AMONG several sombre commemorations this month, two 80th anniversaries in particular deserve the attention of Christians.
First, Kristallnacht: the “Night of Broken Glass”, which took place 80 years ago today, when Jewish windows in Germany were systematically shattered by the Nazis. Second, the Kindertransport, a rescue plan in response, by which 10,000 German Jewish children were evacuated to foster homes in Britain. Many of those children were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust; their offspring make up a significant part of today’s UK Jewish community.
This is important as backdrop to the anti-Semitism that has been so prominent in the news over the summer. The fears of the Jewish community are not theoretical or political, but palpable and visceral: the shooting in Pittsburgh is chilling not only for its brutality and the sinister undertow of the killer’s associations, but also for the domestic familiarity of the location — a Shabbat morning service in an educated and stable Jewish neighbourhood (News, 2 November).
With the total number of Jews worldwide little more than the population of Greater London, an attack on anyone feels like an attack on everyone. Even the names of those killed feel like family to their fellow Jews, in a way that UK Christians struggle to grasp. Even the name of the synagogue, Tree of Life, is shared by Jewish communities and schools in the UK, chosen in hope and rooted in scripture, which only adds poignancy and irony to the death-dealing destruction of the murders in Pittsburgh.
It is easy to imagine it happening here, and UK Jews feel, understandably, that there are increasing signs that it could and will.
In recent years, there has been a marked rise in abuse and attacks against my students, colleagues, and friends on public buses, at interschool football matches, in hostile altercations in the street, in bomb threats to the school. Rarely physical, usually, and, so far, opportunistic, it nevertheless creates a climate in which Jewish families — thoroughly part of British life for decades, if not centuries — begin to ask if, once again, they must be ready to pack their bags and move on.
THE College of Bishops made a significant move this September — the one that Labour has been so reluctant to make — by formally adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism (News 14 September).
Its details are less significant than its symbolism as the Jewish community’s own definition. The right of minorities to name their own experience is widely accepted on the political Left; so when some in Labour refuse to extend it to the Jewish community, the impression is that Jews somehow deserve less sympathy than others. When the Labour leader also has an unrepentant history of contact with organisations that are hostile to Israel, one can understand why alarm bells start to sound very loudly.
Most UK Jews feel an affinity to Israel. Many are concerned, even appalled, by some Israeli government decisions; they long for the fighting and fear to stop, they want the Palestinians to have a nation of their own, and they fully acknowledge the part played by Israel in the whole intractable situation.
But still they love the country and delight in its achievements. No one has a problem with criticising Israel; what disturbs the Jewish community — and should disturb us all — is when people of influence cast doubt on its right even to exist. There is widespread despair about the Trump administration, after all, but no calls for the United States to be destroyed as a nation — so why the difference for Israel?
THIS should matter to Christians for three reasons. First, because much of the history of anti-Semitism consists of actions carried out by and in our name. Christian tradition has fed off the hatred of Jews, and the fact that many still hold to anti-Semitic views brings shame on us all and needs urgent repentance.
Second, because Christianity is uniquely bound to Judaism, the tree from which it grew and, in the words of Pope Francis, our “elder brother”. So many Christian ideas — creation, sin and redemption, justice and mercy, prophecy, and priesthood — are rooted in Judaism. We worship a Jewish Messiah who walked the soil of Israel/Palestine, and we need to understand and respect the place and traditions from which his life and teaching grew.
Third, because we care about justice. Christian sympathy is rightly with the underdog, and many incline towards the Palestinian cause when they see Israel’s superior power. But the line between victim and oppressor weaves in and out of both sides in that conflict, and both sides have responsibility and agency: our biblical commitment to truth impels us to honour its complexity and resist easy answers or accusations.
Kristallnacht and Kindertransport remind us of the horrors suffered within the living memory of our Jewish neighbours, and of the hand of friendship which was extended by British families. Small wonder if recent events in UK politics are, for Jews, a flashback to those traumas. A renewal of that friendship now from Christian to Jew could scarcely be a more timely model of the love of neighbour, or of bridge-building in a fearful and divided nation.
The Revd Patrick Moriarty is head teacher of the Jewish Community Secondary School in Barnet; a self-supporting Assistant Curate of St Stephen’s, St Albans; and a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews.