Over the last few months there has been a rash of harassment and other incidents across the US that are rooted in anti-Semitism. Since January more than 100 Jewish schools and community centers have been forced to evacuate due to bomb threats. Just three week ago vandals attacked Chessed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City by toppling more than 180 headstones. Since then, two more Jewish cemeteries were attacked, one in Philadelphia and another in Rochester, New York.
UPDATE: On Wednesday March 15th, the JCC in West St. Louis County received a bomb threat. It was one of at least eight Jewish run facilities targeted in another wave of threats today.
Is It Really That Bad?
Vandalism and forced temporary evacuations don’t seem like that big of a deal. At Chessed Shel Emeth, workers repaired most of the headstones within a day. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of victims of these seemingly minor crimes, they take on a new dimension.
First, there’s the immediate and real impact. Imagine that you are at school, or working out, or at a bible study, and suddenly someone comes in the room and says that everyone has to get out of the building because there has been a bomb threat. If you have never been in a situation where you were legitimately afraid for your life, you may not be able to empathize; but that fear is real and it can be traumatizing. No one deserves to go through that.
Or imagine that you are grieving the loss of your parent, or spouse, or sibling. You are still coming to grips with the fact that you will never again in this life see that person you love so much. And then you find out someone has decided to desecrate their final resting place and monument to their life. Our loved ones who have passed on deserve so much more.
These are harsh and saddening realities that people across the country and in our community have gone through recently. But perhaps even more devastating has been what’s behind these attacks. We can never forget our collective history of persecution of the Jewish people. A history from which the ultimate nightmare was made manifest during the Holocaust.
But What Does This Have to do with Me?
For us gentiles living in the 21st Century it’s hard to connect these events that seem to be not much more than nuisances with something as horrific and unthinkable as the Holocaust. As Catholics it becomes easier for us to see these larger connections when we remember our shared heritage of our Jewish brothers and sisters. As St. Paul says, “They are Israelites; theirs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, is the Messiah.” Jesus was Jewish, the apostles were Jewish. This is the people through which God chose to redeem us all. An attack on these brothers and sisters of ours is an attack on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic. We stand with them, we pray for them, we love them. And we must do what we can in word and deed to demonstrate that.