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Miriam restaurant was sprayed with “f— Jews” graffiti. Here’s why we responded with white roses

At our table, we savored the plates of hummus, pita and shakshuka. It brought back wonderful memories of Jaffa and Jerusalem, places I haven’t been in a long time.

My friends, colleagues and I, 11 of us in total, chose to go to Miriam restaurant as an act of friendship and solidarity with the Jewish people. None of us are Jewish, but all of us are outraged by the near-constant news of antisemitic attacks in NYC and across the US.

Last week in Brooklyn, a Jewish man was randomly attacked. In a separate incident, a school bus full of Jewish kids had its windshield smashed in by an enraged driver. And on the Upper West Side, Miriam was tagged with graffiti that read, F — Jews.

My friends and I are members of the Philos Action League, a community of Christian committed to showing up in solidarity with the Jewish community whenever and wherever antisemitism happens. We carry with us white roses as a symbol of solidarity with Jews — and against those who seek to harm them.

Members of Philos Action League with white roses

Members of the Philos Action League carry white roses in solidarity outside Miriam’s restaurant in New York City. Courtesy of Josefa Gonzalez

The white rose hearkens back to a small group of non-Jewish German college students and young professionals who were committed to educating their peers about the problem of Nazism. In 1942, these courageous young people began to publish and distribute leaflets calling their fellow students and the general public to take public action against the Nazis.

On Feb. 22, 1943, the leaders of the movement were caught and executed— but not before their message gained wide appeal throughout Germany. They are a testimony to the power of a few people standing up against injustice, and I hope to continue some small part of their legacy by showing up when others are targeted.

The power of showing up, physically, has become very personal for me. Last year, just after the war between Israel and Gaza, I was asked by a Jewish publication to observe and write about an anti-Israel rally that was happening in Teaneck, NJ.

Instead of going as a casual observer, I brought a sign that read, “I support Israel and Jews.” I was jeered and mocked throughout the rally, but I kept thinking about my Jewish friends, who often endure such mockery without choice.

I was so motivated by that experience that I committed myself to showing up more often.

The irrational hatred and scapegoating of the Jewish people seems strange to me, but it shouldn’t: it has been going on for over three millenniums. I’m sadly well aware of my Christian ancestors’ aggressive targeting of Jews.

Fortunately, there are also stories of men and women who chose friendship instead of hatred, and I want to be counted among them.

One of the motivating factors for all of us who went to Miriam last Friday was our friendship with Jews. Unfortunately though, it’s far too common for people across the country to have never met a Jewish person, let alone be friends with one.

A 2014 survey of American adults found that 39% don’t know anyone who is Jewish, and a separate 2019 survey of African American views toward Israel and the Jewish people found that only 33% have Jewish friends. It is too easy to hate when there is no friendship.

Even if we have deep friendships with Jewish people, too often, the denunciation of antisemitism is relegated to social media, where the steady drip of hashtag activism and social media declarations have a very numbing effect.

It’s too easy to see one antisemitic event after another and shrug, but a physical presence can make a real difference. As the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible shows us, we are made up of body and spirit. We are not digital creatures, and it’s time we stopped acting like we are.

Antisemitism may not stop anytime soon, but we can all start refusing to be passive when it happens in our neighborhood.

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