REMEMBERING THE SHO'AH
IN ST MARY'S CATHEDRAL
By Cliff Baxter
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney will be in darkness at
6pm on Thursday April 27 when a solitary voice will
ring out through the gloom:
All the gleaming lights of the heavens
And darkness spread throughout the land.
Blackness, deep, dark despair
NIGHT, darkest night
This startling moment in a house of worship will unite
Jews and Christians in an historic, solemn, mutual remembrance of last century's Holocaust or Sho'ah which offered the greatest challenge either of the two great faiths ever encountered.
The narrator will exclaim:
Judaism and Christianity do not merely tell
Of God's love for humanity.
They stand or fall on their fundamental claim
That the human being is of ultimate and absolute
The Sho'ah poses the most radical counter-testimony
To both Judaism and Christianity.
No statement, theological or otherwise,
Should be made that would not be credible
In the presence of burning children.
Christians and Jews have worked together on the April
27 liturgy, sponsored by the NSW Council of
Christians and Jews.
A Hebrew term for catastrophe, Sho'ah refers to the
systematic, deliberate murder of nearly six million
Jews by the Nazis.
Many prefer this term to Holocaust, because the latter originally referred to the most sacred of sacrifices in biblical Israel.
Some might ask, why rake over the dreadful coals of
the concentration camp ovens? Why not just heal and
We know that anti-Semitism, mosque and synagogue
defacement and destruction, interfaith rivalry,
racialism, militarism, stereotyping, scapegoating,
official and unofficial terrorism are on the rise. Who
Power, Force and Greed are loose on our threatened
One cannot watch the TV headlines without flinching
over the deaths on the streets of Baghdad, Jerusalem,
the West Bank or any city or village in so many
Arabs, Jews, Christians, indeed all peoples, crave
peace and yet are denied the right to live their lives
without threat. The merchants of death are in full
swing as much as in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
We cannot run away from dark forces, or say with fools
or manipulators 'the Holocaust did not happen', which
would be just as ridiculous as claiming more than a
million and a half Armenians were not done to death in
Turkey in 1918, or Rwanda atrocities did not happen.
Racial killings are continuing in our own time. Pick
up your daily newspaper and look!
For the Christian, it is essential to face up to two
thousand years of persecution of the Jews,
culminating in the horror of the Sho'ah.
We need to remind ourselves of the words of the 1965
decree from the Second Vatican Council, 'Our Time',
Even though the Jewish authorities and those who
followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ,
neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor
Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed
during his passion.
Much work needs to be done to cleanse the minds of all Christians from the notions that the Jews have
suffered down the ages because they are guilty of
deicide calling out 'Let his blood be upon us and upon
our children.' Such notions persist, and they made the
Sho'ah so much easier for the Nazis to perpetrate
their crimes in the name of racial purity and
patriotism with popular support , including that of churchgoers.
The shadow of the Sho'ah falls still on all of us down
the corridors of history. We need to move into the
We also need to rid our minds of any idea that
Christianity has made Judaism redundant, that they
lost their Covenant because of their refusal to hail
Christ. From ancient Israel to our own day, Jews have
lived in covenant as well.
This is seen in the circumcision of Abraham and his
offspring, the kingship of David, the gift of the
Torah at Sinai, and the appearance of the rainbow in
the heavens. Israel's prophets proclaimed God's
faithful intent to establish a new covenant with the
people, a 'living covenant written on their hearts'
(Jer.31:33) even embodied in a 'new heart'
This would not supersede the existing covenant, but in continuity would renew and extend Israel's hope and confidence in God's loving commitment.
For those of us who live in the new covenant
established by God in Jesus Christ we need to
recognize that we are joined in continuity to those
who have already been made God's people in the
covenant of Sinai, and recognize that covenant, old
and new, is a gift that is 'irrevocable' (Rom.9:4,
Do I hear you say, that Jews and Christians are
'different' and ask how that all of this relates to
the Sho'ah celebrations in the Cathedral? What
positive things can we reflect upon?
We need to realize that an understanding of Jesus is indispensable for those who wish to comprehend the relation of Christianity to Judaism and the Jewish people. In spite of the fact that a movement emerged from him that later and gradually separated from Judaism, Jesus himself lived and died as a faithful Jew. In the century previous to ours the Nazis would have hunted him down and put him into a gas chamber. He would have had to arise like a phoenix from ashes.
Great attempts have been made to 'de-Jew-ify' Jesus by
false portrayals that his teachings opposed Jewish
teachings, that he opposed the Torah and that his
death was due to Jewish opposition.
The April 27 service in the darkened Cathedral will be
an occasion for great reflection by both Jew and
Christian, for as the narrator will proclaim, while a
solitary viola plays:
We are gathered here to express our deep remorse
At the vile atrocities of the Shoah,
The darkest stage of human history
The allowing of the utter annihilation that swept away
six million Jews
And five million others,
That made unwanted human beings vanish.
Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally handicapped,
The Holocaust of innocent victims
The coming of stifling, asphyxiating darkness
The falling down into a bottomless pit of
Destruction, of hatred -
The attempt to wipe out a whole people from the face
of the earth
Who gave so much to humanity.
The service , although its focus is upon the darkness
of the gas chambers, will also recall how another
darkness dissolved when God said 'Let there be
light' (Gen 1:3) and then made humankind in his own
The gathering will be reminded how human beings have
corroded the divine image and murdered in the name of
religion, that six million Jewish images of God were
wiped out by the deliberate miscasting of others. It
will also reflect on an earth soaked with the tears of
the innocent, and the fact that if Jews can be
consigned to such horror no Christian is safe. Nor
Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, or Hindu. No one is safe.
Six candles will be lighted on the Cathedral's high
Each represents one million lives lost.
Those present will commit themselves 'to
responsibility for one another, that together we may
build a world that has no room for hatred or revenge.
But only love and respect for the other.'
As I read those words from the program of the coming
service I must include in my prayers the beleaguered Palestinian people and the anxious Jewish settlers on the West Bank. How can we free both from the threat of the soldier's bullet, the helicopter gunship, or the suicide bomber?
Those who attend the service will be reminded of our
'one-ness' with God as the Shema is recited in the
The Shema, proclaiming the oneness of God, said at
daybreak and at fall of night has been on the lips
of Jews for thousands of years. These words came to be
the last words recited by many going to their death .
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One: and
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul and with all your might. And
these words which I command you this day shall be upon
your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to
your children and you shall talk of them when you sit
in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when
you lie down, and when you rise up (Deut 6: 4-7).
Cliff Baxter is a journalist, adult educator and a
member of the NSW Council of Christians and Jews.
Marianne Dacy (NDS), 2 Devine St, Erskineville 2043 Tel: 61 2 9557 2752 (h);
61 2 9351 4162 (W)
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