Two related events in the history of Jewish believers in Yeshua, mark February 11. First, the granting of permission from the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1956, and the following year, the publication of the Statutes of the Work of St James, in 1957. Both mark stages in the foundation of the community now known as Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam, the fulfillment of the vision of Hebrew Catholic Bruno Hussar.
“Waah-at i-sal-aam” / Ne-vé shal-om” is Arabic and Hebrew for Oasis of Peace: an intentional community jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. The village is located midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
André Hussar was born in Egypt on 5 May 1911: his father was Hungarian, his mother French, and both were non-practicing, assimilated Jews. After completing his studies at the Italian School of Cairo – adding Italian to English and French as his mother tongues – at the age of 18 he moved with his family to Paris, where he graduated in engineering. It was during his university period, as he claimed several decades afterwards, that his conversion – as he called it describing his identity formation process – to Christianity took place. Hussar described his approach to faith as prompted by an “agonized anxiety” to receive answers to his questions regarding both the “problem of evil” and the figure of Jesus.
During the dramatic period of the World war two, Hussar went through a stage in which he deepened his choice of faith, in order to overcome his “enthusiastic temper” and “immature Christianity.” Those were the years in which André began a reflection – which was to attain fullness after he moved to Israel – on his Jewish origin, starting the development of a religious awareness that was able to combine his belonging to Judaism and his adherence to the Church.
At the same time, and with some difficulties, Hussar also became aware of the anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic prejudice present in the Catholic Church and of the fact that this background was to be held responsible for the Christians’ behavior towards the current persecutions. He felt an increasingly strong desire to contribute to the dismantling of the Christian ammunition against Judaism. Hussar himself wrote that, during that period, he met Jacques Maritain and his wife Raïssa, revealing that he was deeply influenced by the philo-Semitic approach of the French philosopher. All these different tensions resulted in a naive desire not to hide his own Jewish origins: he risked being arrested and had to leave France in 1940 because of the Nazi occupation.
When the war ended Hussar began to attend the philosophy courses at the seminary of Grenoble and prepared to join the Dominican order. He was ordained priest on 16 July 1950 and took the name of Brother Bruno to mark an everlasting monastic reference to the founder of the Carthusian Monastery. This reflected a contemplative dimension that Hussar never gave up in the subsequent decades: it resurfaced particularly in NSWAS, when he devised and created Doumia, the House of Silence, to which he devoted the last years of his life.
The second, decisive moment in Hussar’s biography, in which the current historical events posed new questions to him in relation to his Jewish origin, was the foundation of the state of Israel. The events that shook the Middle East in 1947-49 caused different and conflicting reactions among Catholics. The attitude of the Holy See, the most significant one, was based both on a firm refusal to recognize the state of Israel and on an intense diplomatic activity that aimed to induce the UN General Assembly to ratify an internationalization system for Jerusalem and the protection of the Holy Places.
There were, however, different attitudes, although they were a minority within the hierarchy and the Catholic clergy. Hussar was an example of this: he rejoiced at the birth of the state of Israel, which he recognized as legitimate and necessary to grant the Jews a homeland after the Shoah. His concern was not limited to the political and historical aspects, but also included a theological perspective. In his opinion, it was necessary for the Church and the Christians to make an effort to understand how this epoch-making event could be regarded as a part of the Christian salvific plan and could affect the “mystery of Israel” as well as the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.
Hussar was appointed by the Dominican Provincial Father, Albert-Marie Avril, to open a ‘Centre for the study of Judaism’ on the Israeli side of Jerusalem, strengthening the already considerable presence of the Dominicans with the École biblique et archéologique in the Jordanian sector of the Holy City.
Hussar arrived in Israel on 23 June 1953. He was deeply impressed and fascinated by the characteristics of the new state and also by Zionism, which he regarded as a movement that was able to give the Jews a new life, by granting them a state.
However, Hussar’s opinions were not shared by most of the Church – the Latin Catholic one in the Holy Land – since its vast majority was made up of Palestinian Arabs who were hostile to the new-born Jewish state, and it was led by a patriarchal8 and regular clergy that had an Arab or Western origin and was generally far from supporting the Jewish cause.
The attempt to oppose the Hierosolymitan [Jerusalem]Church’s dislike for the Jews, and the need for pastoral care for the minority of Christian believers of Jewish origin within the state of Israel were the origin of the creation of the ‘St. James Association.’
The association, which was placed under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate, was established on 14 December 1954 by a group of priests who were members of several congregations, including Hussar himself.
The goals of the Association included providing religious, social and economic care to the converts and the Christians of Jewish origin who arrived in Israel; promoting a “Jewish-Christian spirituality” and an “understanding of the mystery of Israel”; opposing “all forms of anti-Semitism,” and removing the isolation and separation that existed between the converted Jews and the Latin Church, and also between Jewish Christians and Israeli society. [Association of St. James, “Statutes,” 11 February 1956, Archive of the St. James Association (henceforth ASJA), Jerusalem.]
For the St. James Association, Father Bruno was responsible for a flat – foyer – in which the Christian Jews from Jaffa and Tel-Aviv could gather. He was deeply engaged during the first years of life of the association, as he recognized in it the concrete realization of his desire to create a bond between Christianity and Judaism, and to achieve the ideal of a Jewish Christian Church and a liturgy in Hebrew prospering in Israel. Hussar defined it a ‘dream,’ using a word that later became customary in descriptions of NSWAS. However, the idea of opening a Dominican center in West Jerusalem was still alive in Hussar’s mind and in those of his superiors: that would have been the St. Isaiah House.
