The following article contains fragments of a Masters Thesis entitled “Christians’ attitude to Jews- Shalom Ministry Association” written in 2008 by Wanda Pindel under the supervision of Prof. Halina Rusek, Cieszyn, Dept of Ethnology and Sciences of Education, at the University of Silesia in Katowice.
“We were so hurt by former Christian teaching and practice, we are so concerned about how the conditions in which the world (still so under the influence of Christian opinion) will allow us to survive, that our first question to a Christian will most certainly be, “What do you believe is your Christian duty towards the Jews and what are you going to do about it?””
Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz
After the latest, most tragic chapter in the history of Israel- the Holocaust- it might have seemed that the “wall of hostility” raised by the Christian world between itself and the descendants of Jacob would finally be pulled down. It might have seemed that the faithful from each denomination would bless- in word and deed- the remnant of the Nation that brought the world the Word and salvation in the Messiah. The first signs that some churches intended to change their attitude towards their Older Brothers in the faith were official documents, the most important of which was the Nostra Aetate, published by the Catholic Church. It said, “Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.”
A document of the Lutheran Church, entitled “Guidelines for Lutheran Jewish relations” produced as a result of the meeting of the European Lutheran Committee “The Church and the Jewish People” that took place in the Dutch city of Driebergen in 1990 reads “Christian triumphalism, having a bad impact on relations between Christians and Jews, cannot be reconciled with a serious meeting [of the two parties] and sincere [Christian] testimony. (...) The Judaism of Jesus’ times is presented as a black background for brightening the contemporary Church and especially the present day Church. Such an attitude was used as a justification for oppression and persecution. (...) Judeo-Christians can make the Church more conscious of her Jewish roots, and help the Church to remain in that [consciousness]. Thus they may contribute significantly towards dialogue between Jews and Christians”.
Furthermore, as a result of the deliberations of the Discussion Group “The Church and Israel” 1996- 1999 during a conference called Contributions of the European Reformed Churches, regarding the attitudes between Christians and Jews, the following was settled: “In the struggle against all forms of discrimination, racism and anti-Semitism, the Church stands with Israel.” “Churches are actively organizing their contacts and members in groups led by male and female representatives of the Church and Israel which are dedicated to agreement, peace and progress in the Middle East.”The above documents did not go unnoticed by the Jews, a fact proved by the large step taken in Jewish Christian relations in the form of the document entitled “Dabru emet- speak the truth.” This is a Jewish statement on Christians and Christianity, presented to the world in 1983 and signed by a group of Jewish scholars from the USA. In their appreciation of the changes taking place in Christian circles, and in particular of the declaration of pangs of conscience by representatives of both the Catholic and Protestant Churches, for maltreatment of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the authors came up with seven statements regarding the way Christians and Jews treat each other. “Dabru emet” states: “Jews and Christians worship the same God (...) While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel.” Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book -- the Bible (what Jews call \\\"Tanakh\\\" and Christians call the \\\"Old Testament\\\"). Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel.Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of Torah. Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture. A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice. Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace. In response to the above, Christian Bible scholars, historians and theologians, members of Protestant and Catholic churches published a document containing ten statements entitled “A sacred obligation - Rethinking Christian Faith in Relation to Judaism and the Jewish People”
The document states: God’s covenant with the Jewish people endures forever. Jesus of Nazareth lived and died as a faithful Jew. Ancient rivalries must not define Christian-Jewish relations today.
Judaism is a living faith, enriched by many centuries of development.
The Bible both connects and separates Jews and Christians.
Affirming God’s enduring covenant with the Jewish people has consequences for Christian understandings of salvation. Christians should not target Jews for conversion. Christian worship that teaches contempt for Judaism dishonors God. We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people. Christians should work with Jews for the healing of the world.
Concrete changes began to take place in Polish Jewish Christian relations in the 1970s when, because of a forced emigration of the majority of the Polish Jewish survivors, only a small remnant of the once 3.5 million Jewish population that lived here before the Second World War remained.
This remnant began the process of restoring the Polish Jewish community and, according to Konstanty Gerbert, it was the Church, or to be more precise, certain Christian communities, which became “an important supporter in this process.” The first public debates on Jewish topics took place in the capital itself in the Evangelical Church in the, then, Swierczewskiego Street.
Gebert admitted that he and his peers from the pre and post March generation, growing up in homes that were assimilated, read the first Jewish texts written by themselves in Catholic (Znak/ Wiezi/ Tydodnik Powszechny) and Protestant (Jednota/ Zwiastun) papers. These texts formed part of Jewish- Christian dialogue.
Another Jewish columnist- Stanislaw Krajewski- says that the Jewish Culture Weeks in Warsaw, started in the 1970s were significant occasions. They were organized by the Club of Catholic Intelligence and the Evangelical – Reformed Parish and included readings and cleaning of Jewish cemeteries.
The Conference of the Polish Episcopate called into being a sub-committee called “Dialogue with Judaism” in 1986, which, according to priest Waldemar Chrostowski, was “the real beginning of Catholic- Jewish dialogue in Poland.” The main aim of the committee was to promote dialogue with Jews, react against anti-Semitism and also to lead a discussion within Catholicism about the Jewish roots of Christianity.” At the Conference of the Polish Episcopate in Czestochowa in November 1997, the so- called “Dzien Judaizmu” or “Day of Judaism” which is celebrated on the 17th January, the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was begun. For the head of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews - Stanislaw Krajewski, this day, when Christians of various denominations pray for the Jewish people is “the clearest accent in the new relationship between the Church and Judaism,” and has “historical value and significance for the Jews in Poland.” The celebrations of the Jewish festival Simchat Tora, or Rejoicing of the Torah in Warsaw’s Dzieciatka Jezus na Zoliborzu (Church of the Infant Jesus) church is also the work of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. These celebrations are held yearly and as Michal Czajkowski says, during the services “psalms are sung together with the Jews, God’s Word is studied and joyfully, melodically and energetically sang the words Sisu wesimchu besimchat tora utnu kawod latora!” The Polish Council of Christians and Jews mentioned above founded by Stanislaw Krajewski and Waldemar Chrostowski, which belongs to the International Council of Christians and Jews, has set itself the aim of Christians and Jews getting to know each other, understanding each other, breaking down of stereotypes and deepening inter-religious contacts. The Council also awards the title of “Czlowiek Pojednania” “Person of Reconciliation” to one person per year from outside the country who has worked for the development of dialogue in Poland.
