Monday, February 8, 2016

Eulogy for Richard Da Costa

Oct. 14, 1953 - Dec. 18, 2015
Elder of Kehillat Eytz Chaim/ Tree of Life Congregation, Toronto
Former President, Messianic Jewish Alliance of Canada

Given by Ben Volman, December 23, 2015

In the many years that Richard and I worked on the High Holy Day services, we never found the right time or moment to include a beautiful little prayer called Ahavat Olam, but I’m going to say a bit of it now, because it says in ancient words the way that Richard often made me feel about the faith we shared: 

You have loved Israel, your people, with everlasting love. You have taught us Torah and precepts….  Therefore, Lord our God, when we lie down and when we rise up, we will meditate on Your truth for all time and take joy in the Scriptures because they are our life and the length of our days. …Baruch ata Adonai oh-hehv ah-moh Yisrael.  Blessed are you, O Lord, who loves Israel your people.

With all his heart and all his passion for God, Richard loved Israel and the God of Israel who sent the Messiah who changed his life.  No words could more powerfully sum up this faith at the core of his being.  It motivated him to move from humble beginnings and live with a life of determined action. It transformed an honest, unpretentious hard-working young man into a community and national leader, a spiritual elder and a person of conviction. Richard had the strength of will to do what few can say they’ve done: he lived what he believed.

The young man I met over 35 years ago was an immigrant from Trinidad, raised in Port of Spain and in the same trade as my father—a metal worker.  He’d come to faith not that long before when we stood in the centre aisle of the hotel room where Cong’n Melech Yisrael was meeting—maybe 50 or 60 people on an Erev Shabbat evening—and I could see his eyes were shining.  He loved being in this setting where Jewish people were finding the authentic identity of Yeshua. 

You didn’t have to look too hard to sense this man’s qualities of kindness, compassion, empathy and openness.  And as the years went by, no matter what challenges, tsuris, struggles or burdens came along, he never lost his grip on the values that shaped his life.  Leadership is a lot of long nights working alone; a lot of complaints, irritations, and frustrating phone calls—and then just pressing on with a smile.

Over the years, I watched Richard pull himself up by the bootstraps as he pushed himself to acquire more sophistication, new skills, and eventually to run his own businesses.

As he grew in his commitment, he found in his wife, Janice, a life partner to share the vision of making the Messiah fully accessible to Jewish people in authentically Jewish ways. He grew in his love and respect for Israel, becoming accomplished in his knowledge of liturgy and admirably familiar with all aspects and even the nuances of the synagogue service.

He grew as a leader for the local and national Canadian Messianic community—and I have received tributes from across North America including the former and current national directors of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Canada, the Executive Director the UMJC and the head of the Union of Messianic Believers.

But nothing mattered to him more than family—the importance of providing for them and being there for his sons Zachary and Ari.  And when his large, extended family gathered, I’ve been told that it was Richard who spoke up and took the lead when they shared celebrations together. We saw the same spirit in our own congregation when he brought leaders together, blessing us with the gift of hospitality and a heart for unity.

His life, his ministry, and his character honoured his mother Ina, and father, Conrad. He had eleven brothers and sisters:  Gordon (now in Calgary), Patricia, Trevor (who passed away in 1998), Jennifer, Barbara (now in Montreal), Anthony (in Australia), Brian, Maria, Rosanne, Catherine, and Suzanne.  A number of them followed him into the Messianic movement and they too became a heartfelt blessing to Israel and Jewish people. Richard was, as he would say, pointing to others, “a person worthy of honour.”

This man had been a leader for many years when we approached him to take up a new role with us at Kehillat Eytz Chaim/Tree of Life.  He didn’t hide his places of brokenness. He didn’t mince words when he shared past hurts and disappointments. But he laid all these aside to build a community that reflected his values, the qualities that made him trustworthy, faithful, committed to the Scriptures and drew others to a love for Israel that was rooted in what Yeshua is doing in our lives.  He didn’t just believe in heaven, he knew where he was going and wanted that reality to permeate his life.

He rejoiced when he saw people live out their calling. Richard took joy in praying with those in need, standing with those who were hurting, encouraging those who felt alone, and growing in grace with brothers and sisters who loved him and valued his friendship.  He knew that if we stand, it’s only because we have followed in the footsteps of believers who embodied integrity and selflessly carried the weight of their calling before us.

