Cole Keister,

The Jews and us

  • April 27, 2023

As I write this column, the State of Israel and Jews around the world are preparing to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut marking Israel’s independence. This year’s celebration will be especially poignant as it is the 75th anniversary of the Jewish state — a country that has flourished and has become an example to the world of perseverance.

It is an affecting juxtaposition given that this anniversary comes, as it always does, one week after Yom HaShoah. On that day, the Jewish people and all people of goodwill commemorate that gravest of tragedies: the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews at the hands of the genocidal Nazi regime. In remarking on these anniversaries in his National Post opinion piece this week, Avi Abraham Benlolo reminded us that the Jews are still here while Hitler is not. That God’s will for His chosen people triumphed over evil, that He delivered them and once again brought them into the land promised to Abraham and his descendants forever should be something in which we rejoice.

Yet, the old pestilence of anti-Semitism that permitted and encouraged the Holocaust continues to fester and spread impacting our humanity by wounding our common life.

A recent research report published by Cardus highlighted this distressing trend in Canada. In “Toward a Hopeful Future: Facing Down Religious Hatred,” we cited hate crime statistics from Statistics Canada’s 2021 Uniform Crime Reporting survey revealing that there has been a worrying increase in attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions and sites in this country. Since 2009, the Jewish community in Canada has experienced more police-reported hate crimes than all other religious groups combined. Between 2017 and 2020, there were an average of 342 anti-Semitic hate crimes. In 2021, that number had increased by 42.4 per cent to 487. The trend is disturbing, yet what is more disturbing is the silence and apathy that characterizes the response to anti-Semitism in our midst. When that silence comes from Christians, it is especially deafening.

How do we as Catholics respond? To put it most simply, we must always stand with the Jews in the face of this pernicious hatred. To do so, we must not only be familiar with what our faith teaches about our relationship to the Jewish people but we must offer an effective apologetic as to why we stand with the Jews. Even more, we must be prepared to utter a clear condemnation of anti-Semitism wherever, whenever and in whatever form we encounter it.

At the foundation of such an apologetic must be the centre of our Christian faith: Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of the law, the covenants and the prophets. He is the New Adam through whom we are restored to God. He is fully God and fully Man who entered into our world at a specific time and place in human history: First-century Judea. He is of the House of David, and as such He is a Jew. All of this was necessary for the salvation of humanity. We confess that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God; the Jews do not. But, this must not be a hindrance to our standing with our Jewish brothers and sisters. As the great Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetate states: “in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

Echoing this reality while speaking in Venezuela in February 1975, St. Josemaria Escriva responded to a Jewish woman’s question with the following words: “I love the Jews very much because I love Jesus Christ madly, and He is Jewish. I don’t say He was, but He is. ‘Iesus Christus, heri et hodie, ipse et saecula.’ Jesus Christ continues to live and He is Jewish like you. And the second love of my life is also Jewish — the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. So I look on you with affection…”

How can we cultivate such love in our hearts? Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, how do we turn that love into words and deeds of justice that link us in solidarity with our Jewish neighbours? I will return to these questions in my next column.

(The Rev. Andrew Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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