To Bigotry, No Sanction, Reverend Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church
by Dr. Mose Durst
1. Thou Hast Made Us For Thyself - The Background of My Quest for Meaning
"I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.
My grandmother, who lived in my parents' home until she was past a hundred years old, often repeated something similar to that passage from Psalms as she and I walked through the streets of Brooklyn on our way to the synagogue. I, for my part, was glad to walk with her. I was glad to be of some service to her, and also just to walk. Walking is a lifelong passion of mine. It is one of the earliest experiences that gave me a sense of the world and the greatness of the things God made.
Perhaps the most sincere religious feeling for me came when I lighted the Sabbath candles for my grandmother each Friday evening at sundown. She would place the white candles in the four old bronze candle holders on her bureau, the only objects in our home that seemed to me to signify permanence. My grandmother would take from her closet a prayer book that seemed not only ancient but a symbol of the mystery of our religion. She would then stand before the candles and pray. This is among the most peaceful of my childhood memories, and I loved my grandmother for her simple faith. Through her I learned to revere my elders and those whose lives were endowed with spiritual power.
I was surprised, later, to learn that my mother was uncertain about whether my grandmother was her real mother. Perhaps that uncertainty is typical of the plight of the Jew in America, who so often asks the question, "Who is a Jew? " Jews are, after all, a people who have always suffered persecution, a people who were devastated by Hitler's holocaust. As a young man, during college vacation, I walked the streets of Europe, from synagogue to synagogue, in search of my roots. Perhaps I felt a fundamental uncertainty about the meaning of my religion and indeed about the meaning of life.
Yet, if there has historically been little worldly security for the Jewish people, there has been one great spiritual security -- that of the Covenant with God. And on Sabbath morning, as my grandmother and I walked to synagogue to recite the traditional prayers together with our community, we were reaffirming our trust in that basic security.
The synagogue on South Second Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was a place of mystery and of some fear for me. We would walk up the steps and enter through the huge wooden doors. I would continue to help my grandmother up to the balcony where the women sat separated from the men below. The men were praying in Hebrew, with prayer shawls wrapped in disarray around their shoulders. They were swaying back and forth while bending the knee to the mysterious God.
The greatest joy, without doubt, was walking to and from the synagogue. My grandmother would greet her friends, some too old to walk to synagogue, who sat in straight back wooden chairs against the red brick tenement buildings. Some of these same women would visit her in our kitchen after the services, and they would speak in Yiddish while helping my mother cook dinner.
My mother was like a little girl around my grandmother, and there was kitchen communion for them in the rolling of the dough and the baking of yeast cake. My father, who came to the United States from Lvov, Russia, shortly after the First World War, respected the central position of my grandmother in our household, but did not join us in our walk to synagogue. When he was a child in Europe his town was frequently bombarded, and he developed a fundamental mistrust for God, although he found within himself a kindness and compassion that he was to share abundantly with his family.
My name is Mose Durst. I was named Martin Durst at birth, but on entering the Unification Church in 1972, I took the name Mose to show my identification with the Moses of the Bible, who sought to answer God's call and do His will. I was born in Brooklyn and reared in an area inhabited by Orthodox Jews. My father, a man kept from college by the necessity of earning his own living after he emigrated from Eastern Europe, was a contractor. We were neither wealthy nor poor. I came as the third and last son at a time when my family was doing well. Immediately marked as the son to become the scholar, I was not to dirty my hands. Education was laid out before me as my portion and inheritance. Mine was a good life and my parents good parents; I did not complain then nor do I now. Nonetheless, I did feel somewhat uncomfortable over this favored treatment. In later years, when it was simply expected that I would study for law or business, I found that my heart was not in it. I tried to complete a degree that would qualify me for business, but my experiences of working in the summers convinced me that commerce was not my interest. There is really nothing wrong with commerce and business, but it was not for me. For that reason, I stayed six months longer than necessary to obtain a degree at Queens College of New York and complete an English major. It is literature, words and ideas, that are my passion. That has always been true.
I developed such a fascination while walking the streets of New York. Through walking, I encountered the city's great bookstores, and I can identify, after all these years, those that specialize in one field or another. The doorways that led to books were more exciting to me than doorways that led anywhere else.
Browsing through thousands of books, I became entranced with words and, more than with the language alone, I became enchanted with the spirit, the emotion, the heart behind the words. For me, this was the supreme experience -- to be in touch with the feelings, aspirations, fears, and desires of people whom I had never known. Through books, then, I reached out and touched the heart of the humanity streaming and suffering and struggling around me.
