harry's Place, a “sad” figure. She's an 85-year-old woman who, for reasons of her own, seems more outraged by Israeli policies than she is by Hamas’ genocidal hostility toward Jews and Israel. This is not a new phenomenon.

One legitimate question congregants of Pilgrim Church could ask of Epstein is: What prompted the Free Gaza Movement to allow its recent flotilla to be used as cover for fighters associated with the IHH in Turkey.

A bigger, more important question that needs to be asked is: Why is Pilgrim UCC hosting Epstein? Does the church's "Board of Christian Outreach" which organized the talk honestly think that the world needs yet another talk by a Free Gaza supporter who has compared Israeli policies to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust?

Really? That qualifies as “insight”?

Let's be clear. The Pilgrim Church of Duxbury has the right to open its doors to whomever it wishes.

It would be nice, however, if Pilgrim Church of Duxbury and other UCC institutions were a bit more responsible in whom they invited and showed some discretion in the manner in which they dealt with issues related to the Jewish people and their homeland.

What is the Deal With the UCC Churches?

Epstein's appearance at Pilgrim Church of Duxbury is emblematic of a troubling pattern within the UCC. Things have improved since 2005 when the church’s General Synod passed an economic leverage resolution and an anti-security barrier at its 2005 General Synod.

Nevertheless, UCC-related institutions seem intent in assisting in the process by which Israel, Jews and Judaism is held up to very close scrutiny and the misdeeds of its adversaries ignored.

Earlier this year, leaders from both the UCC and the Disciples of Christ endorsed the “Kairos Document” days before the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) denounced the text as “supersessionist and anti-Semitic.”

And in October 2007, Old South Church, a UCC church in Boston, hosted a Sabeel conference in which Israeli policies were condemned while Hamas and Hezbollah were given a pass.

One speaker, Farid Esack, a Muslim theologian from South Africa, accused Israeli Jews of transforming their conception of Jewishness as part of a grand strategy to deprive the Palestinians of their homeland.

Esack told the audience:

It’s not as if we are dealing with a settled community, the ongoing attempts to make sure that more and more Jews come from all over the world, the manufacturing in many ways of Jewish identity. If you look at the Ethiopians and the Abyssinians and many of the Russians and people from Peru … highly dubious Jewish lineages. So the ongoing manufacturing of Jewish identities the ongoing ingathering and therefore the changing nature of this demography, who are the Palestinians supposed to recognize if the nature of those to recognize is changing all the time as a way of stacking the cards against them?”

Ugly rhetoric like this – reminiscent of the notion that Jews are changelings – is not enough to stop UCC churches from hosting Sabeel speakers. On Nov. 7, 2010, Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek, whose repeated use of anti-Jewish tropes to interpret events in the Middle East undermines his ability to act as a catalyst for peace and reconciliation, will speak at Riverside Church in New York City. (Riverside is affiliated with both the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches.)

In sum, UCC leaders at both the local and national level assist in the intense interrogation of Jewish identity and self-understanding. When it comes time to address the Arab-Israeli conflict, UCC churches seem all-too willing to bring in people such as Epstein and Ateek.

These speakers will say little, if nothing about how Arab, Muslim and Palestinian self-understanding contribute to the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But they will talk endlessly about Israel, Jews and Judaism.

Of the mainline churches in the U.S., the UCC has gone farther than most to reject Christian supersessionism or the notion that Christianity has replaced Judaism and that the Jewish people have no reason to exist.

The UCC, like other mainline Protestant churches and progressive Catholic institutions in the U.S., has done little to address Muslim supersessionism.

Both Christianity and Islam have had a difficult time affording the Jewish people a place in their respective theological and physical geographies and yet for one reason or another, mainline churches do not address this issue but instead bring in speaker after speaker who talk about Israel – and only Israel.

Just how serious are the UCC and its local churches about dealing with supersessionism if it ignores the problem as it exists in the Middle East?

Given the amount of attention mainline churches have directed at Israeli policies in the past few years, it’s about time they start addressing other parts of the story.

In other words, if mainline churches and progressive Catholics are truly interested in peace, they need to move beyond inviting speakers such as Epstein and Ateek.

Posted by dvz at October 14, 2010 03:05 PM

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