Christian Reflections During Holocaust Education Week

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Photo caption: Ray & Rosalind MacDonald with Holocaust Survivor Helen Yermus

Why is Holocaust Education Week so vital? Why focus on education and why am I, as a Christian, so invested in its mission?

The rallying cry of the post-Holocaust world has been “Never Again.” Never again can we allow hatred to claim the lives of Jews – or any others – around the world. But even a cursory look at events in the world shows the threat of violence against Jews is never far off. Antisemitism in surging in Europe and growing here in North America as well.

The sad reality is that the Christian world is largely apathetic to this trend. We are ignorant of our history of allowing crimes against Jews to be committed, we are ignorant about how our approach to theology fuels it, and we are ignorant of our duty to prevent it.

We require education.

Evangelicals do not consider ourselves to be born into Christianity, into a community with a history and a relationship with our past. We consider our conversion to be a singular moment, detached from time and history, a leap of faith into God’s arms. Our faith is intensely personal and current, giving us the belief we can simply shirk off the past actions done in the name of Christ. What difference could it make to us that 1,900 years of antisemitic values and beliefs led to the Holocaust? What difference could it make to us that our symbol – the cross – could mean something other than love and devotion to Christ to non-Christians? Why should it matter to me now, that for centuries it has been a symbol of violence etched into the eternal memory of the Jewish people? This violence was not perpetrated by me, my church nor my denomination. As Christians we need to realize that, if we wear a cross around our neck, we are connected to the past, we are connected to Christian history.

In order to grow, to change, self-examination and education are absolutely critical. We must understand how even the small transgressions we allow against Jews and others lead to greater transgressions down the road.

Recently, while driving around in Hamilton, I came across the sign of a Jewish realtor with a “Hitler Moustache” painted on it. I reported it to the realtor and to the Police Hate Crimes Division so they would have the information and could determine whether there was spike in such activity. I also reported it to my Pastor and to my Church congregation.

Now why would I go through all that trouble for seemingly such a small thing?

Hitler did not begin with the Holocaust, he began by passing little laws – a university quota here, a population registry there, seemingly nothing demanding immediate and absolute counter reaction. This is why Holocaust Education is vital. People need to become sensitive to how small crimes become larger with time. We must understand that monitoring our own actions and the actions of others is a political and religious mission we all must undertake to defend our Jewish population.

This includes monitoring our own theology and personal beliefs. Unfortunately, even though the New Testament is clear that Jesus came to the world as part of God’s Covenant with the Jewish people, most Christians have had a theology of salvation that has not included Israel.  The gospel message simply stated is: mankind – beginning with Adam – has sinned, and that Jesus – through His death on the cross – enables us to be in a right relationship with God. For far too many Christians, the nine hundred or so pages between these two events are not part of the gospel story. Many Christians have even been taught that the Jewish people’s only involvement in the gospel message was to kill Christ. It is a tragedy because this is not the gospel. In fact, Christ died for us all, and we have all therefore played a role in His death.

We need an understanding of God’s Covenant that includes the simple fact that our promise-keeping God did not focus the first two thirds of the Bible on Abraham and his descendants only to write them out of the story at its climax. We need to understand that the Covenant still applies to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Nothing in the New Testament changed that.

Judaism is coherent without Christianity, but Christianity cannot exist without Judaism. Our roots are found in Judaism and the Jewish people, and we therefore have a duty to defend them.

During Holocaust Education Week, I was honored to host a Survivor at my church. All who attended were impressed and deeply moved as our special guest spoke. I was especially heartened by the response of Christians who attended to see how moved they were, how emotional they were in meeting, hugging and having their photo taken with her.

She shared her story, and I have noticed my fellow congregants are now much more sensitive toward, and supportive of the Jewish people.

Jews, I beseech you to share your experiences with us. To share your love of God, your love of Israel, your knowledge of Scripture and your personal experiences of antisemitism. Be the teacher we need.

Christians, I beseech you to hear. To listen with an open heart and an open mind. When antisemitism occurs, we need to understand that collective self-examination and collective action is required.

We need to stand with Israel and our Jewish neighbours to make sure “Never Again” really means Never Again!

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