Tonight in Brighton, New York, I will join a rabbi and an imam – as a Baptist minister – to speak briefly at a community gathering sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Rochester to publicly declare our opposition to all forms of antisemitism. It is happening again, and it is growing in intensity in the United States. What will we do? Not just if we are Jewish and targets of the hatred and violence, but simply because we are human beings.
One article by the Associated Press told several stories of how “Jewish Americans Confront Antisemitism with Resolve and Worry.” Just two of those stories – from December 2023 – call all of us to do what we can.
Jewish Americans are closely following the recent upsurge in antisemitic rhetoric and actions with a mix of anxiety and resolve — along with a yearning that a broader swath of Americans, including leaders across the political spectrum, speak out against anti-Jewish hatred. New Yorker Rizy Horowitz said: “It’s a very frightening moment. There is no other word. We’re all frightened because we’ve seen the past and we don’t want to relive it.”
Texas author Anna Salton Eisen, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, has been sharing her late parents’ stories for years. “When I started speaking in schools more than 20 years ago, the Holocaust was a history lesson. Now it has become a lesson in current events,” she said. “Students who used to ask me questions about Hitler now want me to address the statements by Kanye that put Hitler in a positive light.”
This is why I will be there tonight. Today’s threat of antisemitism demands from all of us much more than giving a few remarks at a small evening gathering, but it’s one thing I can do. And I can keep writing about it – creating awareness, educating, giving alternatives for action. This is what I will say tonight – “3 reasons why I am here”:
First, I am here because of my faith. As a Baptist minister for 50 years, I remain firmly committed to two foundational principles – the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion for all. You may hear some radical right Christians denying separation of church and state and calling for a Christian nation, but that has never been our faith as Baptists. I am also a follower of Jesus, who affirmed the Hebrew scriptures when he said the two greatest commandments were to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourself. As a Christian, but also simply as a human being, I am here because of love. Our scriptures also say that “love does no harm” to another, so my faith compels me to here because of a love that will do no harm to another and will prevent that harm wherever possible.
Second, I am here because of history. Some of us do know actual history, and we do know the hatred and persecution of Jewish people through the centuries. We know the horrific realities of the 20th century and all that happened to Jews. We know that it happened not just because of the direct actions of a few, but because of the silence and complicity of so many others. Like most people of my generation, we learned and accepted the deep commitments of the words: “never forget” and “never again.” – A commitment not just of Jewish people, but of all people, and I am here because of that history.
Third, I am here because of the present threat … because it IS happening again. Some people choose to be ignorant of the past or willfully deny that it could happen again, and so they are once again complicit. Some choose hatred and violence – all the evils of antisemitism – and are a direct threat to the well-being, to the very lives, of Jewish people. Some would deny their right to exist, if they could. So I am here because I am compelled by conscience and love to join with you to stop it now.
The question I am asked most often about the threat to democracy of Christian nationalism is “what can I do?” Many of us are now asking the same question about the threat of antisemitism, which is related but not confined to religion. This runs deep in human history.
What experience, abilities, or gifts can you bring to this? I can write, speak, talk to people, teach about it. I can participate in community gatherings or demonstrations. I am looking for more alternative actions I can take. What about you? What will you do?
Another resource you may want to explore is a free eBook called “One thing YOU can do,” available for download here. Learn the 2 ways to do that one thing and when and how to do it. … Once you’ve downloaded it, please visit Imagine and learn how you can be part of a growing community committed to opposing religious nationalism and building a better world.