I remember as a child how my mother would read aloud to my father, my brothers, and myself the stories of Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish, and the novels of Mark Twain in English. My mother read with a passion and delight that gave each word color, weight, texture. All of us would be moved by the joy and suffering of Jews in Eastern Europe, and by the picaresque adventures of boys in Missouri. From these stories I came to understand the life of the heart.
But walking taught me as much as books. I could not help seeing people arguing, fighting, taunting, and cursing whenever I walked. I became aware of the names we call each other, the names of intolerance and hate that echo throughout the world: Yid, Kike, Spic, Spade, Nigger, Wop. Not everyone is sensitive at heart; not everyone loves and forgives. Everywhere, people referred to others even slightly different from themselves in deprecatory terms. Yet the streets were full of all kinds of people. New York is a polyglot city, a Babel of nations, races, and faiths. On Sundays, as I walked along, there were Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists on the way to church. There were Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and followers of Father Divine. Hundreds of different expressions of one basic faith in God. They moved along to temple, synagogue, cathedral, church, chapel, mission, fellowship, and prayer house. There are millions of people in the Great City and thousands of ways in which they worship God -- the God to whom they look for security, but whom some forget when all appears to be going well. I became aware early on of the multitude of responses of men and women to the sheer fact of being alive. For many, living is taken for granted. Yet those countless temples testified to me that for many there is a deep desire to worship God. Something -- the spirit, perhaps -- moves us to praise and thank and honor and sing and worship. Oh, that we could so praise ourselves and honor our neighbor who praises in a different way! Not long ago, I took a piece of the morning's mail from my desk and looked at the commemorative stamp on the envelope. There was a picture of a fine old synagogue and a quote from George Washington: "To Bigotry, No Sanction." What a wonderful motto! Even though this is a wonderful country that ostensibly is against bigotry, there are those among us who would promote bigotry and hatred.
I learned to love this country as a young man. No one appreciates this country more than the immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants, and New York is full of immigrants and their descendants. "To Bigotry, No Sanction." What a wonderful promise, but a vow we have not always kept in the United States. Ask the Mormons about their early history. Ask the initiates of Krishna Consciousness in West Virginia. We have not always kept our vow of tolerance when it comes to those who have new ways of praising, thanking, and knowing the God who gives us life. We have particularly not kept the vow when it comes to those who practice what social scientists call the "New Religions." The media, with unquenchable thirst for news, have named these new religions "cults," in a negative sense, and the sobriquet has stuck and is now used with a pejorative and condemnatory implication.
Although I was born a Jew, I now follow the teachings of Reverend Sun Myung Moon. I am a member of the Unification Church and, currently, its president in America. The news media call me a "Moonie," yet I do not think of myself or my colleagues in faith as "cultists." To the contrary, in the Unification Church I know noble people who are striving to ease the suffering heart of God and to give love to the world.
I was not always a Unificationist. That title, which I take as an honor, I have held for only twelve years. Reared in the great city of New York, initiated into its many mysteries, its beauties, its challenges, and its threats, I received not only my early nourishment, but my education there as well. I did well in school. When I graduated from Queens College, I found myself eligible for a National Defense Education Act scholarship for graduate school. I debated staying in New York, which has many fine schools, but something pulled me away. Perhaps it was an unconscious desire to escape the too close security of my family. Perhaps it was a desire to see whether I could stand on my own feet. With my family, I felt overly protected. Feeling that I was given too much, and that life was not hard enough for me, I elected to go elsewhere for study.
Prior to graduate school though, I made a trip to Europe. For the first time I was alone and unsupported in a foreign land. I recall arriving in Copenhagen in broad daylight, in what would have been the middle of the night at home. Though fatigued from the long flight, I felt wide awake by the sights and sounds of a foreign city. As I walked through that beautiful Danish capital, I loved its quaintness, marked by the towering steeples of Lutheran churches, one of which had around its steeple an outside stairway twisting to the very top. How I reveled in that city, where one frequently passed toyshop windows filled with lead soldiers and tiny ballerina dolls reminiscent of fairy tales and operas. This was the exquisite land of Tivoli, a place of peace where every opinion is allowed to flourish, where one can ride boats down grand canals and pass the statue of the Little Mermaid. This was also a land whose Jews were spirited away and protected when the Nazi overlords came to take them to extermination camps. What an introduction to foreign lands to go to the fair Kingdom of Denmark!