As can be seen from the above sources, the process of eliminating the age old prejudices held by believers from varying denominations began with the publication of official documents and statements made by the hierarchy of the given groups. However, words are not sufficient, especially as S. Hizak states, “The Christian’s greatest testimony regarding the Jew is a quiet testimony, one of action, not of words, as actions speak louder than words.” The work of breaking down the “wall” (of hostility) with actions has been taken up by the part of the Body of Christ to God’s request has particularly spoken. This request reads “Comfort, comfort My People, says your God.” (Isaiah 40, 1) The work of these “younger brothers of the faith” on a wider scale enabled a systematic transformation at the end of the 1980s and also enriched Jewish cultural and spiritual life. New opportunities also opened up for all Christian circles that wanted to support Israel in the Land and in the Diaspora- this could now be done through material aid, charitable work and prayer support. One of these opportunities was the formal organization of Christian groups who desired to support the Jews in a practical way- by caring for the elderly descendants of Abraham or by prayer ministry. Shalom Ministry Association is registered in Poland as one of the organizations working for the good of the Jews – their work includes various forms of charitable help, prayer and education. Oswiecim, the place in which the idea was born to support the Jews, beginning with prayer meetings and followed by humanitarian aid, is a special place for two main reasons. Firstly, Oswiecim was a town in which, until the outbreak of the Second World War, 50% of the population was Jewish and their culture existed alongside the Polish culture. Oswiecim was known as “Jerusalem” (of the East), a name that existed until the outbreak of WW2.
In 1914 there was a population of 10, 126 inhabitants, which included 5, 358 Jews, and until 1939 the majority of the population was Jewish. The Jews had their own community, and had an influence on the population among whom they lived. They had their own language, religion and customs. They had their own schools, houses of prayer, they founded their own political organizations, sports groups, drama groups, created their own literature and art, and affected the economic, political and cultural development of the whole of Oswiecim’s population. Before WW2, the Jewish Community owned 18 synagogues, 15 of which were in Oswiecim itself, including the Great Synagogue and six private houses of prayer. One of Oswiecim’s Holocaust survivors and member of the Jewish Community described Oswiecim as “Little America” - there were Yeshivas and houses of prayer. Alex Reifer here was a rich cultural and intellectual life among the Jewish Community during his youth. The Community was made up of Rabbis, merchants, doctors and lawyers. The outbreak of war changed everything – in the words of Lucyna Filip “the city in which they were born and grew up, became the place of their annihilation” In the year 2000, the Auschwitz Jewish Centre was opened in order to honour the memory of the pre-war Jewish inhabitants of the city, to preserve the remaining artifacts and to educate with a particular focus on the issues surrounding the Holocaust. The Centre was opened in the building of the former synagogue and house of the Jewish Kornreich family plus the neighbouring Kluger family home on Jana Skarba square. The Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue otherwise known as the Association of Students of the Mishna was founded in 1913 and was the only Jewish house of prayer not to be destroyed by the Germans. In 1939, it housed an ammunition store, and in the 1970s, the Communist authorities nationalized the Synagogue building. In later years, the building had many roles including that of a carpet warehouse. In 1997, the building was returned to the Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala, who in turn handed it over to be a Jewish Centre. Before it was officially opened in the year 2000, it was completely renovated, the renovation and conservation being carried out based on historical sources and testimonies of Holocaust survivors. The Centre houses the Jewish Education Centre, a foundation set up in 1996, and whose sister organization was set up in 1995 in New York and goes under the name of Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation. The synagogue was restored with funds from the foundation.Thanks to the collection of photographs, documents and exhibits, the exhibition in the Jewish Centre presents the history of the local Jewish Community. During archeological excavations carried out in 2004, archeologists came across judaica from the contents of the Great Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Germans in 1939. These exceptional items are a moving symbol of a culture that has been destroyed. The Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue is the only remaining site of the Jewish religious cult, and having no Rabbi or congregation, is a place for reflection, prayer and solace.The Jewish Center offers its visitors a wide-ranging educational programme of seminars, lectures, meetings and cultural events, with the aim of teaching people about pre- war Jewish history in Oswiecim. It organizes viewing of not only the Synagogue and exhibitions, but also the town and Jewish Cemetery. Their educational programme also aims to make people aware of the dangers of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The second main reason for which Oswiecim is known for the work undertaken by Shalom Ministry Association has to do with the role defined by the Nazis – i.e. the fact that they built the concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau here. On both a universal and Polish scale, Oswiecim was ‘named’ a symbol of extermination and above all a symbol of the Holocaust- the annihilation of the Jews by the Nazis. