I’ve been away the last couple of weeks—in fact, on vacation in Europe. I mostly spent time in Germany and Italy with a friend of mine, a Lutheran, who attends the seminary attached to my university.
He takes the Gospel injunctions about peace and charity very seriously, and two weeks in his presence was certainly a boon for my spiritual growth. More importantly, however, my time with him reminded me of something I’d heard a few weeks before I’d left, a story I’d now like to share.
It came from a deacon, a deacon at my church to be precise. He had given a homily using an example—the example of Josef Ben-Eliezer.
Josef survived the Holocaust (as a youth) by fleeing Poland for the USSR, where he faced disease and starvation in Siberia before eventually settling in Israel. He involved himself in the nascent movement to improve the lives of the Jewish population, which included evicting Palestinian villagers, even murdering them. He tells stories of callous, unordered brutality against his fellow men, which he rationalized as a defense of his people, a defense necessary following the atrocities he’d witnessed in his native Poland. He’d become an atheist.
Over time, however, it became clear to Josef that he was merely internalizing the same hate that had driven his worst nightmare.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Josef eventually found Christianity; he found solace in the peaceful message of Jesus Christ, which allowed him to set aside the various hatreds he’d built up over his life, and begin working to sow the seeds of peace wherever he went.
More than anything, in his story I see the hope of conversion. There are days in which spiritual dryness can rob us of hope, but looking back on a life so broken, remade by God, I am in awe. It is truly a concrete example of God’s immense and loving power.
I would like to read his memoir, My Story, soon, and I thought I’d share his story, or what I know of it, with you all.
You see, I was in Bavaria for the two recent attacks—one in Munich and one in Ansbach. I was only about 40 minutes from the latter; in fact, I passed it the next day on the train. I never felt unsafe in any way, but I can’t help but think travelling amidst such fear, mostly out of communication with the world (I had almost no Wi-Fi in Europe) challenged my hope for conversion, the stirrings in the heart for a better world. Bad news breeds bad thoughts.
Recalling Josef’s story helped me. I pray it might help you as well.