From there I began traveling through many other European cities, moving from place to place, always heading south. Everywhere I searched out synagogues, to see the remains of my ancestral people, to see what was left after six million fellow-believers were cast into the ovens by Nazi madmen, their ashes scattered to the winds. What a sobering reflection! How tragic to remember the end to which bigotry can finally lead, to walk through beautiful streets, through the imposing cities of Europe, and to recall the pogroms and persecutions that fell upon the Jews.
Walking in Frankfurt, Germany, I saw the remains of bombed buildings. A church with one wall standing amidst the rubble made me realize that millions who were not Jews had also suffered terribly from the insanity of war. Isolated from my family and home, I began to feel and think in new ways. My world was no longer New York City, and my family was becoming more than those who lived in my home.
"Sad, that ruined building, but let me show you some of the more beautiful sights in Frankfurt." An American GI had approached me while I was gawking at the church wall. I responded warmly to the friendly voice, for I always felt comforted by the presence of Americans. Unfortunately the GI on giving me the tour of Frankfurt also cleaned out my pockets. After stealing almost one hundred dollars from me he later called my hotel and attempted to coerce me into giving him even more. I left the city quickly, with less money and a little less innocence.
Upon returning from Europe, it was time to take up graduate studies. Still perplexed over where to go, I thought, with the reasoning of a youth seeking independence, that I should go as far from home as possible and still remain in the United States. So I decided to study in Oregon. There my life underwent a radical shift.
The sun was shining on the glorious bulk of Mt. Hood as I got off the plane in Portland. Portland is a beautiful town, and I fell in love with its sights and smells. After my first night there, I awoke early for my usual exploratory walk around the city. I had been walking for about thirty minutes when I came upon the synagogue in downtown Portland. Entering, I found exactly nine men; only one was lacking to form the quorum for prayer. Thus, I was greeted with warmth, duly outfitted with skullcap and prayer book, and the prayer began. Surely my journey to Oregon was being sanctified.
I experienced in Oregon, however, a very conscious identity crisis about what it meant to be a Jew. Eugene, the home of the University of Oregon, was a place with few Jews. I felt it was time for me to find out what my religion was all about, so I attended synagogue regularly. Although I was not at first aware of it, I also was looking for someone to love. I found both my Jewishness and first wife at the Eugene synagogue. When I say I found my "Jewishness" in Oregon, I mean I became acutely aware of the Jewish cultural heritage that was so much a part of my childhood environment in New York. The commitment to "menschlichkeit," to humanness, to compassion, and ethics, awakened me to a fierce pride. I was still uneasy about my religion because I did not understand my relationship to God. I found that I valued Jewish humor, Jewish literature, and Jewish food more than the Jew's covenant with God. I found I could peel off my layers of Jewish acculturation, but that I could not find a core that was the God of peace or the God of love. I was disquieted by the lack of a personal relationship with God. As I looked at those closest to me who considered themselves Jews, I found only a mirror image of myself.
Bob, a fellow graduate student at the University of Oregon, who led Sabbath services at the synagogue, was an Oregonian who adhered to the Orthodox tradition, difficult as this was in the small town of Eugene. It was friendship with him that brought me to the synagogue. I shared with him my love for Jewish humor and food, but I found in him an insecure, formalistic adherence to ritual. He resisted the intimacy of our relationship, and I found that I could not share my deep feelings with him. Years later, when I became a member of the Unification Church, he refused to see me, talk to me, or answer my letters. Apparently, he felt something deeply, although he still could not communicate to me other than through the means of silence.
On Friday nights at seven o'clock we would arrive at a darkened synagogue on the outskirts of Eugene. When Bob and I entered, he would turn on the lights in the main chapel. Slowly, cars would pull up to the building, and one by one local businessmen would enter. Sometimes a university professor would attend services, but not very often. Only one or two students would attend regularly. There would be some perfunctory greetings, then Bob would begin with the chant: "Shema, Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehud." (Here, O Israel, the Lord, our God, is One.) A brief responsive prayer with the cantor and audience would continue the service until it concluded some forty minutes later. There was a sharing of cake and coffee, then everyone would disperse. I was comforted by the coming together of community. I felt security in the chants of ancient melodies, and I was pleased to be with men who were old enough to be grandfathers. But everything was over too quickly.
