Last year I was invited to speak at a church on Good Friday. The minister and I had a wonderful dialogue on the Jewishness of Jesus, and we touched on the dramatic changes in Jewish-Christian relations.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
A relationship mired by persecution had become one driven by love and respect. To discuss this change on Good Friday—a day Jews traditionally feared because the Gospel reading blamed Jews for Jesus’ death—was especially meaningful to both of us.
A Difficult Year
As we spoke, however, we also recognized a new development. Just that past week, a gunman had opened fire on the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. A young girl walking into the Center’s preschool was killed.
This murder foreshadowed a year of exponential in growth in anti-Jewish attacks. In Madison, Wisconsin, over 30 homes were spray painted with swastikas.
In France four women shopping for the Sabbath were murdered by terrorists fleeing from the police. Over 55 percent of Jewish college students reported witnessing antisemitic acts.
The New Antisemitism
The antisemitism growing today differs markedly from what traditionally happened on Good Friday. Jews were once targeted for what we believe. Now we are hated for who we are.
Once Jews were targeted as individuals. Today we see many antisemites pin all the world’s problems on the tiny Jewish state of Israel.
Once most antisemites came from the Far Right of the political spectrum. Today they tend to come from the Far Left.
How should we respond to it?
1. Partner with those who share our values: When I speak in churches, I am amazed by the feeling of support and affection for Israel. Expanding the circle of those challenging anti-Jewish stereotypes matters because a victim cannot always solve the crime.
We need to hear prominent Christian voices who are not victims of antisemitism yet know how horrific and irrational it is.
2. Educate: The last 50 years saw an extraordinary dialogue between leading Jews and Christians. Those dialogues helped change official Catholic doctrine and the curriculum at many Christian colleges. Yet, what happens at conferences often fails to make to the pews.
We need preachers preaching a message of hope and inclusion. We need teachers drawing on the “better angels of our nature,” reminding students that Jesus was a Jew, as were the apostles. Christianity and Judaism are siblings, not rivals.
3. Highlight what is at stake: Hatred of Jews gives us a glimpse of a society’s future. When people hate Jews, they will likely hate anyone else who is not like them.
Consider the example of the miner’s canary. Before electronic devices could do the job, miners would use a canary bird to test the toxicity of gases in a mine. If the canary died, the miners would avoid that particular area.
Jews have served a similar role throughout history. When they died, so did many others.
Is that the kind of world we want for our children?