I’m going to miss you, Richard, my friend, but I’m not going to lose sight of that determined, irrepressible, indomitable spirit that empowered you to live as Yeshua led you and us together.  You’ve gone ahead to join the great chorus of witnesses, those who know the reality we see only as through a clouded glass dimly.  But we know that you have already met the Master face to face and heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The family has requested that financial gifts be directed to "The To Help Ari Fund." For more details contact the blogger.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Writing that book...Part 2

After an extensive period of interviews with Elaine Markovic in the spring and summer of 2008, she became severely ill--her battle with cancer had resumed. In the fall, I had briefly shown her a selection of the manuscript, which she found unsatisfactory, but we looked forward to more meetings. It never happened. We only spoke once more on the phone;  she passed away just a few days after her birthday in early May of 2009.

In the aftermath, speaking with her daughters, we began to talk about another book emerging from our initial vision. In the closing months of 2009, I began to realize the scale of my new task—an extensive book on the full story of the Zeidman family.  I studied one of my favourite authors, Pierre Berton, a master of the history genre—he gives useful insight about his transition from a popular journalist into a highly regarded author.  Following his advice, I could see there was much more work to be done—researching, interviews, many more leads to follow.  

My plan was to dedicate myself to the task in 2010.  In the first week, the national director of my mission (Chosen People Mins. Canada) told the senior staff that he was leaving to accept a local pastorate.  Then, during the next few busy months, I saw my father’s health, which had been stable after a series of major operations from cancer, begin to decline.   

The mission situation had also become critical—and I accepted the position of interim national director.  Did I mention that the mission was in the midst of a major building renovation?  A few months later, my father passed away. I was his executor.  The mission’s half-finished building also needed our immediate attention.  The book was on hold. 

Late in 2010 and into the next year, I tried putting the pieces together.  There were sensitivities in the Zeidman family, too, but over 2011, whenever possible, I immersed myself in research and expanded the outline.  Elaine’s daughters were invaluable at this stage—and, within the next six months, I developed three or more directions for the project, writing new versions of the opening chapter and getting a stronger feel for areas where I needed more material, such as Alex Zeidman’s life and ministry.  I also got hold of the Board minutes (1941-1981) and began studying them. 

I felt as if I’d made some progress, but in fact, I was getting stuck—writing and rewriting the opening chapters. I was trying to figure out how to write this book—what should it sound like?  Elaine's disapproval remained stuck in my head.  I even read some of her favourite literature to get a feel for the voice she had expected. Some friends offered me their home in Picton while they were in Florida.  I spent two weeks trying to write. I came up empty.  Nothing written. No progress.  I went to seminars on writing; got some advice from an experienced agent. Still, I was barely making headway.

Finally, I approached my friend, Krysia Lear, an experienced professional editor who is based in Guelph. She took me on as a client and did an extensive critique of the material I sent her.  When I got her notes, it took months to accept what she had written. I’d assumed she would just tell me that I was on the right track and keep going.  But she didn’t. 

During 2012, we began meeting and reshaping my vision—fine-tuning the approach and addressing the gaps Krysia had identified—she could see the whole narrative forest and not just the story line in the trees.  Then, early in 2013, I was contacted by the Scott's CEO, Peter Duraisami. The board wanted to know the state of things. After some discussion, they agreed to support my efforts, but I wouldn't be paid until the book was completed. I couldn't afford to keep Krysia on board.

Once again, I tried to propel things forward without making progress.  Something had to be done. Over the next few months, I began to see the solution—a sabbatical from my pastoral duties with a focus on writing and editing. With the permission of my congregation, Kehillat Eytz Chaim, and the board of my mission, I was able to begin writing full-time during the last two months of 2013.  By early 2014, I had 100 pages—not every chapter in order, but a skeleton framework so that I could fill in all the missing pieces. I showed this to Elaine's daughters and got the approval to go on.

There was still more research—and exhaustive fact checking—last interviews. Over the next eight months, while I was back to working full-time for my own mission, the rest got written and editing began in earnest.  (I admit, some days I was tempted to give up.) My wife’s reading and re-reading of the manuscript went on during all this time as I wrote new chapters and revised the text. No words can describe her incredible dedication, because good writing always means rewriting.

Here's an example of the frustrations I faced. The phrase, "The Miracle on Spadina," had come from a Toronto Star article, according to Alex. No copy of the article or its date could be found in the Scott Mission archives.  My best guess was a publication date sometime between 1960 and 1964.  I only knew that it had appeared "before Christmas."  The best tool for finding it was on the Star's historical site online. But if you put the word "Miracle" into the advanced search program, guess what will come up?  Every pre-Christmas TV screening of "Miracle on 34th Street."  (After the 1960s, I restarted in 1954.)  Days of searching finally located the article on December 20, 1958.  

