Friday, March 27, 2009

Escape to Freedom

Michael Phillips published his second installment of "The Secret of the Rose" trilogy in 1994, entitled Escape to Freedom. Most of this adventure and suspense-filled book takes place in 1961-1962. Several Jewish characters are included in this novel. Like the other books in this series, this novel imagines a secret network of Jews (and some Christians) called "The Rose" and also a secret plot by Communists in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe (including East Germany) to kill Jews and Christians.

There are many mentions of "Jewish blood" throughout the book: one character (Stoidovich, who is apparently both Jewish and a Christian) "had changed his name" but "nothing could change his [Jewish] blood." There's another reference too: "... whose wife shared the rabbi's Jewish blood." And still another: "... Jewish blood flowing through his veins"; "He was not a Russian -- he was a Pole, a Jew, with a proud heritage. The blood of the ancients flowed through him." And yet still another: The character Joseph thinks of himself as "a Jew by blood."

Wandering Jude thinks that maybe "Jewish blood" is important to the author, yes? Perhaps he has some flowing through his veins (and therefore feels the need to emphasize this idea of Jewish blood in the novel)? In any event, WJ wants to make it clear that the concept of Jewish blood is bad form these days. Smacks of Hitler and his minions. And besides, there are so many conversions to Judaism today that talking about Jewish blood is misleading at best, and demeaning at worst.

"A certain Heziah Wissen, faithful husband, father, rabbi, and Jewish man of God, now found himself chosen the unwitting, though no less diligent and resourceful , protector of the ancient spoil from the Most Holy Place of Jerusalem." [the ancient relics called "Urim and Thummim"].

Like Hitler himself, some of these Jewish conversionary narratives have an obsession with ancient Israelite relics and their supposed magical powers. Strange....

One chapter is entitled "A Son of Jacob," referring to a character named Joseph ben Eleazar (also known as Joseph Aviz-Rabin, also known as Leon Tsankov. Lots of false names and intrigues in this series of books).

Another chapter is entitled "A Daughter of Israel," referring to a character named Ursula Wissen. Ursula Wissen "was a Christian now, it was true. Yet her Jewish heritage and upbringing remained a vital part of her life and would always be an intrinsic part of everything she was as a person."

"His father had wanted him to marry the rabbi's daughter from the time he was ten or twelve. He had never been told the exact day or year when the two men had arranged it. .... It was not the way of all Jews during the changing times .... But it was the way of his family, for his father Eleazar was a Hasidic Jew, of the tribe of Judah -- Hasidic and orthodox in family matters, as was the rabbi."

"Unfortunately, after the war Stalin's persecution took over where Hitler's had ended. Out of the multitude of races in Russia, only the Jews were singled out for such brutal persecution. Only the Jews were required to have their race printed on thier identity cards. The Hebrew language was banned. While other churches were allowed to remain open, synagogues were shut down. Thirty to forty thousand of the best intellects in the Russian Jewish community -- poets, scholars, professors, writers, rabbis -- were eliminated in the first wave of Stalin's silent postwar holocaust.... Millions of his fellow Jews [were killed by Stalin]. Happily, after Stalin's death in 1953 the persecution gradually lessened, though it continued still."

"Joseph was silent. The great dividing wall of difference between himself as a Jew and the others as Christians had at last been spoken. Palacki sensed what he was thinking. "When I called you brother earlier," the young pastor said, "I truly meant it. You and I have the same Father -- Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty. That we differ on the status of our mutual brother Jesus -- I call him the Christ; you call him rabbi -- that excludes neither of us from God's family; it only means that we are brothers who are in disagreement." "A rather serious disagreement, would you not admit?" asked Joseph. "Perhaps. I cannot be the judge of that. Then again, perhaps not such a serious disagereement. Only God knows. In any even, perhaps our mutual father has sent you to us so that you may come to know Jesus not merely as rabbi, but as the Christ, as we know him. "I think I have been sent here so that you could help me get to Berlin," remarked Joseph, not with sarcasm but with wit."

