“The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!”

Nadeslala Ala Elczewska

ala elczewska



There used to be a joke in Paris.

What is the difference between the Chief Rabbi in France and the Cardinal of Paris? “The Cardinal speaks Yiddish!”

Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger died of cancer a few months ago. He was born 81 years ago to Polish Jewish parents who ran a dress shop in Paris. When the German army marched into their city, his parents sent him and his sister intohiding with a Catholic family in Orleans.


Their mother was captured and sent to Auschwitz. In 1999 as Cardinal of Paris, Jean Marie Lustiger took part in reading of the names of France’s day of remembrance of Jews who had been deported and murdered. He came to the name of Gesele Lustiger, paused, teared up and said, “My Mama!” The effect in France during a time of revived anti-Semitism was electric.

He was just 13 and in hiding when he converted to Catholicism, not to escape the Nazis he always said, because no Jew could escape by conversion, and not of trauma, he said. Among his most controversial observation: I was bornJewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyem. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.

There were a great number of Rabbi’s who consider his conversion a betrayal, especially after so many European Jews so narrowly escaped extinction. Cardinal Lustiger replied, “To say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all other members of my family that were butchered in Auschwitz and other camps.” He confessed to a biographer that he had a spiritual crisis in the 1970’s provokedby persistent anti-Semitism in France. He studied Hebrew and considered emigrating. He said, “I thought that I had finished what I had to do here and I might find new meaning in Israel.” But just at that time the Pope appointed him bishop of Orleans. He found purpose in the plight of immigrant workers. Then he was elevated Cardinal, the Archbishop of Paris.

Jean Marie Lustiger was close to the Pope. They shared a doctrinal conservatism. He also battled bigotry and totalitarianism. For years, Cardinal Lustiger’s name was among those who was considered to succeed John Paul.Without putting himself forth, the Cardinal joked that few things would bedevil bigots more that a Jewish Pope. “They don’t like to admit it, but what Christians believe, they got through Jews.”

The funeral for Cardinal Lustiger began at Notre Dame Cathedral with the chanting of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Sometimes there are profound inconsistencies in our world…

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