At one point, I went back to the selection that Elaine had looked over and critiqued by hand with a red pen. I inserted all her corrections and it fit perfectly into the longer text. At that moment, I realized what a different experience we might have shared.

As the project wound down, members of the Zeidman family checked every word—requested changes and finally gave their approval.  Peter, the CEO, and the chairman of the Scott Mission Board, Joe Nemni, read it over and agreed that this was what they wanted (though I couldn't fulfill Joe's request--totally in jest--for a chapter on him.) We began meeting with Larry Willard of Castle Quay Books, who had agreed to be the publisher. Larry, with his wife Dr. Marina  Hofman Willard acting as editor, took the project in hand. Their design team delivered a great cover and a professional looking format.  

Peter sent a letter of request for a foreword to The Hon. David Onley. The former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, known for his personal warmth and candor, wrote a thoughtful piece rooted in his deep, genuine faith.  

There was some discussion about the title until it was narrowed down to the final form. Yes, it would have been easier to call it, “The Miracle on Spadina.”  But in truth, looking back, the miracle of getting the book together was much larger than any of us who took part could imagine.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How Did I Come To Write The Story Of The Scott Mission? Part 1

Back in the spring of 1980, while I was a theology student at Knox College, I took a history course in the Social Gospel of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was an eye-opener—introducing me to Christians who wanted to see genuine Biblical principles applied in society. They went after wealthy church-going landlords whose tenants couldn’t get indoor plumbing and employers who had children working in mines and textile mills. Leaders of the social gospel insisted that the character of Christianity should match the priorities of Messiah.

Those were great stories, yet someone else had drawn my attention. In the centre of our library was a display case with a Torah scroll. It was donated by a Knox graduate, Rev. Morris Zeidman, founder of the Scott Mission on his return from Europe—a trip that had taken place after WWII to his native Poland.

That small Torah scroll with its polished brass breastplate and silver yad (the pointer for use on the scroll) was a touching artifact, reminding me that I wasn’t the only Jew who had attended the seminary. I wasn’t a Presbyterian, but Zeidman was an intriguing figure and his son, Alex—another graduate—was a respected figure in the college. Only a few years before, he’d been the presenter in a distinguished annual lecture series. And who didn’t know the work of the Scott Mission? Its work among the poor and needy was a well-known fixture on the Toronto landscape.

My professor, Calvin Pater, was delighted with the choice of subject. Pater was a remarkably able historian—one of the most adept Reformation scholars in Canada in his own areas of specialty. I instinctively liked him and it’s taken me some time to realize what a profound effect his kindness and encouragement provided. 

I plunged ahead and was genuinely surprised at what I found—a rich history of local Jewish believers whose ministry I could still see echoing in the Toronto Messianic Jewish community where I was a relative newcomer. We were only beginning to emerge—it had been just a few years since the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America had become the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (1975).  We were just beginning the movement of Messianic Jewish congregations, and the term Hebrew Christian was no longer used by my generation. But Morris Zeidman had been advocating for an indigenous, Hebrew Christian church movement in the 1930s.

The name of the Scott Mission—often imagined to refer to the origins of his denomination—is actually named for Zeidman’s mentor; one of the original promoters of Jewish evangelism in Toronto, Rev. John Macpherson Scott. He was the much-loved pastor who oversaw a Sunday School of 1,000 children at Riverdale Presbyterian Church.  Those who attended used to say that he knew every child by name.

Scott had brought Rev. Sabati Ben Rohold to Canada from Glasgow to oversee a new Presbyterian Jewish mission in 1908.  It proved so successful, that within 5 years, Scott had built one of the most impressive mission buildings in North America:  the Christian Synagogue. It boasted a free dispensary and medical clinic, and meeting rooms for its own congregation.

Rohold, the son of a rabbi who grew up in Jerusalem and received excellent rabbinical training, had drawn the young Zeidman to Yeshua and nurtured his faith. In 1921, he left Toronto to open a mission in Haifa.  After graduating from Knox in 1926, Zeidman led the Toronto ministry, renamed the "Scott Institute," until he and Annie founded the newly independent Scott Mission--a non-denominational work, in 1941.