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski says, “The notion of Auschwitz has become a symbol of that epoch for the majority of Jews.” Through such educational initiatives as the yearly March of the Living, conferences about Israel that have been organized for several years, and cooperation with Christian Friends of Israel in Jerusalem, Shalom Ministry Association aims to change the attitude of the Polish society towards Israel from a negative one to a positive one. It does this in the name of the Word of God that says, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse.” (Gen 12, 3) A particular task of the Ministry is practical aid for the needy Jews in the Ukraine. This work is funded by financial gifts and includes the running of soup kitchens in Szepetowka and Winnica, delivery of monthly food packages, organization of retreats for a group of a dozen or so Jews in Poland and home visits to help the needy. In the words of the leaders of the Ministry, “we believe that the most important thing is serving each person individually, listening to them and discerning their needs.” The initiatives of members of Shalom Ministry are founded on contacts with people, whether those people are the members of the Jewish minority in the Ukraine that need help or youth and adults from Israel and the Diaspora during March of the Living. The Christians working under the banner of Shalom Ministry are united in their aim to show respect and love to the Older Brothers of the faith and to encourage others in their family or church circles to take a similar attitude. This is done irrespective of what is preached from the pulpit and in harmony with the message in the Bible, which reads “…Did God reject His People, whom He foreknew?...And you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others… do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this; you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11, 2 / 17- 18.) Shalom Ministry Association members’ participation in March of the Living
It was in 1994 that a group of believers from various Christian churches and towns in Poland took part in the March for the first time, walking with the Jewish People under a banner with the words “Polish Friends of Israel.” They marched to show their solidarity with the Jewish People in “their past and present pain.” As S. Bubin noted in 1998 the “Polish Friends of Israel” banner could be seen during the ceremony and that in spite of the fact that there were few Polish Non- Jewish participants taking part in the March. The year 1998 was the first year in which young Polish pupils and students could officially take part. Yearly participation in March of the Living has become one of the main activities undertaken by Shalom Ministry since the latter’s inception in 1996 and one whose members and friends have been taking part in, carrying the banner reading “Polish Friends of Israel- in Solidarity with you” in English. The banner also shows an Israeli flag with an outline of the Star of David and the Aaronic Blessing written on it. “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them; ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.” The same text in English and Hebrew is printed on small laminated posters, which are handed out to some of the Jewish participants during the March as a symbolic gift.The group organized by Shalom Ministry registers in the Oswiecim Cultural Centre and after some singing, the idea of Christian participation in the March is set out, organizational details are explained and prayers are said. Then the group goes by bus to KL Auschwitz Birkenau, where, as every time, the focus is to show our solidarity with the pain and suffering of the Nation from which we received blessing and mercy, and to show them our friendship.The Polish Friends of Israel then join the line of people waiting to begin the March, which is officially started at the sound of the Shofar- or a ram’s horn. The shofar is traditionally blown at Rosh Hashana- the Jewish New year, and in Jewish tradition the sound is a call to revival and repentance, which must precede a new, better life. The participants take part in groups according to nationality, profession, place of study and include veterans’ groups who walk to Brzezinki and to Auschwitz II- Birkenau. The March recalls the Death March – the 3 km route that approximately 250, 000 Jews walked to their death in the years 1944 to May 1945. The people were forced to walk in inhumane conditions, many exhausted prisoners died en masse and the tens of thousands who managed to survive the March subsequently died as a result of disease and malnutrition. After the official ceremony, and as the Jewish guests walk back to the buses, the Polish group “Friends of Israel” sings popular Jewish songs in Hebrew accompanied by a guitar and violin – often raising interest and often an emotional response on the part of the elder participants of the March, leading to conversation or singing. In 2007 Roman Gawel, head of Shalom Ministry Association spoke on behalf of all participants when he said, “the reason we are going on this March is God Himself, who showed us mercy, by giving His own Land.” At the time of the Nazi Final Solution to destroy the Jews, Israel was alone, isolated apart from those heroic people who stood with her. All the more reason, therefore that this ceremony is a unique occasion and place to stand with her and remind her that, in spite of everything, she has not been forgotten and there are people who will join her in sympathy and in obedience to the Word of God which demands we “Comfort, comfort (His) People.” (Isaiah 40, 1)The statements and reaction of the Jewish participants to us Polish Christians shows that our message of friendship and peace sung in the words “Hevenu Shalom” reaches them. In the words of a Jew from Panama, who met a Christian group during the March, “We are grateful that you are so humane, the world should see how the Poles treat the Jews in this place.” Another young Jew said, “the most important thing you are already doing is this – ‘Polish Friends of Israel- in Solidarity with you.’ I think it’s amazing and very wise.”
