Rabbi Erwin Schild, rabbi emeritus of Adath Israel Synagogue in Toronto and author of World Through My Window, an anthology of sermons published in 1992, arrives in Germany this week (1996) to attend the launch of the German-language edition of his book and to initiate a six-week speaking tour in German.
The book was translated by Dr. Paul Gerhard Aring, a leading German Christian theologian who specializes in Jewish history and Christian-Jewish relations. The lecture tour, which primarily involves churches, was arranged by the Association of Protestant Churches of Cologne, the city in which Rabbi Schild was born in 1920 and in which most of his 25 speaking engagements are concentrated. The final lecture in the tour, however, is set for Zurich, Switzerland on Nov. 21.
Offering pungent insight and commentary on religious, political and other issues, the three dozen sermons in World Through My Window touch on subjects as diverse as the Holocaust, the decline of the Soviet Empire, the gender of God, and what it means to be a chosen people. Most were written in the 1980s and early 1990s, although at least one dates from 1947, when he first attained the pulpit at Adath Israel.
“This is a book that I addressed primarily to Jews, since most of the contents were first delivered verbally to Jewish audiences,” said Rabbi Schild. “But it has evoked an echo among German Christians, who think it is an excellent sample of what Jews are thinking about in this stage in history.”
As a young man, Schild bore witness to the German Kristallnacht in 1938, and was later incarcerated in Dachau concentration camp. “It seemed like three centuries but on the calendar it amounted to a little over a month,” he said of his time in Dachau. He lost his parents and most of his childhood friends in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Schild did not return to Germany until 1981, after a coalition of German church groups invited him to speak. He has made several subsequent visits, including one in November 1988 in which he spoke at an annual Christian rally coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
His current lecture circuit includes a high-profile “Sermon to the City,” known as the “Stadtpredigt” in German, in a historic church in Cologne on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. That particular engagement holds a certain amount of irony for Rabbi Schild, since the locale is not far from his childhood home.
“Coming back now as an honoured guest and seeing my book published in Germany gives me a certain amount of satisfaction,” he said. But he also admits to “an ambivalent feeling” about the present book launch and tour.
“If my parents had gone to sleep in 1933 or 1934 and had not been killed in the Holocaust, and if they would wake up now at my book launching, I suppose they wouldn’t be surprised to see that I had written a book,” he commented. ♦
© 1996 by Bill Gladstone