As a student, I worked hard bringing to life the remarkable story of the Scott Mission’s origins, from 1908-1941.  I dredged up reports from every annual Presbyterian national conference and went through piles of documents including old packs of letters from the Depression era still held together with elastic bands in the church archives—which were then stored in the basement of Knox College at the time.  Even the United Church Archives proved fruitful. My final coup de grace was wandering into the Osgoode Hall law library, where a student lawyer finally took pity on me, helped me find the legal case that had Zeidman facing off against his own denomination and showed me how to write the footnote.

After receiving my paper, Dr. Pater was adamant—I must get this published. But I didn’t believe him, or rather, I didn’t believe in myself. 

Years later, because a copy of my essay had ended up in the Presbyterian Church Archives attached to the files on The Scott Mission, references to it kept showing up in books.  I had taken a course with Paul Dekar at McMaster Div. College in Hamilton and in a published essay on Jewish missions in Canada, he devoted a long footnote to my work—insisting that it was essential reading on the topic. One of the important books on the Canadian response to the Holocaust, How Silent Were the Churches, also referred to my research.  These weren’t the only examples. 

Almost a decade after graduation, an elder in our Messianic congregation worked as the chaplain at the Scott. He invited me to speak there during one of their staff devotions. One of the people I met at that time was Elaine Markovic. I also took the initiative to visit Morris’s widow, Annie, before she passed away and spoke to her about the old days. I later attended Alex’s funeral in 1986—a devastating event where hundreds of mourners crowded into the great auditorium of Knox Church on Spadina.

All these connections, though, seemed fleeting.

And then, in 2007, I was praying for a new book project.  My journalism and editing career had been successful enough.  But after I  spent years writing a novel, I had a wonderful writer, Rosemary Aubert, evaluate the manuscript. I'd done well enough, she said—“But publishers aren’t taking first novels like this anymore.” She suggested I write a few more books and come back to it later. In other words, I was about 10-20 years too late. 

I began to pray. In those days, I found that prayer and walking went together.  I was on my usual route through Willowdale’s tree-lined streets when Elaine’s image came to mind. I had heard she was ill. I ought to pray for her.  And then I thought further—she really is the last remaining child of Morris and Annie actively engaged in the ministry—shouldn’t her story be told now?

I prayed about this for months, unsure how to approach her. And then, after we were both leaving a crowded Marty Goetz concert, she was close enough for me to reach over and say: “Elaine, I’d like to talk to you about writing your story.” She knew exactly who I was and took my business card. Months later, and several conversations later, my lawyer had drawn up a contract. 

And that’s how the journey began. I was commissioned to write Elaine's personal story in the setting of the Mission where she had worked for over 50 years.  The book was not to exceed 75 pages and should have been finished by the spring of 2009.  

So how did a book of 296 pp. turn up six years later?  Apparently there's more to tell.

Friday, November 6, 2015

He Brought Light to the City: A Tribute to Morris Zeidman

This fall, The Scott Mission will publish More Than Miracles, my new book on the story of this beloved downtown ministry:  "The Miracle on Spadina."  The book provides some very special insights from the late Elaine Zeidman Markovic, the daughter of its founders, Morris and Annie Zeidman.  But the first section focuses on the accomplishments of Elaine's remarkable father, Morris.

Morris Zeidman (1894-1964) was one of the most revered and visionary Hebrew Christians of the 20th century. In the spring of 1912, he arrived in Toronto from Poland, wandering through its teeming, poverty-stricken Jewish district, a penniless immigrant. No one could have foretold that he would rise from obscurity in one of the most WASP cities in North America to be acclaimed by his city and his country as “Canadian Citizen of the Year” half a century later.

How did Zeidman earn such respect? It's surprising that his primary identity was "your missionary to the Jewish people"—yes, that’s how he described himself frequently, and that was his original calling as a Presbyterian clergyman for almost 40 years. But he became best known as a leading public figure providing for the needy from the earliest days of the Depression and then creating one of Toronto’s great faith ministries to the poor, The Scott Mission.

Zeidman came to faith through another important figure—Rev. S.B. Rohold, the son of a rabbi, who was raised in Jerusalem. Rohold’s ministry in Toronto pioneered free medical care, prescription medicines, English instruction and practical assistance to the city’s Jewish immigrant community at the turn of the century. He created the Christian Synagogue, with a congregation that Rohold proudly identified as a “Presbyterian Hebrew Christian church.” As a Hebrew Christian pioneer, Rohold was elected in 1915 as the first leader of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America.