Educational activities- conferences
Shalom Ministry has been organizing annual conferences since 1998, the aim of which is to teach Biblical truths regarding the Jews and regarding correct relations and attitude towards the Jews and the Nation of Israel. The first three conferences were organized in Ustron- Jaszowiec (98) and Miedzyswiec near Skoczow in 1999 and 2000 by the mission “God’s Peace- Szalom”, with the headquarters in Opole and a branch in Oswiecim. Subsequently, from 2001 onwards the conferences were organized by Shalom Ministry Oswiecim, a branch of the Pentecostal church. Since 2007 Shalom Ministry Association Oswiecim, which, after registration in the same year, obtained legal status, has run the conferences. The aim of the conferences is to teach how God views the Nation of Israel and therefore, how we, as Christians and His children should view the Nation. We are indebted to the Jews for two reasons, firstly, on account of the Messiah, the Word, which they brought to us and on account of the fact that it was they who brought us the Good News. At the source of this view of the Jewish Nation held by the Christians in Shalom Ministry and the desire to sensitize others to this view are the truths presented in the Bible. The most important of them is the one, which comes from the mouth of Christ Himself who said, “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4, 22) as the genealogy of Jesus Christ the Saviour was Jewish. He was “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matt 1,1) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He redeemed us that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3, 13- 14) Therefore, the goal of the conference is to teach that “our salvation in Jesus has Jewish origins and is linked to the Jewish Nation. We may not separate the salvation we believe in from the Jewish Nation from which Christ in the flesh comes.” Another truth, which is fundamental to the conference teaching refers to the fact that the Bible, God’s Word also has Jewish origins for it is the people of Israel to whom the covenants, the law and the worship and promises were given. Confirmation is found in the Word that reads, “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4, 7-8)God Himself chose the Israelites to be heirs of His Word, as it says in Psalm 147, v 19-20 “He has revealed His word to Jacob, His laws and decrees to Israel, He has done this for no other nation, they do not know His laws.” It was through the Jews that the Gospel reached the Gentiles, who became co-heirs of the promises of God and although they were once far away, and excluded from citizenship of Israel and foreigners to the covenants (Eph 2, 12), they have now become fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household. (Eph 2, 19) Having said that, we Gentiles must remember to retain a humble attitude- for “we have been cut off an olive tree that is wild by nature and grafted into a cultivated olive” tree at the cost of the Israelites for “because of their transgressions, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” (Romans 11, 24/ 11,11)A Church that is aware of its Jewish identity will then desire what the apostle Paul desired, who wrote, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10, 1) Over the centuries, Christians have neglected (disregarded) their Elder Brother of the faith, through whom they were given much. As Joaquin Miller writes (as quoted in “It is No Dream” by Elwood McQuaid )
“Who taught you tender Bible tales Of honey land, of milk and wine?
Of peaceful, happy Palestine? Of Jordan’s holy harvest vales?
Who gave the patient Christ? I say, Who gave the Christian creed? Yea, yea, Who gave your very God to you? Your Jew! Your Jew! Your hated Jew!” The conferences take place from Thursday to Sunday, and have a set programme of teaching sessions, complemented by testimonies of the work in the Ukraine, given by those who run the soup kitchen and by someone who receives some help. The believers of various Christian denominations and Messianic Jews are united by singing Psalms in Hebrew together and by praying together. A Shabbat supper is traditionally held on the Friday evening, the evening being led by the Messianic believers who are invited to the conference. It is an opportunity for Christians to get to know the customs regarding the day, which is known as the crowning achievement of every week. The city of Oswiecim, where conferences and meetings have been held since 2005 is noted for hosting the latest three conferences, entitled “From Holocaust to Living Hope.” The organizers chose this title, as they believe that the Christian Church must identify with the pain and suffering of the Jews, and yet should not remain in this pain. There is a solution- hope- that leads to reconciliation, to peace or shalom. As one of the organizers wrote in the prayer and information letter of Sept 2005, “the point is this, that here in the place that symbolizes the Holocaust- Auschwitz-Birkenau- Christians from Poland and other nations of the world should gather, to understand the suffering of the Jews, to humble themselves before God, and break bread at the Selection Site and declare the living hope that we have in the blood of the Lord Jesus.” That is why prayer and the Lord’s Supper at the Site of Selection is a unique experience, as once during the war, the place was filled with people who were walking to their deaths, and now, the desire of the conference organizers is that the Site would be filled with believers from the nations. They believe the prayers said here will bring blessing for the Church and for Israel. Before one Lord’s Supper was celebrated at the Site of Selection, Howard Morgan (conference speaker/ Messianic believer) said that although we are from different cultures, nations, surroundings, there is one thing that links us and that is the blood of Christ and the fact that we are also joined in ministry to the Nation of Israel. According to Morgan, there is one root of all evil in the world and that is people’s hate for one another. The redemption through the blood and body of Christ, which is symbolically celebrated on the ramp at Birkenau, and which God wants to bring to pass, can bring healing for all of mankind as it is not only the blood of Israel that calls out from the ground, as the blood of Abel, but the blood of all our murdered “brothers.” The main theme of the 10th Jubilee conference in 2007 was Christian-Jewish Relations over the ages, and JoAnn Magnuson (writer and lecturer, USA) whose lectures were centered on the history of these relations mentioned a theology, which rose in Christianity – so-called Replacement Theology, which says that the Church has become the New Israel and that God has rejected the Nation of Israel. Her teaching was complemented by lectures by Hansjuergen Kitzinger, pastor in Nurnberg, Germany, whose congregation works with City authorities and Jewish communities in an organization called “Seek the best for the City. Pastor Kitzinger spoke on 26.08.2008 about the Nurnberg Laws and their consequences and presented the idea behind “Hitler’s religion.” Hitler wanted to copy what was written in the Bible and create, (among other things) a Millennial Kingdom. Robert Waehrer (Bible teacher and head of Aktion Verzicht, Switzerland, actively engaged in the project Towards Jerusalem Council II) lectured on the topic of the conflict in thinking between two concepts of salvation. One view was the Biblical view that salvation came from the Jews, the other, held and preached by the Nazis that salvation came from Hitler. The speaker drew attention to the choosing of the Jewish Nation, which in turn meant a calling to serve others, and did not mean that others were rejected and which meant suffering caused by an affiliation to God. JoAnn Magnuson did not only focus on the history of anti-Semitism, but presented in following sessions the idea and works of Christian Zionism. The main aim of Christian Zionism is to rebuild the original relations that were broken between the “cultivated olive tree and the wild olive branch.” A simple definition given by Magnuson on 24th August 08 says that, “Christian Zionism supports the return of the Jews to Zion- the Land of Israel, promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.” The term Zion does not only mean the Temple Mount, Jerusalem- the City of David, but also Israel in her entirety. Avivah Benjamin (Messianic believer) drew listeners’ attention to the necessity of Christian involvement in the ministry of reconciliation, - to bring peace and forgiveness in every situation and place, in families and other relationships in spite of our own wounds. Her words had the ring of authenticity about them, as she was born into a family of German Jews, many of whom were burnt at Auschwitz, and is now engaged in the ministry of reconciliation – during her ministry she has come across and had contact with former Nazis or their descendants. As the programme (for the X conference 23- 26.08.2007) suggested, it was to be a time of repentance of past anti-Semitism, a cutting off from any anti- Semitic attitudes in the present and a return to the Jewish roots of our faith. The organizers’ aim was to God’s loving attitude towards the Jews into focus, and to encourage Christians to identify with and make the Word of God their own. Evidence that there is a need for such conferences to be continued and the positive influence on Polish Christians can be found in the words of the participants and the presence of many of them at more than one past conference. The conferences enable participants to get to know aspects of Jewish history and present day tradition and culture, and the Land itself. Moreover, teaching focuses on the need to have a respectful attitude to the Nation and reminds us of our debt of thankfulness. It also reminds us that we younger brothers of the faith have the obligation to declare our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for Him in word and deed, so that our Elder Brothers, who experienced hate committed in His Name, would finally be convinced that was not the message God planned for them. Finding out about the work carried out by Christians in Poland and around the world allows people to become involved in one or more of the ministries as they are able. Finally, the opportunity to spend time with people who think in a similar way, gives participants the feeling that they are not alone in their positive attitude towards Israel- the Nation and the People and the feeling that they belong to a great family of Christians who make up the Body of Christ.