Prayer: From Bruno Hussar’s “Will”
My brothers, start your prayers in Jerusalem, in Isaiah’s House.
Now I want my fellows and friends, over and above all partitions of religions, opinions and philosophies, to be united in love and faith. Faith in the ultimate victory of love over hate – this is the real and deepest aim of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.
A righteous man once said: “In a place where there is no love, sow love and you shall reap love”. It may happen that the one who had sown love will not reap the love himself, only the person coming after him. But, no doubt, every seed of true love will give – today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – the fruit of love. This is the real aim of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam – to keep the hope alive and to sow a lot of love seeds in this dry earth of our land. The fruit will come in its time, on the day of harvest.
Richard’s prayer: Thank you Lord, for this saintly man of faith and vision, and the community formed by him. We pray today for the peace of Jerusalem, and the community of Neve Shalom, that you will prosper it as it brings reconciliation to hurting individuals, communities and ethnicities. In the name of Yeshua, who reconciles all humanity to Yourself through his incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and imminent return, we pray. Amen.
Saint James Vicariate For Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel
Bruno Hussar, 1911 – 1996
- BRUNO HUSSAR, who passed away on February 8, 1996, was the visionary who dreamed of and eventually established the community of NEVE SHALOM – an oasis of peace – a name he derived from the biblical quotation in the book of Isaiah (32:18) “My People shall dwell in an Oasis of Peace”. The germ of the idea came to him in the ’60s but its realization evolved slowly until 1970, when he settled upon a barren hilltop loaned to him under long term lease by the Latrun Monastery. Several years of harsh pioneering in the most inhospitable and uncomfortable conditions followed. Fr. Bruno believed that the dream had finally manifested itself when the first young married couples joined him and began to make their homes on the hill top. The following quotation from his autobiography, When the Cloud Lifted, tells about those early years.
“We had in mind a small village composed of inhabitants from different communities in the country. Jews, Christians and Muslims would live there in peace, each one faithful to his own faith and traditions, while respecting those of others. Each would find in this diversity a source of personal enrichment.
The aim of the village: to be the setting for a school for peace. For years there have been academies in the various countries where the art of war has been taught. Inspired by the prophetic words: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” we wanted to found a school for peace, for peace too is an art. It doesn’t appear spontaneously, it has to be learnt.
People would come here from all over the country to meet those from whom they were estranged, wanting to break down the barriers of fear, mistrust, ignorance, misunderstanding, preconceived ideas – all things that separate us – and to build bridges of trust, respect, mutual understanding, and, if possible, friendship. This aim would be achieved with the help of courses, seminars, group psychology techniques, shared physical work and recreational evenings.”
From Fr. Bruno’s autobiographical book When the Cloud Lifted…, Veritas Books, 1989.
1952 Father Bruno Hussar (Dominican) arrives in the country and serves as chaplain at the Christian Brothers’ school in Jaffa. He begins to care for a few Hebrew speaking Christians.
1953 Brother Yohanan and Father Bruno dream about a “Hebrew church” on the roof of the Brothers’ School.
Brother Yohanan meets Father Joseph Stiassney and the discuss the possibility of a Hebrew liturgy and ask according to what rite it should be celebrated.
Elias Friedman, a Jewish South African Carmelite monk arrives to join the Carmelites in Haifa.
On December 14, the establishment of the Work of St James (Œuvre Saint Jacques) by Mgr. Vergani, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, together with Father Joseph Stiassney, Father Jean-Roger Héné, Mr. Martin Weinhoben and Ms. Yosha Bergman.
On January 14, the second meeting of the Work of St James during which Father Bruno Hussar, Father Elias Friedman and Father Pierre-Thomas join.
On February 11, a temporary permission (ad experimentum) is given to the Work of St James by Latin Patriarch Gori
On February 19, at 18.00, a first mass in Latin is celebrated for the Work of St James in Jaffa.
On January 31, a meeting took place in Jaffa to plan the inauguration of the center to be opened at 55 Yehuda HaYamit Street. On February 19, a first mass was celebrated there in Latin by Father Bruno Hussar.
On January 29, an attempt was inaugurated to set up a Christian kibbutz in the spirit of the Hebrew speaking community. Two couples were involved and they lived on a property adjacent to the Sisters of Sion in Ein Karem, Jerusalem.
In February, a report was sent to Cardinal Tisserant. It concluded that the Syrian rite was seen as foreign to many members of the community. The Cardinal referred to the Pope who gave permission to use the Latin rite with some parts of the mass in Hebrew (including the readings).
On March 18, Father Bruno Hussar arrives from Rome with the awaited permission. A first Latin mass is celebrated partly in Hebrew in Haifa in the chapel of Mgr. Vergani, Vicar of the Latin Patriarch in Israel. Brother Yohanan is the main celebrant and the members of the central committee participate. From this point on prayers are in Hebrew and Latin.
Saint James Vicariate For Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel
In 1970, after a long genesis, the joint Israeli and Palestinian experience of the village of ‘Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam’ (‘oasis of peace’) began. Among the decisive figures for the start of this project, Father Bruno Hussar (1911-1996) was the most important, although his life has not yet been explored by historiography. Born in Egypt to assimilated Jewish parents, during his studies in France he converted to Christianity. In 1953 he was sent to Israel in order to open a Dominican centre for Jewish and Christian studies. During those years the idea of a place where to experiment a direct form of coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel took shape in Hussar’s mind. My paper aims to investigate his complex figure, combining Judaism, Christianity, adherence to Zionism and commitment to peace.