In the aftermath of the violent, Anti-Semitic attack in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that took 11 lives, I reached out to my friend, Rabbi David Jaffe not only to express my lament for the long history of hatred that has so dearly impacted his people, but also to invite him to help me understand what he needs from me in this moment. I wanted to understand what solidarity looks like between Christians and Jews in the wake of such a tragedy from his perspective. What he shared deepened our friendship and immediately impacted my pursuit of solidarity in my own neighborhood.
For those who are asking similar questions and are refusing to let this massacre be just another in a long litany of forgotten tragedies, I asked David to write to you. Here is the gift that he gave.
I am a rabbi in the Boston area and teach Jewish applied ethics. My professional life has been dedicated to the well-being of the Jewish community and promoting interfaith alliances. While no one Jew can speak for the diversity of our community I can share with you my perspective based on 25 years of communal leadership and what I’m hearing from Jews around the country right now.
Many Jews are in pain right now. We feel angry and scared about the attack. Jews make up only about 2% of the U.S. population so many of us either know people who are part of the community that was attacked or are one degree of separation away from the victims. This feels very personal.
The silver lining of this terrorist attack lies in the outpouring of support many Jews received from their Gentile allies over the past week. The attack is a kind of stress test that showed the strength of these alliances. It is more clear than ever to many Jews that we are not alone.
I have three suggestions for Christian allies who want to be in solidarity with Jews right now:
- Let your Jewish friends know that you are thinking about them and care about them. Jer texted me moments after the shooting in Pittsburgh. While reaching out in this way may not seem like a big deal, it means a lot to your Jewish friends. Isolation is a core part of Anti-Semitism, so your texts, calls, emails and visits let us know that we are not alone.
- Learn as much as you can about the dynamics of Anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is often misunderstood because it functions differently than other social oppressions like racism. Anti-Semitism is cyclical in nature. For a certain amount of time it can seem like there is no Anti-Semitism and then the cycle turns and Jews are visibly targeted and subjected to violent attack. Anti-Semitism is part of class oppression and Jews are often set up as the scapegoat when working class and poor people suffer economic hardship, like right now in the US. Stoking fears about an “invasion” by brown people from Central America and then blaming this “invasion” on a visible Jew (George Soros) is a classic example of how Anti-Semitism works. Anti-Semitism is a key piece of White Nationalism and needs to be understood and confronted. The best resource I know for understanding the dynamics of Anti-Semitism is a booklet called, “Anti-Semitism: Why Is It Everyone’s Concern?” by my teacher Cherie Brown. You can purchase the booklet here. I strongly encourage our Christian allies to form study groups and discuss the booklet over the coming weeks and months. It will give you a solid grounding for supporting your Jewish friends and neighbors.
- We need you to speak up about your support for Jews and actively challenge Anti-Semitism when you encounter it. For example, a Christian friend of mine changed her Facebook profile picture to include a large Jewish star with the words, “ending Anti-Semitism.” I realize doing this will make you feel vulnerable, yet we need our Christian allies to take these risks. Not doing so is taking advantage of your privilege as the dominant religious group in our society. I encourage you to start with just noticing the Anti-Semitism you hear and then telling a friend about it. Build up to being able to call out friends and relatives who use Anti-Semitic slurs.
The cycle is turning and there will probably be more visible Anti-Semitism in the coming months and years. This is the perfect time to educate yourselves about this ancient social oppression. This is the perfect time to take risks, try things out and, above all, reach for your Jewish friends and neighbors. Solidarity with Jews to end Anti-Semitism is a great step towards putting your faith into action and defeating the White Nationalism and racism that plague our entire society.
Rabbi David Jaffe is the author of Changing the World from the Inside Out: A Jewish Approach to Personal and Social Change, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. He leads the Inside Out Wisdom and Action Project, which brings Jewish spiritual wisdom to bear as a resource for social transformation and healing in our increasingly polarized world. He blogs at rabbidavidjaffe.com
This blog originally appeared on The Global Immersion Project’s blog: www.globalimmerse.org