Dear Christian Leader,
This week we commemorated the shloshim, the 30th day since Hamas’s barbaric pogrom in Israel on Oct. 7, the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust and an indiscriminate butchering of 1,400 human beings – not just Jews – regardless of age, gender, and physical ability.
The torture was magnified by the evildoers’ kidnapping of 240 hostages and the pain that continues to be inflicted upon their desperate families. All of this in service of Hamas’s dedicated cause: the elimination of the only Jewish state, Israel, and the murder of Jews.
The 30th day after a death is normally a moment of transition for the Jewish mourner, when we try to soften our unmitigated grief. But for this mourning, that is not going to happen. The Jewish people are not ready. We are still in the throes. It could take generations to heal. Our most joyous of Jewish holidays, Simchat Torah, has been indelibly stained. Simchah, joy, became ayvel, mourning.
There are no six degrees of separation for the Jewish people. These are our brothers and sisters who live in Israel, literally in many cases, including my own. This is our Jewish homeland, where half of world Jewry has tried, mostly successfully, to create a safe haven. Jewish history has been transformed by the existence of the State of Israel and the eradication of Jewish powerlessness manifest in its Holocaust nadir, but Oct. 7 has shaken those assumptions. We will not allow a return to that era. We are a strong people. We will prevail.
Neither the Jewish State nor the Jewish people equate the restoration of Israel’s safety from Hamas’s terrorism with an all-out war against Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims. We mourn not only the Jewish victims of the massacre but all the victims, including the Arab citizens of Israel who were slaughtered, and remain deeply concerned about all the hostages, regardless of background. The suffering of innocent Gazans wrought by Hamas’s inhumane tactics weighs heavily upon us.
The agony of this devastation has been magnified by virulent anti-Israelism that has morphed into a frightening escalation of dangerous antisemitism. Most Jews are experiencing this as the greatest moment of Jewish vulnerability of their lifetimes, including within our own communities here in America, usually touted as home to the most successful Jewish diaspora experience in history. To cite just one example of many, wearing a yarmulke on an American university campus has been transformed, practically overnight, from pedestrian to potentially perilous. Wearing religious garb should not have to be an act of heroism.
Christian leaders have a special role to play here. For two millennia, the Jewish people experienced anti-Judaism and antisemitism sanctioned by Christian teaching and leaders. It was deadly for the Jewish people. In a post-Shoah collective reflection, the relationship was changed for the better by courageous Christians and receptive Jews.
Most Christians internalized this transformation and understand that modern Jewish identity is inextricably linked to the gift of the State of Israel. But at key points in Israel’s history, we have seen outright hostility to the Jewish state in some Christian circles, particularly but not exclusively among liberal Protestant leadership.
That has happened again during this past month through references to root causes of the conflict that appear as thinly veiled justifications for Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorism. Within days, even hours, the victim was blamed and denied the right of self-defense through delusional immediate calls for a ceasefire. As usual, these utterances were out of step with the overwhelming support for Israel among the parishioners in the pews.
Thank you to the many Christians who have stood by our side in our grave hour of need. Your solidarity has brought some healing to our wounds. To those who failed to see or chose to ignore our pain, please reflect and reconsider. This will be a long struggle. Your Jewish neighbors continue to need you as they experience aloneness and vulnerability.
Reach out to them in support. Show up the way you did after the murder of 11 Jews on a Shabbat morning in a Pittsburgh synagogue five years ago. That murderous evil is the same as this murderous evil. Both are motivated by hatred of Jews and intended to instill fear in them. Use your influence to help free the hostages. Join us on Nov. 14 at a massive rally in Washington and declare that you are with us in our understanding of Israel as indispensable to Jewish identity, safety, and security. Say unequivocally that you are part of the struggle against those who would destroy our civilization, that you understand the difference between murder and self-defense.
And know that the Jewish people share with you a belief in a humanity created in the image of God, that the death of all innocents in this conflict – Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim – grieves us deeply. Their blood calls out to us from the ground and reminds us that our pursuit of peace must be relentless.
Thank you for listening,