Yesterday I attended a lunch sponsored by the Jay Philips Center for Interfaith Learning, a joint center of the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University, which I’ve mentioned before. The lunch featured Dr. Victoria Barnett, Director of Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, speaking on The Implications of the Holocaust for Multireligious Conversations.
Dr. Barnett used the activities of the National Conference of Christians and Jews during the time of World War II as a vehicle for talking about both some of the difficulties involved in inter-faith conversations and the different levels at which such conversations take place. Particularly thought-provoking was her discussion of the tension between the particulars of an event (such as the Holocaust) and the more universal questions raised by the event (such as the human capacity for evil, complicity in evil, etc.). While the most effective conversations connect the particular and the universal, it is easy for one to become subordinate to the other. When the particular is too quickly brushed aside in favor of a rush to the universal, we risk turning the victims into symbols and minimizing their suffering.
There is much from her talk I will continue to process, but I was most troubled by something that took place following Dr. Barnett’s main talk. During the question and answer period, one of the attendees referenced a recent Atlantic magazine article titled Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe? In the course of the colloquy over the question asked by the article, a Jewish woman shared something that made me physically as well as mentally shiver. She relayed that she had been studying in a graduate program in Europe last year. She described how, on separate occasions, both she and her partner had been physically attacked because they were Jewish, to a degree that, in both cases required hospitalization. She also relayed that, with another Jewish person, she had been traveling by train to meet some colleagues in another city and “made the mistake” of speaking Hebrew on the train. A short time later, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: “Next stop, Auschwitz. All Jews get off the train.” That was enough to make her come back to the United States.
I think it is impossible to deny the increase in anti-Semitism, both in the United States and abroad. A recent report released by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel found a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks around the world.
The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks around the world surged nearly 40 percent last year, according to a report released Wednesday by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel (described here). “The attacks were ‘perpetrated with or without weapons and by arson, vandalism or direct threats against Jewish persons or institutions such as synagogues, community centers, schools, cemeteries and monuments as well as private property,’ the authors of the report, based at the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, said.”
Are we concerned? If not, we should be. And are we who call ourselves Christians (and, let’s face it, much anti-Semitism is a product of how the Christians historically read the role of the Jews in the death of Christ) speaking up to denounce such acts?