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l fell asleep and awoke only after the pogrom was over. The sun, in all its glory, was shining on a spectacle of horror. Rabbi Gamaliel: a cross of blood cut into his forehead. Asher, the gravedigger: crucified. Manya, his wife: her throat slashed. Their eight sons and daughters: beaten to death. Where to begin? What to do first? Whom to help?
That is part of Elie Wiesel’s account of a pogrom suffered by Jews during Holy Week in pre-revolutionary Russia. I have omitted some of his more graphic details. Today, 27 January, is Holocaust Memorial Day, but Wiesel’s account is a reminder that anti-Semitism in Europe did not begin with the Nazi death camps. Nor did it end in those camps. Just a few weeks ago I attended an event at a synagogue in Leeds. The electric gates at the vehicle entrance were used to ensure only one car at a time entered the car park: very polite security guards carefully checked invitations before allowing admission. I felt sadness and anger in equal measure. Nearly eighty years after the Holocaust the Jewish community in the United Kingdom is still not free from fear.
The historian Robert Wistrich has called anti-Semitism ‘the longest hatred’ and for centuries Christian violence against Jewish people of the sort described by Wiesel was justified by a warped theology, espoused by all branches of Christianity, that viewed all Jewish people as God killers. For this reason, Holy Week was often an especially dangerous time for Jewish communities. Such theology is now, thankfully, rejected by most Christians and one of the fruits of this rejection has been a deeper realisation that the Jewish faith of Jesus Christ is key to our own self-identity – it is ‘the rock from which we were hewn’ to paraphrase Isaiah. Given this renewed understanding of our origins, and the woeful history of our violence against the Jewish people, Christians have a particular responsibility to challenge anti-Semitism wherever, and in whomever, we encounter it.
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