On a hot Sunday afternoon — temperature hovering in the 90s — thousands came to the National Mall in D.C., in view of the Capitol, to protest the rise of antisemitism in the United States. The event was called “No Fear: A Rally in Solidarity with the Jewish People.”
Among the attendees that day was a group of young Christians who held signs that said, “We Stand Against Antisemitism.” I was one of them.
The past few months have made one thing clear: If we’re going to talk about antisemitism in the United States, we have to talk about Israel.
One common throughline of antisemitism is anti-Israel sentiment that goes beyond criticism of policies to delegitimization of an entire people group and its right to a homeland. Over the past few months, the realities and perceptions of the Israel-Hamas conflict have produced a new wave of antisemitic incidents that the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called “particularly dramatic and violent.”
During the conflict, incidents reported to the ADL increased by 75%, and in the month of May alone, the ADL recorded more than double (115%) the antisemitic incidents compared to the same period last year.
It’s not difficult to imagine the fear that American Jews are experiencing right now, yet it’s important to recognize that while recent events have occasioned a new wave of hatred, antisemitism in its various forms predates these events and continues after they are buried under new headlines.
This is where my story began five years ago. As a Christian, I grew up learning about Jewish characters from the Bible, in stories that began with the people of Israel, stories of events that took place and of people who lived in this ancient land. These stories helped form who I am today, in ways that are impossible to quantify. Yet, until I began my freshman year of college, it never occurred to me that my faith could be strengthened by experiencing those formative stories in person, by connecting my beliefs, my faith, my values, to the place where they originated.
When I learned about an opportunity to travel to Israel with Passages, I didn’t yet understand the gravity of what I was being offered. I saw an opportunity to travel internationally, which was enough to gain my attention. So, I went.
At the end of that first trip to Israel, as I left our closing dinner in Tel Aviv and set out for Ben Gurion airport, I remember my eyes unexpectedly welling up with tears. I didn’t want to leave. I felt that I had found a piece of myself in a land that I’d never even been to before. And what’s more, I knew the deep connection I felt with the place had even more to do with the people living there today.
The day I left, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time I set foot in Israel. And I was right. My eyes were opened to the importance of Israel, not just for my own faith but also for the world. I left with a fresh understanding of, and expanded empathy for, the challenges the Jewish community faces as well as a deep appreciation for the miracle that is modern Israel’s existence in the first place.
If we’re going to talk about antisemitism, we have to talk about Israel. And if we’re going to talk about Israel, we have to talk about the gap in the next generation’s current understanding of and sentiment toward Israel.
The Times of Israel published an article in May about a Barna Group survey, indicating that since 2018, support for Israel among young evangelical Christians age 19-29, has dropped by 35%. In recent years, the evangelical community’s support for Israel has created a natural allyship. But according to the survey, that allyship may be decreasing with the new generation of evangelical Christians.
“It’s vital for the next generation of Christian leaders to understand the history of antisemitism and why it’s important for us as Christians to stand with our Jewish friends,” Executive Director of Passages Executive Director Scott Phillips said. “The realities of antisemitism can’t be perpetuated into the next generation. We have to stop it here.”
This is a gap that Passages is on a mission to bridge. In the past five years since its founding by the former advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Rivka Kidron, along with executive director of the Philos Project, Robert Nicholson, Passages has taken almost 8,000 Christian college students to Israel — people like me who, perhaps at one point, didn’t realize what Israel could mean to them.
“The Jewish people need solidarity, now, more than ever,” Kidron said. “Too few are standing up, but it really strengthens us to see that Christians in general, and Passages alumni, in particular, are there when we most need them. They flew across the country to show solidarity, stand up and be counted. This gives me heart, that regardless of what some polls or commentators state, the Christian community will stand by the State of Israel and the Jewish people for generations to come.”
Standing shoulder to shoulder with alumni and leaders of Passages who flew to Washington, D.C., from across the nation to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people, I was reminded why we have reason to hope for a future where the checkered past between Jews and Christians is mended, where modern-day Israel is a cornerstone of Christian identity, and where No Fear rallies are no longer necessary.
“American Jews Still Reeling From Rise In Anti-Semitism After Israel-Hamas Conflict, Survey Shows,” by Jemima McEvoy. Forbes.
“Antisemitic Incidents Reported to ADL Increase Sharply During Israel-Hamas Conflict.” Anti-Defamation League.
“Support for Israel among Young US Evangelical Christians Drops Sharply — Survey,” by Jacob Magid. Times of Israel.