A sign in Yiddish proclaiming “The House of the Good Tidings of the Messiah of the Children of Israel” caught the attention of the 17 year-old immigrant Morris, lonely and seeking English lessons as he walked through Toronto’s Jewish district. He stepped inside, met Rohold and began his faith journey. A local pastor with a great heart for young people, Rev. Dr. John McPherson Scott, also nurtured Morris’s vision. With Scott’s prayerful support, the young man courageously completed high school courses, entered the University of Toronto and prepared for ministry at Toronto’s prestigious Knox College seminary, completing a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1925. (In 1920 Rohold left Toronto; called to Israel to serve in a new ministry in Haifa. Dr. Scott passed away in the same year.) The newly graduated Morris, together with his bride, Annie, whom he had met and worked with in the mission, officially took over the work.

As the effects of the 1929 Crash and the impact of the Depression began destroying livelihoods of men across the country, many climbed aboard railway boxcars, seeking work elsewhere. Many got off in Canada’s financial center—Toronto, walking north from city’s main train station into the area bounded by factories and warehouses—the old “Ward” area that was once the Jewish district.

Hungry, dispirited and sometimes in desperate need—they knocked on the door of the local mission. They often arrived at the back door during meal-times when Morris and Annie were sitting down to eat with their young children and the Zeidmans did not have the heart to refuse them.

Like many of the Jewish missions of the day, Morris’ mission had been founded on practical support for the poor. People came to them out of need at first, and then stayed because they found an unexpected blessing.  No religious commitment was ever expected in exchange for assistance.

In late October 1930, with winter fast approaching, Zeidman saw the growing number of men on the streets was going to be an urgent city problem. He wanted to start a soup kitchen but didn’t have the means. In the office of a local newspaper editor, John “Black Jack” Robinson of the Toronto Telegram, he was explaining these plans when a call came in from a local department store. They had leftovers from their Thanksgiving dinner: 130 gallons of turkey giblets. That was a cornerstone gift for a ministry that began to feed and clothe thousands of transients beginning in the Depression years—and still does today.

Zeidman was dedicated to prayer and faith. It’s often said he built his ministry one miracle at a time. One of the most touching stories found Morris on a train, praying that he might find favor with the owner of Canada’s leading department store, the T. Eaton Co. As he looked up, a gentleman had been seated at his dining car table. “Are you Mr. Eaton?” Zeidman asked. “Yes, Mr. Zeidman” came the reply. It was R.Y. Eaton, the president of the company. “What can I do for you?” It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

Sadly, over time, the leaders of the local church presbytery became least supportive of Morris’ work. He was often subjected to nitpicking complaints about his expenses—largely because he raised such large amounts of support, which he generously gave to those for whom it was intended, the poor. His own family lived in barely adequate housing, but Zeidman was renowned for scrupulously directing gifts to those who were desperately needy.

In 1941, as winter again approached, he gave up his position and founded, with Annie, The Scott Mission. The work had long been named the Scott Institute for his mentor, Rev. Dr. Scott. Now that name would live on as an independent ministry to the poor. The work grew and eventually became one of Toronto’s best-known outreaches to the poor with the slogan: “The Gospel of Hope to All.”

An aspect of Zeidman’s work that is less well remembered was his startling bravery in a time when the scourge of anti-Semitism was still common in Canadian church life. He personally experienced this when he brought new Jewish believers to church with him. Christians didn’t want to take communion with Jews.  His sister, a devoted believer, was refused entrance into a local ladies’ Christian organization. In 1935, one of the leading evangelical pulpits in the city invited North America’s most virulent anti-Semitic Protestant preacher, Rev. Gerald B. Winrod of Wichita, Kansas. Morris was outside that church (which today faithfully supports the mission) leading the protests.

Begninning in the 1930s, Zeidman began actively to promote the concept of indigenous, independent Hebrew Christian churches. That dream was not realized in his lifetime. However, the modern Messianic movement brings that vision to life and his grandson, Andrew, is one of the contemporary Messianic leaders in Toronto.

He also served as General Secretary of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America from 1934 to1944. After the war, he made a heart-breaking return to his native Poland, dispensing aid as possible and listening to the many stories of cruelty that had destroyed 6 million of his people, including much of his own family. On his return, he earnestly helped many Holocaust survivors who came to Toronto.

Zeidman’s success was built on qualities of a sterling character. People trusted him. But he also knew how to promote the work—through weekly radio programs, streetcar advertisements, newspaper fundraisers and strong visibility in the community.  His weekly ministry updates in the local newspapers, eventually called "The Good Samaritan Corner," played a key role in keeping both donors and the wider public aware of the people he served and their needs.  In More Than Miracles, selections from those columns over the decades show the heart and passion for people that were evident as a powerful witness of God's unfailing love for the poor, the transients and the suffering.