"I have been the subject once or twice," Joseph resumed, "of what I believe some of your people call witnessing. It has always been a most unpleasant experience." "An unfortunate Americanized version of evangelism that has spread even to our part of the world in spite of Communism. Yes, I know what you mean." "I feel more the object of condemnation and judgment than the love which they say is their motive." "Speaking for myself," replied Palacki, "I have no desire to convert any man to my or any way of thinking. You cannot imagine a man less desirious of proselytizing than I."

Somehow, Wandering Jude doubts Pastor Palacki's expressed intentions here.

Pastor Palacki goes on to explain that he only wants to share his ideas about freedom from bondage, which only comes through knowing Christ. Anything else is only "a religion rather than a personal experience in growth toward intimacy with God" or "ultimate truth." "That is where your own people have erred. Not erred, as I said before, by deception, but erred from incompleteness. Jesus was sent by God, to you, to the nation and children of Israel. To be a full and complete Jew requires entering into the intimacy with God as your Father that Jesus came to bring the world. Without that intimacy, God remains but the Old Testament judge and lawgiver.... Yours remains, therefore, an incomplete relationship with him." "Jews must be Christians ... in order to be complete and fulfilled Jews." ...

Ah, thinks Wandering Jude, the truth comes out. Jews are "incomplete" without Jesus, says Pastor Palacki. And unfulfilled. A pity.

"Don't you see," Palacki went on excitedly, "you have an opportunity that a physical Gentile like myself will never have -- the opportunity to be a full Jew and a full Christian both, a fulfilled and complete man of God in every way."

"... the Old Testment Scriptures offer only a faint and distant portrait." Joseph thinks to himself: "What if Christianity was true after all!"

Self-doubt always strikes the unbelieving Jew in these novels before the light shines into their hearts. As we shall see.

"Slowly Joseph slipped ... to his knees on the floor.... He had been taught to pray as a child. He knew all the formulas, all the words of rote memory. "Joseph admitted to himself that Jesus was the Christ." "As I have thought of myself till now as a son of Jacob and Judah, make me now your son, and teach me to call you Father."

Joseph asks his new friends, "Was there some ritual to perform, some rite, some prayer? He knew about baptism, he said, but obviously he could not be baptized here and now.... "In short, I want to bring fulfillment to the faith of my fathers. I want to become a complete Jew, an acknowledged believer in the Messiah that God sent."

"Joseph had seen with his own eyes evidence of a 2nd Holocaust in the Soviet Union, perhaps on a smaller scale than Hitler's Holocaust but still just as deadly. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Jews were killed under Stalin. Joseph had even seen a photograph that indicted a young Nikita Khrushchev as one of the ones responsible for killing Jews."

In the end, Ursula and Joseph (who had been betrothed to each other for many years) were reunited after Joseph escaped from East Berlin (along with others) through a hidden tunnel. Ursula and Joseph were married in a ceremony by a minister and a rabbi (Ursula's father, who had also become a Christian) in a Jewish ceremony. In addition, Matthew and Sabina were also married after being reunited. Thus, this is a love story as well as an adventure story and a Holocaust narrative.

Wandering Jude has some final words. First, it's unlikely that a rabbi would perform an interfaith marriage in 1962. Possible, but unlikely. Second, despite its "uncovering" of Stalin's plot (aided by a young Khrushchev) to kill the Jews, this novel is anything but philosemitic. As is usual for conversionary stories, this novel treats Jews as unfulfilled in their religion and branded by their bloodline. The author needs to rethink his views of Judaism (vis-a-vis evangelical Christianity), and he needs to read The Myth of the Jewish Race by Raphael Patai. Judaism (or Jewishness) is not a bloodline. It is, to quote Mordechai Kaplan, an evolving religious civilization.

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