I sought desperately to find meaning in my Jewishness, so I was overjoyed when at a Sabbath service I met a young Jewish girl from the university. I so hungered for someone of my own culture who could share the same touchstones of Judaism that I fell quickly in love. Several months later, after I received my Master's degree, we were married. Marriage, however, contrary to my expectations, did not clarify the meaning of my faith. Even with the two of us now attending the Friday night service, there was still a great emptiness in my heart.
I turned from the synagogue back to the library in search of life's meaning. In literature I discovered more profoundly the suffering of life as well as the triumph over that suffering through art. I could identify with James Joyce in his rebellion against the empty formalism of his church and in his devotion to art. I could sympathize with James Baldwin who understood that art must tell the tale of how we suffer, how we endure, and how we must prevail. I could "howl" with Allen Ginsberg about the madness of modern civilization, about the lack of community, and yet with him I could feel the comfort of the melodious poetic line.
Art could please and teach, but there was still the need to act if life were to be whole. I became involved in social protest. When I learned that the City of Eugene was about to cut down half its magnificent Douglas fir trees to widen several city streets, I was shocked. I had fallen in love with those trees when I came to Eugene; they were sacred to me. I organized petitions to "Save the Trees." I marched, argued at City Hall, and organized protest groups, but to no avail. The trees were cut.
I learned, however, through the experience of protest, that my love for the trees and for the city was genuine. I had suffered for what I loved. The love of nature and life, as celebrated for example in the poetry of Walt Whitman, demanded not only aesthetic response but moral action.
In the 1963-64 academic year I had the opportunity to spend the third year of my fellowship at Cambridge University in England, and it was there that I had time to reflect upon America. Although my fellowship was in medieval literature, I constantly read about the history, culture, and literature of the United States. I felt responsible to search out the traditions that were vital to American culture. I discovered the moral vision of Hawthorne and the vital language of William Carlos Williams. The beauty of art that could inform the moral sensibility became the central preoccupation of my studies.
When I returned to Oregon I began teaching, I completed my doctoral work in modern American literature, and I became painfully aware of the war in Vietnam. I now furiously organized teach-ins, protests, and fasts to alert everyone to what I perceived as the injustice of American involvement in Vietnam. The literature of protest and that of the absurd came to dominate my sensibility. My aesthetic judgments became blunted while my moral sensibility became outraged.
It was now time to establish myself as a professor. On a trip to the Modern Language Association's annual meeting, I was excited to be recruited by Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The recruiters wanted to start a renaissance at the small Methodist college and were hiring thirty young, new professors to do it. I flew out to Pennsylvania and fell in love with the farseeing dean and the Lycoming Plan. I accepted the job, still looking for a place to serve.
At Lycoming, I was the typical radical young professor of the '60s. I was on the side of every cause: for protection of the environment, for civil rights, against the growing war in Vietnam. Students regularly came to my house, where we engaged in Socratic dialogue. Then one day the progressive dean at Lycoming was fired and nearly all of the thirty new professors, including myself, immediately resigned. The professors and students at Lycoming had offered me the hope of a beautiful community as an extension of a loving family. Now, this dream was to be shattered.
At this very same time, my own marriage fell apart. Having a traditional family background, I could not even imagine divorce and I was stunned. I was especially concerned about our children. I loved them from the moment they existed as a thought and possibility, and I was deeply devoted to them. Until this day, they are the great joy of my life.
The professors and students at Lycoming had offered me the hope of a beautiful community as an extension of a loving family. Now, too, this dream was to be shattered. Community, like family, I realized, was necessary, but would not come easily. I know now that family, community, and the pursuit of an ideal were the most important things in my life, but at the time I was still not sure how to pursue all three at once.
I still did not know what to do, when a friend phoned from Oakland, California, and invited me there. As a radical, I was delighted. I moved to Oakland and began to teach at an inner-city college attended by poor Hispanics and blacks. All I could do was try to give my students basic language skills, but I saw it as my mission. I also started walking again. I arranged my schedule so that I could leave campus and walk in the countryside for hours. I began meditating; for the first time I confronted the reality of my inevitable death. I know, now, that I was searching for God.
I had come a long way, in miles and experience, since my youth in New York City. I was standing on spiritual tiptoe. I was reading spiritual classics while dipping into the new religions and psychologies that were being born in California. Actually, God was preparing me for something greater. I was to meet someone who would show me the heart of God and how I could serve Him. Her name was Onni.
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