Before his death in 1964, Zeidman received multiple honors from his city and even the church that had once snubbed his ministry. One of the most remarkable of these was Canada's "Citizen of the Year" in 1961. He was particularly pleased to receive an honorary doctorate by his seminary and, in response, granted them the gift of a Torah scroll which still sits in the center of its great library. Many evenings, as a student there, I admired the Torah scroll and thought of his legacy. As a student I also wrote an extended paper on the Scott Mission (it has been referenced in other scholarly research on the mission) and met Morris’ son, Alex. Tragically, Alex Zeidman passed away in 1986, but members of the Zeidman family continue to take a leading role in the Mission.

Today, the Scott Mission is a remarkable facility: expansive, with great storage rooms and large kitchens. Hundreds pass through its doors each week receiving help in a variety of languages. Hundreds more receive instruction in the Bible in their mother tongues. All are welcome and the ministry continues to exude the vision and care of the founders.

The book includes many selections of poetry from Annie Zeidman and Elaine Markovic, but I’ll close with a quote from one of Annie’s poems that exemplifies the spirit of their ministry:

Bethlehem is far away, far, and long ago…
But just down the street, perhaps around the corner,
Is Bethlehem in poverty, Gethsemane in tears,
Nazareth misunderstood, Calvary unpitied—
May we dare to seek Him there?
Friend, let us go!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why the Holocaust Matters: A Presentation at Tyndale University and Seminary Nov. 10, 2014

