Christmas Letter from the President

As I wrote on our Web site last month, this year Chanukah and Christmas do not coincide. Western Christmas is on the 25th day of the twelfth month; Chanukah is on the 25th day of the ninth lunar month. This is a Jewish leap year in which we have an extra (13th) month, so the two calendars will be more in synch as of next year.

In the meantime, for most of the members of the ICCJ, who live in predominantly Christian or post-Christian societies, this is the most festive time of the year. Some of the festivity has become over-commercialized (what hasn’t?) But there is still usually a strong feeling of fellowship, families coming together, generosity, and maybe even spirituality, to balance all the shopping.

I feel blessed to live in an era when Jews and Christians, by and large, have built positive relationships of friendship and collegiality. Some people think that the reason for the changed relationship between Jews and Christians in the 20th century came out of a sense of Christian guilt for years of persecution or a sense of responsibility for the Holocaust.  Those are certainly factors that figure into the equation—especially in the Ten Points of Seelisberg-- but an additional crucial reason was that modern scholarship about Jesus began to focus on the fact that he was a Jew. That echoes Point One of our Berlin Document.

I have often thought it strange that Jews, who are very quick to claim athletes, politicians and movie stars, not to mention Nobel laureates, as Jews—we sometimes play a kind of game, “Did you know that so-and-so is Jewish?”—generally ignore the most famous and arguably the most important Jew who ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth. Jews and Christians will never see Jesus in the same way; that is one of the most important differences between us.  But I do think that more Jews should recognize Jesus as a great Jewish teacher and spiritual personality.

We wish all of our Christian members and friends a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.  With apologies to our dear friends in the Southern Hemisphere, what Chanukah and Christmas do share in common is the theme of light at the winter solstice.  The major work of medieval Jewish mysticism, the Zohar, states: “There is no light except that which comes out of darkness.”  I’d like to quote a friend, the Rev. David Neuhaus, SJ, of Jerusalem: “In the surrounding darkness, let us commit ourselves afresh to spreading light, love and justice so that our world might be transformed. Let us together pray that the Creator of heaven and earth might have mercy on us and heal us and our world,” to which I can only add “Amen.”