One of the participants spoke of the influence the conference has had on her life by saying, “it will definitely influence me, I will be able to better understand the significance of the Jewish People in the world, the topic of reconciliation, and the destiny of the Nation in the work of salvation through Jesus Christ. I intend to tell everyone about Shalom Ministry and the work it does.” Another person said that, “we must not be indifferent to a bad attitude or bad words about the Jews.” The youngest of my respondents said very succinctly, “I now know that you have to love the Jewish People just the same as you love the Lord God.”
Wall of Prayer
Prayer is an integral part of the Christian life and is also something that has been part of the Shalom Ministry Oswiecim founders’ life since before it existed in the city. It was in 1995 that a small group of believers started meeting to pray at the former camp Auschwitz Birkenau, asking themselves and God what they as Christians could do for their Elder Brothers in a place where so many of them died, and from being the Jerusalem of Poland, became the symbol of the Holocaust.
With the foundation of Shalom Ministry, members joined the so-called Wall of Prayer, and since then many Christians from Poland have joined the Ministry for Israel run by Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) to pray with believers from all nations for Israel and the Jews.
The organization CFI with its headquarters in Jerusalem coordinates prayers for Israel from all over the world and, like Nehemiah, encourages Christians from all over the work to rebuild the spiritual walls of Jerusalem and Israel. Since 1991, The Wall of Prayer, CFI, has been linking up believers from over 100 countries in intercessory prayer for specific towns or villages in the Land and for the country in general. In so doing, they are creating (according to the prayer letter of Dec 2003) “an army of intercessors, holding up the invisible wall around Israel.” One associates the name of the ministry with the verses from Ezekiel 22, 30 that reads, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” The Talmund says that the words “build up a wall” mean “to call the people to repentance” and the words “stand in the gap” mean “to pray for their salvation.” According to S. Hizak, the wise- men of Israel believed that a man who appeared in the right gap at the right time could save a town, people or nation.
The people who coordinate the ministry travel around Israel, gathering new information, meeting with communities, taking photos and taking specific prayer requests. As they say themselves, “The Wall of Prayer is the work of the Master Builder and we as His workers change from time to time, but His work is continued.” (Prayer Letter Dec 2003) Their Watchmen on the Wall prayer letter, clarifying issues affecting Israel, is sent out once a month.
Should a believer like to join the living stones in the Wall of Prayer, raised up around this small nation and praying daily, he is obliged to fill in and return a form to the HQ in Jerusalem. Once registered as an intercessor for a specific place in Israel, he receives information and a map of Israel, marked with the place for which the intercessor is to pray. According to Joyce Gray, one of the former coordinators of the Wall of Prayer, “it is wonderful to know that each one of us has a role to play in God’s plan for the days in which we are living.” Although many of us do not consider ourselves “prayer warriors”, the words in James 5, 16 encourage us- “pray for each other… for the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
In response to the words written in Isaiah 62, 6, “On your walls, o Jerusalem, I have placed watchmen, they will never be silent day or night,” Shalom ministry leaders and members and Christians from outside Oswiecim took up a new challenge called the “Prayer Chain.” This is a 24/7 intercessory prayer chain for Israel. Interested parties choose one hour (or more if they have time) of the day or night and register their time at the Shalom Ministry Association office, where their names are added to a table of intercessors. The organizers encourage believers to join both prayer ministries, and desire to expand both forms, believing that “the prayer of a righteous man is effective.” (James 5, 16)
The above type of ministry to Israel and her inhabitants has a spiritual aspect and does not only enrich those who decide to stand in the gap, giving them joy at being part of such an important project, but gives them a feeling of being close to those for whom they are praying blessing, protection and peace. Those people, sometimes thousands of kilometers away are kibbutz and moshav or Arab village inhabitants.
The Polish Christians involved in Shalom Ministry activities note prayer for Israel and the Jews as a fundamental part of their religious activity. For one of the participants of the conference, joining the Wall of Prayer was “another step in her developing love for the Nation.” Another person declared, “In praying for the Jews, I am cooperating with God.” Furthermore, “God promises to bless those who pray for His blessing for the Jewish People.” For yet another person, prayer is another important element besides the humanitarian aid in the Ukraine, as she believes it is the “will of God that we feed the hungry and intercede for them in prayer.”