I want to begin by talking about the audacity of evil.  In the spring of 1931, Adolf Hitler was interviewed by Richard Breiting, editor-in-chief of a right-wing Leipzig newspaper (Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten). The notes of those interviews were later reprinted in a book, Unmasked, published around 1968.  The book reveals not only that the Fuehrer’s plans for the destruction of the Jewish people were not only fully formed by this time, but that he didn’t fear the interference of any of Germany’s considerable scholarly, political or religious leaders, nor did he fear much outside interference either.  He boldly stated that he’d carry out his program and none of the nation’s moral or intellectual leaders would interfere –and if they tried, they wouldn’t stop him. He was right.
The audacity of evil continues to surprise us. Germany considered itself the heart and intellectual leader of Christian civilization—how did the enormity of hate so completely consume its people that the shame still hovers over them? That nation had 500,000 Jews out of a population of 70 million—less than .01%  of the population.  Despite the insistent propaganda of the Nazis, the Jewish population in Germany held few great positions of financial or industrial power.  How were the German people convinced that all their problems—indeed the world’s problems all could be hung on this one people who even today number only.0022 per cent of the world’s population (15 million out of 7.125 billion people). 
It is now 76 years since Kristallnacht and almost 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz--the murder of six million Jews and millions more who were identified as inferior or degenerate races--yet anti-Semitism is growing again as a world-wide phenomenon.  
Why should these events matter to followers of Jesus of Nazareth –Yeshua our Messiah and Lord, those who were born generations later?
It should matter first of all because the Canada in the 1930s was a participant in this crime. As the Nazi leader had foreseen, countries like Canada and institutions like the Vatican were complicit in their original plans.  In 1933, the Vatican made a pact with the Germans declaring that their priests would not interfere in German politics as long as the Church could continue to function—a treaty that eventually did nothing but compromise them—even as their institutions were slowly destroyed.  Protestant leaders were equally marginalized with their moral declarations, even as they insisted that they were not trying to overthrow the Nazis. And countries like Canada also did nothing, and even refused to receive any of the fleeing Jewish refugees.
During those years, Christians were quite open to hearing Nazi propaganda. One of North America’s best known promoters of anti-Semitism was Rev. Gerald B. Winrod of Wichita, Kansas.  On Easter weekend in April 1935, People’s Church promoted his presence in the Saturday papers as a major speaker at a missionary conference.  Because of the prejudices of Henry Ford, every Ford dealership distributed an anti-Semitic newspaper. The St. Louis, a German ocean liner with 915 Jewish refugees was denied entry to Cuba, the United States and Canada.  Attempts by Canadian academics and clergy to give them entry were rebuffed by Canadian immigration officials and the Prime Minister refused to intervene.  The ship returned to Europe and at least a quarter of the passengers perished in the Holocaust. 
The Toronto of the 1930s had gangs of hooligans emboldened by the Nazi example, who commonly tried to intimidate Jews. There were public signs around the city declaring that Jews were not welcome—and major institutions where Jews couldn’t enter. It was well known that Jews were able to get teaching degrees but no Toronto high school would ever have more than one Jewish teacher—if that many.  There were quotas for Jewish students in professional schools for medicine and law. Until 1955, in Canada you could refuse to let a Jewish person buy your property.  In fact, the Ontario Superior Court upheld the law—it was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.  When the Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand was told that having a Jewish neighbour would devalue any adjoining property, he asked whether having the pianist Artur Rubinstein or Albert Einstein as a neighbour would devalue property. And this decision was not handed down until 10 years after Canadian soldiers had died to free Europe.
Fear held people in line.  Almost every community in Germany had members taken away to concentration camps. If the Jews were marginalized and paid the price of the anger and hate of the Nazis—who entered the schools and began asking the children what their parents thought of the Nazis and began subverting the entire culture with their fascist agenda—well the Jews could be sacrificed. 
How is it that the enormity of these lies overwhelmed every other basic Biblical instruction? Not just the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or the covenant blessing to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you and all nations will be blessed through you,” or even “You are your brother’s keeper,” but all of it.
How could Christians and so-called Christian societies turn their backs on everything that Scripture taught? How could they stand by and watch the destruction of the Jewish people from whom they had received the Scriptures and the Messiah, and whom they had seen God sustain despite 1600 years of persecutions?
Consider the power of fear.  In Germany, it was fear of the Nazi authorities who had pervasively overwhelmed the population with anti-Semitic hate propaganda.  In North America, even among Christians, there was a widespread acceptance that the Jews must be responsible for all the hate which had been projected upon them.  The victim must be responsible for the crime.  It was also common for Christian voices to express doubt about the extent of the persecution that was taking place.  One of the most famous Dispensationalist voices of that era, Arno C. Gaebelein, questioned whether the Nazis were so evil until he went to Germany himself in 1937.  Seeing the oppression first-hand made him publish feverishly about the Nazi program—but it was too late.   
             In Canada, the excuse that refused to allow Jews into the country out was the Great Depression.  It birthed the fear that Jews would come and take jobs away from Gentiles. Later, when the government reconsidered its policies, they feared that there might be a popular backlash if they allowed Jewish people to come.  And there was a fear because no one else was willing to do anything—so what if all the Jewish refugees came to Canada?  In the end it was decided that keep the door closed was the safest policy.  We did nothing and for generations all that Canadians remembered about the Holocaust was their involvement of freeing Europe from Nazi domination.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who resisted Hitler’s agenda and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. His most famous quotation still makes us pause:  “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
When you read these words in the New Testament, in John 11, you are hearing the same attitude:  49 But one of them, Kayafa, who was cohen gadol that year, said to them, “You people don’t know anything! 50 You don’t see that it’s better for you if one man dies on behalf of the people, so that the whole nation won’t be destroyed.” (CJB)
