by Michael Keith
The knowledge of man is as the waters, some
descending from above, and some springing from
beneath; the one informed by the light of nature, the
other inspired by divine revelation.
–– Francis Bacon
As was his custom, Rabbi Avner Banheim climbed from bed before sunrise to begin his long day. But this was no ordinary morning in the life of the fifty-two-year-old, because he was overcome by the urge to embrace Jesus Christ. He had no idea why he felt this way, but he sensed it was crucial to do so. I must convert the shul to a church and tell my people to appear as Christians, with bibles and rosaries, he told himself. I must do this. But why . . . why? he questioned, about to don his yarmulke, but then taking it and other objects that defined him as a rabbi and Jew to a hiding place. My members must heed my request, he told himself with growing intensity. How will I tell them that they must do such a strange thing when I myself do not know why?
Rabbi Banheim immediately called a meeting of his temple’s congregants and with great trepidation attempted to convey to them what he felt they must do. He conceived of a plan that might give substance to his bizarre request.
“We must replicate a Christian church service to help us obtain a broader view of the world’s major systems of worship. To do so will enhance our appreciation of Judaism.”
As he feared and expected, his words were greeted with skepticism and confusion.
“This seems a very strange exercise, Rabbi,” commented one member of the more than 50 assembled in the modest structure.
“Yes, a sacrilege to perform the rites of Goyim in our temple,” observed another.
“Without an appreciation for other beliefs we cannot fully appreciate our own. Please, I implore you as your rabbi to participate in this recreation. It has come to me on this day that it is crucial for us to do so.
“But why, Rabbi?” blurted several members.
“I cannot explain other than to say I awoke this morning with a belief that to act as Christians in the days ahead would benefit us beyond all other things. I have been your rabbi for a long time. Have I not always had your best interests in my heart and actions?”
“Yes, Rabbi Banheim,” said the eldest member of the shul’s congregation. “You have been our leader, and we will do as you wish now. What is it we must do to appear as Nazarenes?”
“Remove all objects of our faith and replace them with the sacred relics of Christianity. The temple must appear as a church, and you must look like gentiles worshiping their God.”
“When must this conversion take place, rabbi?”
“Right away. We must act with great alacrity. I believe our well-being depends on it.”
* * *
Over the next two days, members of the temple gathered objects of the Christian religion and brought them to Rabbi Banheim, who in turn used them to replace the Judaic icons that adorned the altar of the small synagogue. On the morning of the second day, the rabbi had awakened with the conviction that the reenactment of a Christian service must occur the very next Sunday. He instructed his followers to be at the converted temple then and to make certain they behaved as Christians would on their Sabbath.
In the days that followed, Rabbi Banheim’s apprehension grew, and he feared for the lives of his adherents. I pray to You, O God, from this most confused place and I entreat Your help in these terrible moments, repeated the cleric to himself, as he rehearsed a Christian sermon.
He listened to his radio and despaired over the news he heard. That the world behaved in such a monstrous way in 1938 depressed him. So modern yet so barbarically primitive, he thought, and then he realized what had impelled him to do the things he had. Yes, that is it. Thank you, God, for your mercy.
* * *
On Sunday, as directed, members of the temple appeared in the reconstituted house of worship with their prayer books. Rabbi Banheim stood at the altar and instructed his flock to turn to Psalm 27:4-5.
“Please read along with me,” he said, detecting the sound of vehicles approaching outside.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell
In the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of
the Lord and to inquire in his temple . . .
As the psalm was being read, Banheim could see military vehicles pull up from a rear window. A soldier climbed from the lead car and peered inside of the building. After a moment, he turned and walked away. Banhiem heard the soldier’s voice above those of the worshippers.
“This is not a synagogue! It is a church with good Christians praying. We have the wrong place. Move on. We will find the Juden, and they will rue the day.”
“Heil Hitler,” bellowed his waiting troops, who then departed, as the congregation completed reading from their missals.
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal
me under the cover of his tent, he will lift me high upon a rock.
“Amen,” said the Rabbi, exhaling deeply.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes stories. www.michaelckeith.com