Let There Be Light

Yaacov Apelbaum-Festival of Lights

For the majority of westerners, religious persecution is a strange and foreign concept. Most of us view political and religious fanaticism such as pogroms or the Auto de fé as a distant memory of a dark and uncultured era now long gone. Of course, there are always a few regrettable exceptions to this. But to me, incidents like Neo Nazis marching on Pennsylvania Avenue just further highlight the beauty of the first amendment. If you feel strongly about something, get a permit, pack your soap box and have a go at it. By all means.

This week as I was surfing on-line, I stumbled upon this news clip. Apparently, the Jewish community in Moldova had setup a Menorah to celebrate Hanukkah (after having been given a permit to do so). This didn’t go down well with Moldova’s eparchy of the Russian Orthodox church.  So under the charismatic leadership of Father Anatoly Chirbik (and a hammer wielding priest), the local community staged a get-together and in a very orderly manner, proceeded to crash the celebration.  It’s all on tape: the honor guard, the banners with the miraculous icons, the sprinkling of holy water, the burning of incense, and even a live accompaniment by a chorus of Gregorian chanters.

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Moldovan Priest Attacks a Menorah

When I first watched the clip, I thought that it was just another Borat promotional, but after listening to Father Chirbik’s speech (excerpt below), I realized that it was actually the real thing.

“We are an Orthodox country. Stephen the Great and Holy defended our country from all kinds of Jews, and now they come and put their menorah here. This is anarchy.”

My initial confusion was understandable as Borat’s explanation of the origin of his brother’s madness were not dissimilar in substance and style from the one made by Father Chirbik:

Bilo [Borat’s brother] had “a demon”, so we chiseled a hole the size of kestrel egg in his head and put a dry fish inside to eat the demon. This worked for a while, but then “the demon” took his revenge and made Bilo retarded.

Even more perplexing than the speech, were the participants. The expressions on their faces ranged from gratefulness for having been chosen to join the wrecking crew to religious piety and patriotic zeal. By all accounts, this was a family event; complete with well dressed moms, dads, grandparents and young kids in tow. It was by no means your stereotypical lynch mob wielding torches and pitch forks.

But looks can be deceiving. Just because someone was born in the 21th century and has a mobile phone and the internet doesn’t automatically elevate him to the rank of a modern human being.  Theodor Adorno once stated: “'[The] Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear…” Alas, it seems that large segments of the world’s population are still firmly planted in the midst of the savage Byzantine era, and if the Moldova incident is any indication, they are not in a great rush to get out of there soon.

The Age of Enlightenment and the political reforms that it spawned (like the Bill of Rights) have repeatedly demonstrated that church and state do not mix well and are best enjoyed separately.  For US immigrants the likes Israel Isidore Beilin, better known as Irving Berlin, who experienced religious prosecution first hand, the freedom of religion has always been a sign of a divine blessing. 

God bless America

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.