Carol F. Yost
Rabbi Irving J. Block (1923-2002) thought it important that he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, his brother Allen was born on All Saints’ Day, and his son Herbert was born on Easter Sunday at the beginning of the third day of Passover. For him, this meant “we were an ecumenical family”. As he says in A Rabbi and His Dream: Building the Brotherhood Synagogue, a Memoir (1999), he has dedicated his life to fostering interfaith understanding.
With the Reverend Dr. Jesse William Stitt and the Rabbi working together, and the sincere participation of both congregations, the Fellowship Synagogue and the Village Presbyterian Church shared the same building on West 13th Street for nearly 20 years and have earned their place in the history of the world. . Now, years after the heartbreaking end of that relationship caused by a new minister who disagreed with his mission, the Synagogue of the Fellowship, now located near Gramercy Park in a former Quaker meeting house, attempts to foster interfaith understanding in memory of Rabbi Block.
His very moving and surprising account of the Village’s partnership could make you cry and laugh alternately.
Rabbi Block and Reverend Stitt have been interviewed on television numerous times. They became world famous; they traveled extensively across the country and abroad, giving highly acclaimed lectures, sowing the seeds of interfaith understanding.
The rabbi is fondly remembered today. Unfortunately, however, he was a Zionist, unconditionally pro-Israel, and he insisted that the Christian and Jewish congregations on West 13th Street had to agree. He participated in Israel’s so-called War of Independence. Apparently he did not know that 750,000 Arabs were driven out of Israel at gunpoint when Israel was founded; many died of cold or starvation. Survivors and their descendants are still not allowed to return. In the final chapter of his memoir, “Israel as I See It,” he states, “There is no vision for Israel the people without Israel the land.” He sees Arabs as tyrannical by culture and tradition: “The clash between Arabs and Jews since the turn of the 20th century has been, I have always felt, less a matter of acquiring land than of thwarting Western influences and the democratic ideas that the Arabs feared. undermine their culture. He says: “While Jews around the world swore to restore a Jewish state in their ancient homeland, the Arabs swore to destroy it. He portrays Israel as “seeking peace.”
On several occasions, Gaza has been bombarded by Israel, killing thousands of people, including many children and the elderly. In addition, Palestinians are attacked in the streets almost daily. Israel has an army, navy and air force, and nuclear warheads. The Palestinians have none of that, and when the Palestinians respond to attacks with guns, pipe bombs and rockets, today’s Zionists tell us that Israel “must defend itself”. We are faced with lies from American politicians to justify the rock-solid $3.8 billion a year support Israel receives from the United States.
Jewish-American historian Josh Ruebner recently wrote on Facebook: “As Israel continues to wantonly kill Palestinian mothers, fathers and children, violently attacks Palestinians who worship in their most sacred place during the holy month of Ramadan and imposes collective punishment on millions of people, for me the meaning of Passover is clear: “Free Palestine from Israeli military occupation, apartheid and settler colonialism”. I could quote many other Jewish scholars to the same effect.
I wish I could talk to Rabbi Block now. The beautiful understanding that he wholeheartedly sought between Christians and Jews should have included the Palestinians. His legacy is sadly mixed. We can only hope and pray that his life-giving philosophy of ecumenism never dies. As a Christian, I am grateful to Rabbi Block for this.