One Jewish believer in the Messiah Jesus from Israel said, referring to the net of Christian prayers for the Israeli communities, “that it is the most wonderful gift that can be given to my people.” (Quoted in Wall of Prayer letter 17.05.2006)
Humanitarian Aid in the Ukraine
Besides taking part in the annual March of the Living, supplying humanitarian aid in the Ukraine is the second way in which Shalom Ministry members have the opportunity to meet Jewish People directly, and in particular the remnant of Israel living in the Ukrainian Diaspora, whom they can show kindness and help in a practical way. This help is much needed as the Jewish People there live in difficult situations – caused by low incomes, bad state of health and loneliness.
This ministry began in 1999 when the organization Chevra from Krakow approached Shalom Ministry, suggesting they take over one of the soup kitchens, which was having financial difficulties.
The difficult financial situation of the Ukrainian Jews is confirmed by an article by Y. Zissels regarding the social policy towards the Jews in post- communist Jewish communities. The author states that the monthly income of the majority of elderly Jews in the Ukraine was less than $30 and 90% of those people received less than $20. Every third person admitted that they lacked money for even the most basic of foods, and 4% said they were sometimes starving. Moreover, more than half of the respondents did not have money to buy clothes. Every fourth person of the approx 75, 000 Ukrainian Jews lacked money to buy medicine and 41% could only buy basic medication. Barely 18% of the elderly Jewish population described their health as good or satisfactory. 7-8% owned a broken fridge, washing machine or TV and 60% of the flats were in need of renovation. The living conditions of half of the then Jewish population meant that they required some form of help and 45, 000 people who did not have money for even the most basic of needs and who needed constant care.
Regular Shalom Ministry trips to the Ukraine are an opportunity to observe the rising cost of maintenance and the very small rises in already very low pensions. This means that an increasing number of the oldest descendants of Abraham wrestle with poverty.
Christians from Poland had the opportunity to visit the Ukrainian town of Szepetowka in the late 90s, meet the Jewish community there and see their living conditions. One of the Polish participants admitted that he was “broken hearted” by what he saw. “When we visited the soup kitchen in Szepetowka,” he said, “the people who were there came up to us and started asking us where we were from. They thanked us so much when they heard that we were from Poland and wanted to help them. One woman- an 80 year old- came up to one of the men in our group and kissed his hand. It is difficult to describe what one feels in such a moment. One woman whom we asked what she ate in any given day, said she drank tea in the morning, waited for the hot lunch at the soup kitchen and later at home she drank tea for supper. It was through meeting people from the nation that my Messiah, my Saviour came from and seeing how they lived, that the desire rose in my heart to do something practical for these people.” (Interview given 15.03.2008)
The Christians involved in Shalom Ministry decided to support the soup kitchen in Szepetowka, which is located 750km or 16 hrs’ drive away from Oswiecim from August 1999. In doing so, they joined the group of people from many different countries who were already running 35 other soup kitchens here in their desire to help the Jewish people in their difficult conditions. Thanks to the support of Polish Christians from various denominations and from other Christian organizations outside Poland- Bridges for Peace (to the end of 2008) and Aktion Verzicht, which continues to support the work today, it is possible to serve 50 meals a day from Monday to Friday and deliver meals to the sick and disabled in their homes. The meals are very nutritious, varied (as far as possible) and always 2–courses served with bread.
Packages with food for supper have been provided at the soup kitchen since July 2000.
Another town in which the soup kitchen for the Jewish people is co- financed by Shalom Ministry is Winnica. Here, since the year 2000, 160 people have been served free hot lunches, but do not receive supper. Genia, an inhabitant of Szepetowka said, “The lunches mean life to us, thank you! Every Sabbath when we light our candles, we thank God for His care and blessing and for the lunches at the soup kitchens and pray that this work may be continued.” (See Jan 2008 prayer and information letter)
The work at the soup kitchens does not only consist of serving hot meals but also caring for the people who attend them. In each of the soup kitchens, there is somebody responsible for the supervision of the canteen, to ensure all runs smoothly, and for the delivery of packages to those people who are unable to leave their homes. Roza runs the soup kitchen in Szepetowka on a voluntary basis and is helped faithfully by her husband Zinow.
Until June 2009, the hard work of running the soup kitchen in Winnica was done by Ela and her husband Sasza. The sudden death of Ela at age 53 due to a heart attack has left a gap in the ministry of mercy. Members of Shalom Ministry Association put their trust in Almighty God, who will find the best help for Sasza and the best solution to continue this good work.
It must be noted that apart from the fact that the hot meal enables the soup kitchen attendees to survive, another aspect of the work there is to bring the Jewish community together. The people who come for lunch are elderly and lonely but, when at the soup kitchen, do not feel so abandoned and alone, and can share the difficulties and joys they experience in their daily life and have a sense of belonging to a fellowship. How much it means to them was expressed in the words of 84-year- old Perla from Szepetowka, who (as quoted in prayer letter Jan 08) could not attend the soup kitchen for some time due to illness. She said in a conversation with Shalom Ministry Association members that she has really missed the soup kitchen and the contacts with other attendees.
Alongside the part financing of the soup kitchen in Winnica, another form of help has been started- the delivery of monthly food packages to 14 sites in the Winnica region. As was written in the Aug/ Sept letter of 2000, 30% of the Ukrainian ghetto prisoners live in the Winnica region; that is approximately 900 people, many of whom lost their entire families during the Holocaust. In total, 3 tons of food products – or 555 packages are delivered monthly. Until 2007, each package worth 20zlotys consisted of: 1 kg of sugar, rice, buckwheat, oats, a packet of pasta, a litre of oil, butter, fish conserve, condensed milk, 100g of tea, biscuits, a packet of raisins, bay leaves, and a bar of soap.
