The silence from my Christian colleagues is deafening
In a famous Hasidic story, a rabbi asks his disciple: “Do you love me?”
To which the disciple replies: “Of course I love you!”
The rabbi continues. “Do you know what causes me pain?” he asks.
“Rabbi, how can I know what causes you pain?”
To which the rabbi responds: “If you do not know what causes me pain, how can you say that you love me?”
The recent weeks have been among the most painful weeks in Jewish memory. The rockets coming out of Gaza, and the necessity of Israeli response – have caused great distress for Jews and others.
But then came the vile antisemitic attacks on Jews, both verbal and violent across the United States and in Europe – almost, it would seem, daily.
And from our non-Jewish friends in the interfaith world? Crickets.
We might understand their silence around the situation in Gaza. Some have accepted the Palestinian narrative and are critical of Israeli policies. Those positions are debatable. But what is not debatable is that American Jews are now targets of unprecedented venomous hatred, which is where the silence really stings.
I have a Doctor of Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary. During my time in Princeton, I amassed a cadre of friends in the Christian ministry.
And while I’ve stayed in touch with many of them, over the past week, they have been silent.
In my forty years as a rabbi, I have become friends with other religious leaders, as well. I have worked with them, laughed with them and dined with them. But only one of them reached out with concern. He asked: “How can my congregation help you and the Jewish people, in your time of pain?”
I was deeply moved by that gesture – frankly, to the point of tears. However, it was not lost on me that he was the only one to have reached out.
One might say: “This is why we need to cultivate interfaith relationships and working partnerships. If you had more such relationships, the calls and texts would have been forthcoming.”
But it should not require deep, personal friendships in order for people to speak out. Interfaith relationships are good, sweet and redemptive – for their own sake. We cannot blame ourselves for failing to receive the kind of support that we would otherwise deserve.
I did not require Rwandan friends to speak out against the Rwandan genocide. When there were genocidal attacks against the Kurds, my lack of Kurdish friends did not prevent me from protesting. When Palestinian rights have been in danger, I did not need Palestinian friends to protest for their human rights. And a year ago, when George Floyd’s blood cried out, I did not need large numbers of Black friends in order to protest.
The moral high ground should never depend upon personal relationships. Vociferous words against hatred should not only emerge when you are talking about your friends.
And while many of my Christian colleagues did reach out after the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that was only after the murder of 11 Jews. In this latest wave of anti-Jewish violence and vituperation, there have been no Jewish fatalities – thank God. Must Jews shed blood for others to shed tears?
The silence about anti-Jewish hate crimes is not only verbal. There has been a silence of ink as well.
Take, for example, “Christian Century,” the foremost literary and journalistic mouthpiece of mainline Christianity in America. The magazine has rarely spared any opportunities to criticize Israel. But, surely, the editors would have sympathy for American Jews under attack. But, sadly, nothing.
I searched in “Christianity Today,” the preeminent voice of evangelical Christianity. Nothing. The same for “Sojourners” – the voice of liberal Protestantism.
I can dare imagine a re-statement of the famous line from the Gospels (Luke 23:34): “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they (don’t) do.”
Alas, this silence has an echo. It goes back to June 1967, during the Six Day War, when Israel’s life hung in the balance.
On Rosh Hashanah 1967, the late Rabbi David Polish – former president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis,– reflected on Christian silence in the presence of Jewish pain:
In light of this most recent moral failure, the much-touted Christian-Jewish dialogue is revealed as fragile and superficial. On the civil level, non-Jewish dialogue will have to accept the Jew as a partner. A cause which regards the Jewish people as expendable betrays its own shallowness. In the future many Jews will examine more carefully the credentials of liberalism. They will not abandon their liberal affirmations, but they will look more closely at liberal structures and leadership.
This has been a very difficult week for Jews – perhaps the most difficult and most stressful, in recent memory. There is still time for our Christian friends and colleagues to reach out to their Jewish friends, and to Jewish institutions.
And as the Hasidic story makes it clear: If you love us, then please know what gives us pain.
Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Israel in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.