I live in the beautiful neighborhood of Crown Heights in North-Central Brooklyn. Historically, Crown Heights has been known for its Afro-Caribbean and Hasidic Jewish populations. These two groups have clashed in the past, most notably in the 1991 race riots, which tragically claimed three lives.
Just over six years ago I moved to this community with my family. We came to start a church, one that would be for all the people of the neighborhood. Driven by a sense of missionary calling, we launched Mosaic Baptist Church. Part of our efforts as a church have involved addressing various local issues. One such issue has been the alarming spike in anti-Semitic activity.
Over the last six years I have been involved in various attempts to combat anti-Semitism: from attending a press conference at Borough Hall to speaking at a Jewish solidarity rally. I have learned from my neighbors that many of them feel unsafe. I have witnessed firsthand discrimination against Jews and was once even harassed because one of my neighbors thought I was Jewish.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic hate crimes are an urgent problem in New York City. Some center around egg throwing or graffiti with swastikas. Others are more serious and have even led to the hospitalization of the Jewish victims. As a missionary in a Jewish neighborhood, I can’t ignore this problem, especially if I want my Jewish neighbors to consider Jesus.
Grappling with resurgent anti-Semitism takes on a missional urgency if you live among Jewish people and have the desire to share the gospel with them. In fact, some of my Jewish neighbors may well read this blog post. That means that this issue matters to the disciple-making mission of the church of Jesus Christ.
Whether we live in Jewish communities or not, every American Christian can stand with our Jewish neighbors. Here are four suggestions on where you might start.
To begin, we need to recognize the Jewish character of our faith. We worship a Jewish carpenter called Jesus and build our faith upon the foundation laid by the Jewish apostles. We inherit the sacred text of the Jewish people (we call it the Old Testament). Obviously, we do part ways with our Jewish neighbors, especially when it comes to Jesus. Many times, I am asked by Jewish residents of Crown Heights if I am a Jew. I often tell them that although I’m not a Jew, I do follow a rabbi, and his name is Jesus. As Christians, we come from “every tribe and tongue,” yet there is a distinctly Jewish “flavor” to our faith. In a very real sense, to be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christ.
Anti-Semitism and the Church
Second, we need to acknowledge the ways in which people whom we associate with have engaged in anti-Semitic behavior. Whether it was the Crusades or the Holocaust, the church has a checkered history when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism. We can, in a sense, “own” that historical reality. Doing so goes a long way in building bridges towards those whom we wish to reach with the gospel. In contemporary America, extremists on both the right and the left have engaged in anti-Semitic speech and acts. We should repudiate such activities, especially when they come from those who claim to be on “our side.”
Third, we can participate in grassroots efforts to stymie anti-Semitism. In my neighborhood of Crown Heights, great efforts are made to educate neighbors about the differences and commonalities of various people groups. Law enforcement obviously has its role in bringing anti-Semitic criminals to justice. Churches can sponsor events (we’re going to do that later this year) to combat anti-Semitism. We should teach our members to stand with their Jewish neighbors against this evil. We can’t change the narrative nationally or globally, but we can work to resist anti-Semitism locally.
Loving Our Jewish Neighbors
This leads to my fourth and final suggestion. We need to view our Jewish neighbors as, well, neighbors. They are not a monolithic group to be feared or studied. They are people to be known. Given the religious difference, and historical complications, sharing Jesus with Jews can be hard. We might start our gospel witness by standing in solidarity with them as simply humans. Maybe we need to start by picking up the phone to call a local rabbi. We could take him out for a (kosher) meal and ask questions. We could seek to get to know him, because we’re neighbors. After all, as one Galilean carpenter pointed out, the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.