Against a common public culture of lies, deception, fear and ignoran   ce the Nazis also pointed back to church history.  They could point to the early church that had separated out Jews and condemned them for the death of Jesus.  Church history is rife with anti-Semitism. Consider the declarations of the Council of Nicea, 325: “We ought not to have anything in common with the Jews…we desire, dearest brethren to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews…” A major focus at that council was to separate forever the celebration of Easter from the timing of Passover.
By the fifth century, successive acts by church councils led ultimately to the declaration of the Jews as second class citizens in every Christian community. Until the Enlightenment, Muslim treatment of the Jews was often considered relatively enlightened by comparison with Christianity. Gregory of Nyssa (331-396 CE) called them: “Slayers of the Lord, murderers of the Prophets, enemies of God…”  The accusation of Jews as Christ-killers was one that I grew up with in Toronto. 
John Chrysostom (347-407 CE), later the Archbishop of Constantinople, denounced the synagogue as “a place of prostitution” and “a house of idolatry.”  He declared, “The Jews live for their bellies…In shamelessness and greed they surpass even pigs and goats…you should turn away from them as the pest and plague of the human race.” His famous eight sermons against his Jewish neighbours—Adversus Judeos—were popular reading for Christians until this century and the basis of a continuing church bias about Jews as inherently evil.  Before the original Crusaders got to the Holy Land of 1000 years ago, they were determined to cleanse Europe of its Jewish population and almost succeeded. It was common for Jews to summarize the attitude of Christian neighbours as this: “they hate Jews.”  The Nazis could simply say that they were only doing what the early church had already done before them.  
The death of six million Jews is one of the strangest crimes in world history.  For the perpetrators it wasn’t a crime. It was seen as a necessary ethnic cleansing—the very presence of Jews in the world was seen as a contaminating influence on the whole of society.  As the great Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, pointed out: Jews were guilty of being too communist and too capitalist at the same time. In this sense, the Nazi accusation against the Jewish people was not simply their existence but that they had so thoroughly assimilated into German and European society.  Thus, the murder of those who had even a single Jewish grandparent was deemed necessary.  The murder of some 200,000 Messianic Jews (or Hebrew Christians as they were then known) was accomplished in the same brutal ways without any compunction.  And we have pictures of concentration camp guards pausing in their duties to receive communion from a local priest.
And even when Jews were able to provide palpable proof to the British and American military commanders about what was going on in the death camps, the Allied Bomber Command refused to spare even one plane to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz.
After WW2, many of the Jews who tried to return to their former homes in Eastern Europe were not only rejected but when they showed up, some were killed.  The British government declared that the Jewish people hadn’t suffered any more than anyone else during the war and the allies kept the surviving Jews from the death camps in camps that were practically next door to the death camps. 
Finally, when the members of the United Nation Special Committee on Palestine went to the camps and asked the refugees why so many of them wanted to go to Israel—the universal answer was that they had learned that they had no nation—they were strangers everywhere else.
As leaders in Christian communities, there is a lot of time spent on being relevant—being in touch with people and where they are—but unless we are radically Biblical in challenging our society, it is easy to be swept away in the lies, deceptions and fears of the people who surround us and they will have to look elsewhere for moral leadership.
My questions about God and the Holocaust met a radical confrontation while I was studying philosophy and English at the Univ. of Toronto. My older brother brought a Bible home and out of pure sibling rivalry I went out to find one for myself. Reading the Bible in contemporary language brought me face to face with some of the most powerful literature I’ve ever read. In addition, I was fascinated by reading philosophers and thinkers who actually believed in God, including the French mathematician Blaise Pascal. When I read John 14:6 I realized Yeshua is saying he’s God and I shut the book on him. But I was unable to shut out the God who I’d encountered.
In early March 1976 I was walking across the campus of the UofT when I saw a sign advertising a speaker called Art Katz, a former Marxist who had become a committed follower of Jesus. I went to hear him and I heard him say all the things that I’d been thinking about for the past year. 
When I confronted him about the Holocaust: he confronted me with this question: “What are you going to do about the Holocaust in your own heart.” I understood immediately, “What will do with your own impulse to evil?”  Had I been born in a different time and place, would I have had the courage to confront evil and choose to pay the price of doing what was right?  And where would that courage come from?  I had no answer to that and turned away, but he called me back, and said: “You’re ready to come.”
In front of my Jewish friends who knew me as fearless searcher of truth, I said, “Yes.” Art immersed me six months later in Minnesota and I came back to Toronto and became a founding member of Canada’s first messianic congregation. I later was called to go to seminary and have been involved in many different ways in ministry to my own people.
Much of that work has been growing and building Messianic congregations here in Canada and around the globe through my work as a pastoral leader, writer and publisher. But I recall how I was discussing Messianic Judaism with a Jewish man, a documentary film-maker who had made a film about Jewish followers of Yeshua, and he said to me, “The Christians have done everything else possible to destroy us. Is this just another way to destroy us with love?”
This year, Canada will mark Remembrance Day with a new sense of purpose.  I was a member of Canada’s military Reserve and wear my poppy proudly.  But I have a larger task within a historical arc that I have seen work its way through our national story:  to understand how the Gospel must provide us with a deeper understanding of God’s call on my life and the life of others in my faith community who are committed to a Biblical perspective.  To engage in meaningful debate with others so that we can sharpen one another’s understanding—even if we disagree, to make a commitment to a meaningful life according to our calling and our faith. 
The events of the Holocaust remind us what takes place when we let our society dictate to us how to think, how to act, what to fear--who to hate. Paul wrote to Gentiles in Romans 11 warning them about their arrogance toward Israel--a common prejudice among Romans--to remind them that they had been grafted into the “Olive Tree” of Israel in order to benefit from all that God had given his chosen people.  He wrote:

 16 …And if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you — a wild olive — were grafted in among them and have become equal sharers in the rich root of the olive tree, 18 then don’t boast as if you were better than the branches! However, if you do boast, remember that you are not supporting the root, the root is supporting you.”