I received this letter from Ken Rank last week. Rank founded United 2 Restore in order to bring Jews and Christians, or as he prefers to describe it, Judah and Ephraim closer together, in order to “re-build bridges of communication which have been previously burned”. He sent me this letter as part of his personal teshuvah (repentance) for Yom Kippur. My response to him was sincere, and I intend for it to be a part of my Yom Kippur prayers.
A letter to the Jewish People from Ken Rank
Over the last decade or so, my family has been keeping the Sabbath and biblical Holy Days. We’re not Jewish, but we feel drawn to these days for our own reasons. In the process of observance and celebration, we consider ourselves blessed in many ways. As we annually cycle through the Appointed Times, we build upon those things we learned during the previous years. And, as each cycle comes around, I find my focus narrowing on reconciliation and restoration between and for all of the B’ney Yisrael.
Back in early September, as we began the final 40 days that lead to Yom Kippur, I began to see teshuvah in a completely different light. I made a commitment to reach out to those I knew I had wronged, and also, to those I believe I have been wronged by. This has been more than just another learning experience for me, it has been a humbling life lesson. I have stood before and asked forgiveness from those I know I have hurt. I have also stood before others in an attempt to find shalom between us, letting go of any memory that might have related to how poorly they might have treated me. Like I said, this has been a humbling and yet, somehow, oddly rewarding experience.
There is an aspect of teshuvah that I seem unable to satisfy at this time, and sadly, I might never satisfy this weight on my heart. That weight is found squarely on my inability to take the hurt of the Jewish people, a hurt caused by centuries of hostility at the hands of Christians, away. As a man loosely raised as a Christian, I now know that the Jewish people have, for the most part, a very unfavorable view of Christians, Christianity, and Jesus. And why not? Christians over the centuries have treated the Jewish people poorly. Starting early in the second century, various Christian leaders began to shape the paradigm of future Christians by writing about the Jews as if they were Christ killers, deplorable sinners, and a people out of God’s will and without purpose. As time progressed we see a growing lack of respect aimed at the Jewish people coupled with beatings, forced baptisms, and even death. When Hitler came into power, he claimed to be a Christian. Despite him being a poor reflection of the one he claimed to serve, the Jews should not be expected to have to discern who may or may not be reflecting the values of Christianity. Thus, from their perspective, if Hitler claimed to be a Christian, and I claim to be a Christian, then in their eyes, I am not much different than Hitler.
The truth is, I am unlike Hitler in many ways but I have no ability to undo the past. Not only do I lack that ability, I really can’t even make an adequate apology to the Jewish people for the wrongs that have been committed against them by those who have come before me. I can’t make right what others have made wrong, all I can do is take a stand for Israel, for the Jewish people, and attempt to reflect the true values and character of the God we both serve. Judah – your God is my God, and your people are my people. While I can’t undo the past, I can offer my respect and understanding and only hope, and pray, that one day this sentiment becomes mutual. And perhaps, as time progresses, others will come to a similar understanding and, in time, reach that same depth of teshuvah. When that happens, we’ll all taste an aspect of shalom that hasn’t been realized since Solomon.
Avinu Malkeinu, hear my prayer. I have, we all have, sinned before you. Have compassion upon us and our children. Our Father, our King! Return us in complete teshuvah before you. We ask you to bring shalom to chaos and union to areas of division. May a door of communication be opened between all who belong to you, our King. To you alone be the glory! Amen.
My response to Ken and like-minded non-Jews
Words that go out from the heart, enter into the heart. I am awed by your gesture, holding out your hand in friendship. I have merited seeing this from you as well as many other Christians and it pains me to say that I have also seen this fine gesture rejected by many Jews. Though I can understand the reasons for Jews to reject Christian moves towards friendship, I do not agree.
Tosafot discussed Esther’s sin of marrying a non-Jew, a clear sin she should have allowed herself to be killed for, and concluded, “Greater is a sin done in the name of heaven than a mitzvah done not in the name of heaven”. If I sin by accepting these acts of friendship, then it is a sin I choose consciously, like Esther did, with the intention of saving Israel.
I am not naive. I recognize the irreconcilable differences. Jews claim that Christian friendship is only in order to bring the Second Coming. Though it is clear that one side or the other will be gravely disappointed when the Messiah comes, I am willing to put aside conjecture until that revelation appears, knowing that whenever and whatever does happen, I will remain a humble Jew trying to serve my God in the best way I know how.
I am awed by the phenomenon of Christians connecting with their Hebrew roots, and doing mitzvoth. I am so in awe that I only dare come close enough to witness it without commenting or touching it in any way. I see in it an aspect of prophecy, a revelation, a reality that was inconceivable just a few short years ago. The Jews have always imagined the Temple and Messiah as a journey they would have to take alone, because, for a millennium, Christians rejected the Torah and hated us for it. The process that is happening now will, God willing, lead us to a Third Temple that will truly be a House of Prayer for All Nations. I think this is what the first two Temples were, but history has pushed that concept so far away that Jews can no longer imagine that Christians would come to us, demanding we be their Kohanim, serving as intermediaries to do God’s will.
I hear your pain when you speak of sins past, sins that you took no part in but feel the need to atone for. I also feel the pain of my people and my ancestors, crying out from a millennium of suffering. That pain, especially the Holocaust, comes from an aspect of God that is too great for me to grasp but too important for me to abandon. I don’t know how to react, how to include it in my own service and belief, let alone how to incorporate your part in it.
I do know, however, that as an individual Jew, I am standing at a point in time when the brit with Abraham has miraculously been fulfilled. I am also living in a time when that realization of God’s will is in jeopardy of falling. So many are willing to look at hate-filled murderers and call them righteous victims, even rewrite history in the most absurd manners, deny their own God (Jew and Gentile), and even invite killers into their midst. They are willing to do all these horrifying things only in order to wipe out Israel, because Israel’s very existence is undeniable proof of the sanctity of God’s word, something they are unwilling to see. Many Jews living in the Diaspora have abandoned the God of Israel. They have chosen the foreign God of liberal values, a shiny, dare I say, Golden Mask.
When faced with the imminent destruction of Israel, a dream barely just begun, I choose to accept Christians as allies.Forgiving is not my place and forgetting would make teshuva impossible, I choose to go forward with you. I feel it is God’s will. I see God’s hand in current events, pushing us together. If this is true, this is the way towards rebuilding the Temple and establishing an Israel that is the Holy Land and the Chosen People.
And if I sin in this, I will never deny it. I will stand before the Heavenly Court this Yom Kippur and ask that you be brought as a witness. May we both learn to bear our sins while we serve God. In this, I will fulfill the verse, “I will bless them that bless thee”. Be blessed, brother.
Ken published his letter on the United 2 Restore website. Many Christians have joined in his prayer, asking forgiveness from the Jewish People and holding out their hands in friendship.