Yes, Hebrew-Speaking Catholics Exist in Israel

Father Neuhaus Gives Overview of Community

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JERUSALEM, MAY 18, 2010 ( In this article by Jesuit Father David Neuhaus, patriarchal vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel, he responds to an article by Yitshaq Laor in the HaAretz newspaper last Friday that expressed surprise at knowing that such a community exists.

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Yitshaq Laor, the writer and literary critic, wrote a review article of the new book of Evyatar Marienberg, «Catholicism Now,» in the HaAretz newspaper on Friday, May 14, 2010. In the article, he wrote: «In translating terms into Hebrew, ‘the decision to use one term and not another was taken seriously and mostly in accordance with the advice of authorized elements in the Hebrew speaking Catholic Church.’ I waited until the end of the book in order to know what is the Hebrew-speaking Catholic Church, an entity that is mentioned in many of the footnotes. And indeed there is such a thing.»

Yes, indeed there is such a thing!

The Hebrew-speaking Catholic community celebrates 55 years since its establishment this year and we do not want to describe its beginnings and history here. A broad survey can be found on the Web site of the community []. Here I would simply like to draw attention to the existence of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in contemporary Israeli society.

Those who founded the Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities and developed them are Israelis and permanent residents, Jews and non-Jews, from various and sundry backgrounds who began their project in the 1950s following the waves of immigration to the State of Israel, waves that included no small number of Catholics. Among these Catholics were the spouses or children of Jews who immigrated to the country together with Jewish family members. Among them were also Righteous from Among the Nations (people who had saved Jews during the Shoah) and their families who came to live in Israel.

Among those who frequented the communities from their beginnings were also non-Jews who had chosen to live in Israel and who spoke Hebrew in their daily lives (among them quite a few men and women religious, nuns, monks and priests). Hebrew is the language of the country and the society, and it was quite natural that Catholics living in Israel would begin to pray in Hebrew and express their faith in the language that became their day-to-day language. Also, in recent years, mixed Jewish-Catholic families have been arriving, particularly from the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the Catholics among them seek out the Church and find a community that is Hebrew-speaking and integrate into it.

Over the years, three other populations have begun to live in Hebrew, thus widening the experience of a Hebrew-speaking Catholic community:

— Migrant workers: Thousands of Catholics have come to Israel looking for work, and some of them have been here for extended periods of time, founding homes and families here. This is not a new reality, but its dimensions extend today way beyond what they were in the past. Today in the state of Israel, there are more than a thousand children born here to migrant workers. Many among them (especially those from the Philippines, Latin America, India, Sri Lanka and different countries in Africa, etc) are Catholics. They study among us in school, they speak the same language as our children who are completely Israeli. Children who study everything in Hebrew, need religion classes in Hebrew too. This year, the Hebrew-speaking Catholic community has begun to offer religion classes in Hebrew to a group of Filipino children in Tel Aviv, a new project that we hope will be expanded.

— Refugees: From time to time, Israel opens its borders to refugees who arrive from all corners of the globe. Among these refugees there were in the past and there are also today a certain number of Catholics — for example among the boat people from Vietnam in the 1980s and among the Lebanese, who fled in the wake of Israeli retreat from Lebanon, as well as refugees from south Sudan and Eritreans and others from Latin America and certain African countries. The children of the refugees are integrated into Israeli schools and they too learn everything in Hebrew. Hebrew becomes the language they read and write in and even the language in which they express themselves orally. With time, they too become Hebrew-speaking Catholics.

— Indigenous Catholics: Most Catholics in the State of Israel are Arabic-speaking in origin. There are small groups of Arab citizens of Israel who because of various reasons (mostly because of work) have moved to live in Jewish areas where Hebrew is the unique dominant language. Two examples are the cities of Beer Sheba and Eilat where there are dozens of Catholic families from the north of the country. Their children attend Jewish, Hebrew-language schools, and they too give an expression to their faith in Hebrew, the language they study in.

The Hebrew-speaking Catholic community is indeed small, but those that benefit from its services (especially in education) greatly exceed the numbers of those who belong to it. The development of a Catholic discourse in Hebrew, a discourse that takes into account the historical, social, cultural and religious context of our country, is an important task for us.

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On the Net:

The article by Yitshaq Laor appears here in the original Hebrew:

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