International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Timelier than ever
This week marks the observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 to honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and the millions of others who perished under the Nazi regime. The date January 27 was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In addition to remembering the horrors of the Holocaust, the UN resolution included support of Holocaust education around the world; a very clear rejection of any form Holocaust denial; and a strong condemnation of “all forms of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious beliefs” anywhere in the world.
Looking back at the resolution – just 18 years after it was written – we find ourselves in a world that has either ignored or completely forgotten this mandate. Indeed, the words ring hollow given the rise in antisemitism in the United States and around the world. The voice of Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists are raised in a chorus of intolerance, continued incitement, harassment and sadly, many acts of violence against Jews.
As a Christian organization, we believe that Christians are uniquely positioned as allies of the Jewish people and Israel because of our common faith roots and shared values. Passages works to develop Christian leaders who are motivated to strengthen that relationship and stand with the Jewish people. We pride ourselves on this mission, and in equipping these emerging leaders with the tools they need to ally themselves with Jewish communities on campuses around the country. The Passages program offers Christian college leaders the opportunity to encounter the roots of their Biblical faith first-hand with organized trips to Israel, where they can come face-to-face with the modern-day miracle that is Israel.
We are proud of the fact that we have brought 10,000 participants to Israel since the program began in 2016. Israel is an important part of the Christian identity, and it is important that the next generation of Christian leaders understands their heritage to promote positive Christian engagement with Israel and the Jewish people. Passages trips allow students to experience the world of the Bible and a vibrant modern Israel in living color. All of our participants take a guided tour of Yad Vashem to help them understand the history of the Holocaust.
We believe that our alumni are discerning, moved by their own convictions, and capable of engaging in complex realities—all while honoring the dignity and experiences of the diverse people groups affected by those realities. We encourage our alumni to continue learning and advocating for the Jewish community when they return from their trips to Israel. We provide many opportunities to build on their Israel experience with additional leadership training, with the goal of having student leaders become an informed voice for Israel and for their Christian faith.
This goal is important as ever, as no campus has been immune from antisemitic vandalism. The ADL’s annual Campus Report found that 350 anti-Israel incidents were reported on college campuses across the United States during the 2021-2022 academic year, from swastikas painted on dormitories, to mezuzahs ripped off doorways, holiday decorations and sukkahs damaged and torn down, and flyers equating Birthright trips with genocide. And according to the 2021 ADL-Hillel International survey on Campus Antisemitism, one in three Jewish college students personally experiences antisemitic hate crimes while at school, including being targeted on social media, harassment by professors and students while in class, and being excluded from campus organizations because they are Jewish.
The theme of this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day is “Home and Belonging,” and what these concepts mean to those who were persecuted in the Holocaust and its aftermath, appropriate as well for the way Jewish students are treated on campus.
Our students are given the tools they need to speak out against antisemitism whenever they witness it and no matter where it comes from. We encourage them to express written support online for Jewish friends and confront antisemitism when it appears, whether it be in our churches or among families and friends.
In the Jewish tradition, the number 18 represents “Chai”, the Hebrew word for life. As we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the UN resolution to observe, let us renew our obligation to speak out against antisemitism, and to choose and preserve life, so that no one ever experiences such horrors again.