Just how important this modest help is for those receiving it, can be heard in the words of 88 –year old Doni from Winnica, “I am grateful to God for you and your friends. If it weren’t for this help, we’d have long been in the grave. Praise God that you lengthen our lives. ... Whenever I get the monthly package, I take each product in my hand and think about those whom I can thank that I have something to eat. I bless God each day for them and pray that the good they show us, He would also show them. Don’t forget that we are here and God will not forget about you…” (June- July 2003 letter)
Some of those lonely people who receive help were visited by Shalom Ministry members in a trip in January 2004. One of these was 86- year- old Udla, who was moved and grateful and said, “there is everything in these packets that an old person needs… it is very hard for me, but thank God for this help. There is God on this Earth because in help is given to our nation in this hard time. You don’t even realize how much this help means to us. May God speak with you.” (Jan- Feb 2004 letter)
Although Shalom Ministry members’ desire is to help all those who need it, unfortunately circumstances mean the ministry must be restricted. Due to the drastic rise in prices in the Ukraine, of food in particular, the Association was forced to reduce the number of products- as a result, therefore, until more funds can be found, the number of products has been cut to six since March 2008.
The increasingly difficult financial situation of the Jewish Diaspora forced Shalom Ministry to set up another soup kitchen- this one in Mohylow Podolski. The charity organization Chesed, which also ran soup kitchens in the Ukraine for the poorest in the country, also came into financial problems. As a result, it drastically cut aid to the Jewish communities there- closing the soup kitchens, which had been run in January 2008. One of these was the one in Mohylow Podolski- leaving the local Jews with no help. During a visit to the Ukraine, Shalom Ministry members visited the town (as well as Jampol and Winnica) and there spoke to the people who had lost the help. One of those was 86- year-old Bluma, who had recently lost her husband and for whom hot lunches were a great help as she was no longer able to cook for herself. During a visit to a lonely and infirm 95 year-old Ala, she repeatedly begged, “I’m hungry, give me something to eat!” Finding themselves in a similar situation were the lonely 89- year-old Aaron, a retired soldier and 80- year-old Lida, who though alone, in spite of everything, was cheerful and positive. She said, “You’ve lived another day, so thank God!” (Feb-March 2008 letter)
In the face of this situation, Shalom Ministry decided to re-open the soup kitchen, which is run in the local synagogue. Twenty people received lunches three times a week from March 2008 and from May 2009, lunches have been served four times a week.
When it comes to other activities, medical help for the most needy is noteworthy. Most of the people there struggle with many serious, incurable illnesses and the lack of finances to buy medicine, to pay for an operation or buy necessary equipment means their lives are very difficult and more often than not other diseases or complications are caused as a result. Whenever possible, money is provided to buy medication, equipment to measure blood pressure is supplied, and Polish people donate ‘walkers’ for those people who have had an operation. Help is given when money is needed to pay for an operation or a trip to a health resort/ centre.
During subsequent visits to the places where the Jews are recipients of Shalom Ministry’s help- financial aid is also given in order to buy cleaning products, clothes, shoes or coal, as the latter three, or rather their lack, can mean the difference between life and death for the people, particularly in winter. One of the latest initiatives was to buy and provide small halogen stoves for people in Jampol, as due to a lack of heating and gas, many people suffer from the cold in their flats.
The fact that the living conditions of many of those in Shalom Ministry’s care are very poor is another source of worry for them and often causes deterioration in health. This was the case for Olga, a retired teacher who had had surgery to remove a tumour, whose flat did not have water nor plumbing and had to be heated with a coal fire.
Because of the poor state of the whole of the council building, it was only possible to connect running water to the flat- and yet is something that makes her life much easier.
Yet another way in which Shalom Ministry desires to improve the lives of the remaining Ukrainian Jews is through organizing trips to Poland for 10- 15 people from the towns where aid is given. The aim is that the Jewish people can forget about their loneliness and every day problems - at least for a while. The first group of ten came to Pulawy, (in the Biesczady mountains) in September 2003. The oldest participant was 83 years old and she, as all of them, described the time they spent there as a time “where they were shown such warmth, joy and love – the kind that they received only from their parents in their childhood.” (Sept- Oct 2003 letter). The next group came to Poland September- October 2004 (and according to the letter of the same months) among the 16 people, “it was the first time for 11 of them to be outside the Ukraine, and some of them experienced the hell of the Holocaust in their childhood.”
The desire in running these retreats for the elderly descendants of Jacob is to erase, at least in part, the memories of persecution and humiliation caused by their being of Jewish descent. Their desire is to do this in accordance with the Word written in Isaiah 62, 10 to “build up the highway, remove the stones.” In the report written in Sept- Oct 2003 the organizers wrote, “we give thanks to God that He removed the stones of prejudice, rejection and depression from their hearts day by day.” Swieta, one of the women who came to Poland, said (in an interview 15.03.2008) that for the first time in her life, “ she felt like a first class person, not like a third class person as she had felt until then.” Borys from Winnica summarized his visit in the following way, “One author wrote that whoever goes to Paris will remember it to the end of his life. I will remember this trip to Poland for as long as I live.” Another participant – David from Winnica expressed his thanks with the following words, “After the war, those who rescued Jews, were given the Righteous Among the Nation award. Now, in the face of anti-Semitism, people who support and help the Jews deserve such an award.” (All quotes taken from an interview 15.03.2008) Many of the people said (Oct 2005 letter) that would associate Poland with people’s warmth and goodness as that is what they experienced in our country.
Since 2005 groups from various churches in Poland have been able to go to visit the lonely, disabled, ill and elderly whom they bring before the Throne of God in prayer throughout the whole year and who support them financially or by providing necessary goods. The organizers’ desire has been that the donors could see what Shalom Ministry writes about in their letters and personally meet those they help and see the conditions in which the Jewish people live there.
All forms of practical help provided by Polish Christians through Shalom Ministry are a sign of their love and kindliness they desire to the remnant of God’s Chosen Nation. Other forms are their sympathy and understanding shown in conversations with individuals during home visits, listening to their tragic family history, of which very often only one person has survived, comforting them and of course prayer.
The feelings of all the people visiting the Jewish minority in the Ukraine has been described most fully by Miroslaw, who wrote in a letter (made available by Shalom Ministry) entitled “Reflections on my trip to the Ukraine,”
“I put off this trip to the Ukraine for a long time … and yet today I am grateful to God that I finally decided to go and see what would move more than one heart… I wanted to see how my Elder Brothers of the faith live, whom I have to thank for the most beautiful book in the world and my beloved Messiah. Their Messiah became my Lord, who changed my life, pulled me out of the grip of death and made me a prince. I travelled there to see what I can do for them now, what can be changed in what they are destined to experience on a daily basis. I really wanted to do so, for that Nation influenced my life. Looking at those people, I thought- ‘they are the earthly brothers and sisters of my Lord.’ Worthless clothes, sick bodies, loneliness and poverty in their eyes, and those empty margarine boxes for the leftovers of lunch- because of course, nothing can be wasted here. They never know if there will still be meals next month- it all depends on us Christians who, out of a spirit of love and lovingly and financially maintain this and other soup kitchens in the Ukraine. I’ll never forget how people came up to us after lunch to shake our hands as a sign of their gratefulness. With tears in their eyes, they thanked us, saying, “You are good people, without you we would most certainly have died, may God reward you, may God bless you, thank everyone in Poland.” With a lump in my throat, I was reminded of the words of Paul in Romans 15, 25- 27- “Now I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to it and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to them to share with them their material blessings.”
I understood how much I owe God, how much I have to thank God for- for, after all, I have never been hungry and I own many things that those people can only dream about and in spite of all of this, how often I have muttered and complained. … I thought if I consider myself a Christian, then I should listen to what my Lord says and He clearly says in Matthew 25, 40, “I tell you the truth, whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.”
I was grateful to God that I could see with my own eyes how the people of the Lord live. I understood that in their isolation and poverty, they sought rescue and I believe God provided it for them. We became their hope or rescue- you and I. Presently, when each one of us can share even a tiny bit of what their Messiah gives us, they can discover meaning and sense of life once again. How often the question is asked, “Why are you doing this?” When they hear the answer that it is for their Messiah, they are startled! Praise God that some of them have found their Messiah thanks to this aid.”
The response of the descendants of Abraham who receive help us one of huge gratitude, expressed in various everyday ways- in words, gestures, tears of emotion, a smile or a letter of thanks, written, for example by the Jews of Szepetowka who wrote in Jan- Feb 2002 letter:
“Dear brothers and sisters in the spirit! It is now two years since you started showing those of us in your care in Szepetowka moral and material support, helping us to survive and cope in these difficult conditions. Representatives of Shalom Ministry and their friends often come with gifts, spiritual verses, songs and melodies and in so doing, give us their love, warmth, attention and care. Beloved! Without your help, we would not survive. Your goodness will remain in our hearts forever. We are very grateful to you for organizing such wonderful lunches and suppers. All of us who come to the soup kitchen pray for peace and that you, with God’s help, would be able to continue this good work, and that you would always and everywhere be with God. May you live 120 years! Shalom to you, brothers and sisters!”
The above examples show us that the initiatives undertaken by Polish Christians join people together that desire to fulfill God’s instruction to ‘build a highway, remove the stones’ as is written in Isaiah 62, 10 and to do this for the Nation whom the Almighty God has made People of His Covenant. They do this because of the Messiah- Jesus Christ, who came into the world through the Nation of Israel and it is He who joins them in this work, irrespective of denomination, for in Him ‘neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.’ (NKJV Gal 5, 6)
These projects aim to teach about the role Israel plays in God’s plan of salvation, inspire us- the wild branches grafted in to the tree- to prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for the People, uncover and spread the knowledge of the rich spiritual and cultural inheritance, which we too have been enriched with. Moreover, as the Word says in James 5 16, ‘Pray for one another … for the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.’
The work of the Body of Christ for Israel and the Jews may take on many forms, but each of them is significant, “faith encompasses the whole reality of words and deeds, beliefs and actions” To take care of the elderly members of the Jewish minority in the Ukraine, who live in abject poverty and suffer from many illnesses is to repay the debt of thankfulness we have to them. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 15, 27 ‘For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.’
Carrying out acts of mercy is above all a sign of our obedience to our Lord, who encourages us by saying in Matthew 25, 40 ‘ I tell you the truth whatever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you do for me.’ We can serve in many ways depending on the situation we find ourselves in, the opportunities and skills we have been gifted with. For some it will be prayer in the silence of their bedroom, for others it will be taking a courageous stand for Israel in conversation or on an internet forum, participation in a conference, or presence at celebrations of Jewish religion, culture or tradition.
What is important is our desire to stand with Israel and support the Nation irrespective of where the Lord has placed us and this will be significant in God’s eyes and will be noticed by the Jews themselves. S. Hizak, believer in the Messiah of Israel summed this up beautifully when he said, ‘wherever the Jewish world receives proof of the love that Jesus spoke about in His sermon on the Mount, it will make such an impression on the Jews that it will cover a multitude of collective sins committed by Christians over the centuries.’
Translated by Karen Forth
Kindly edited by Monica Szkorla