August 10, 2022 — Oberammergau, Germany
American Jewish Committee (AJC) honored today Christian Stückl, director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, with its prestigious Isaiah Award for Exemplary Interreligious Leadership. The AJC award, honoring extraordinary achievement in interfaith endeavors, was presented to Stückl by Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations.
“Throughout his illustrious career as Oberammergau Passion Play director, Christian Stückl has demonstrated the power of one individual to make a tremendous difference. He took a play that was sadly infamous for its hundreds of years of antisemitic tropes and visuals and transformed it, creating an educational tool for post-Shoah Christian and German self-reflection, leading to progress and reconciliation in Christian-Jewish and German-Jewish relations,” said Rabbi Marans. “Together with the remarkable team he has assembled since 1986, Stückl has shepherded the Oberammergau community into a new era for the play that acknowledges its problematic past and labors continuously for a very good present and an even better future. For this and much more, AJC is pleased to honor its partner and friend, Christian Stückl, with its highest award for interreligious leadership.”
Stückl, an Oberammergau native who became the legendary decennial play’s director in advance of the 1990 play, has been unrelenting in his commitment to eliminating anti-Jewish tropes and visuals in the production. “Let there be no doubt: in Oberammergau, in the play, antisemitism has no place, and it has no place in the lives of the performers either,” Stückl declared in advance of the 2022 edition of the play, delayed two years due to the pandemic.
“When I took over direction of the Passion Play in 1990, my greatest concern was to eliminate anti-Judaism from our Passion Play,” said Stückl after receiving the Isaiah Award. “For over 300 years we have told the story of Jesus in a spirit that has led to prejudice and hatred. For over 1900 years the Church had told that the Jews murdered Jesus. Rabbi Josepf Krauskopf wrote in 1901 after seeing the Passion Play, ‘It will take more than another hour, more than months and years, probably centuries, before our character will be cleared of the heinous accusations that have been heaped upon it’.”
Stückl continued: “Something had to be done! For too long, we have not dealt with our history. Over three decades now I have been entrusted with this task, over three decades working with many people to take hate and prejudice out of the play. I have met many important people during this time, and my work with the AJC in particular has been marked by great seriousness and trust. The fact that I am now being honored with the Isaiah Award fills me with great gratitude, but the award is also a reminder that we have not yet reached an end with our work.”
Stückl has worked closely with AJC since the 1980s, including most recently with the AJC Oberammergau Academic Advisory Group, comprised of American Christian and Jewish scholars. “Stückl’s most lasting legacy will be his careful portrayal of the Jewish character and context of Jesus and the story. The play no longer presents a timeless picture of Jews murdering the founder of Christianity,” wrote Rabbi Marans and the Rev. Peter A. Pettit, PhD, teaching pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa, in an RNS oped in May.
Video tributes to Stückl from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Pettit, and fellow AJC Oberammergau Academic Advisory Group member Adele Reinhartz, PhD FRSC, Distinguished University Professor, University of Ottawa, were shown at today’s award ceremony.
Directing the play for the fourth time, Stückl has transformed the production, most notably by highlighting the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers and clarifying that only the Roman Pontius Pilate – and not the Jews – could condemn Jesus to death. He inaugurated the principal actors’ pilgrimage to Israel as part of their play preparation and added a critical and now beloved play scene with hundreds singing Sh’ma Yisrael, the central Jewish prayer, as Jesus raises a Torah facsimile. To paraphrase a rabbinic aphorism, for Stückl the work will never be done, but he does not feel free to desist from it.
The Oberammergau Passion Play has been presented in decennial and special anniversary seasons in the Bavarian village since 1634. In this 2022 season, half a million pilgrims will view the play, whose influence is felt throughout the world in Passion Plays and other artistic expressions of the Gospels and the life and death of Jesus.
The AJC Isaiah Award artwork presented to Stückl is a facsimile leaf of Sh’ma Yisrael in the Kennicott Bible, the lavishly illuminated Hebrew Bible that survived from medieval Spain, before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Combining Jewish, Christian, and Islamic artistic motifs, the Kennicott Bible captures the spirit of interreligious relations which Stückl exemplifies.
“Christian Stückl’s signature and most memorable addition to the play is a newly composed rendition of the Sh’ma, sung by hundreds of Oberammergau villagers portraying first century Jews. There couldn’t be a more fitting artistic text with which to honor Christian,” said Marans.
Since its founding in 1906, AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, has consistently been the primary Jewish force in interreligious and intergroup relations. Past recipients of AJC’s Isaiah Award include Dr. Billy Graham, Dr. Martin E. Marty, Cardinal John O’Connor, Professor Thomas E. Bird, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, Rev. Dr. William Harter, Archbishop Demetrios, Cardinal Walter Kasper, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
AJC was the first global Jewish organization to engage with the Federal Republic of Germany after World War II. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, AJC again took the lead as the first Jewish organization to support German unification, believing in the spirit of reconciliation and friendship. The AJC Berlin Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations opened in 1998, making AJC the first American Jewish advocacy organization with a permanent presence in Berlin. AJC Berlin helps ensure that Europe and Germany remain a home for the Jewish people, a friend of Israel, and an indispensable ally of the United States. AJC Berlin was represented at today’s award ceremony by its director, Dr. Remko Leemhuis, who also addressed the assembled.
Among those attending the Isaiah Award ceremony was a group of AJC 2022 Goldman Fellows, American Jewish collegians participating in this year’s AJC Campus Affairs/Alexander Young Leadership – Germany Close Up (GCU) program. GCU conducts travel seminars that provide a framework for young American Jews to experience and explore contemporary Germany.
In 2019, AJC launched a dynamic website, https://www.ajc.org/OberammergauPassionPlay, that introduces visitors to a Christian-Jewish relations perspective on the play, answers frequently asked questions, and houses diverse resources on the subject.