I am a World War II baby. I grew up in what was then a village in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. A significant number of our neighbors, if not a majority, were Jewish.
When I was in the fourth grade, my family moved from our post World War II bungalow into a newer, middle class neighborhood. Our new next door neighbors were Jewish. Mama, Papa, three children and Grandma all lived together in a lovely three bedroom home. My mother, who made friends with everyone, including the butcher, immediately introduced herself to this family. Everyone was friendly except for Grandma. She looked at my mother with fear in her eyes, and refused to speak. Why? My mother soon learned that it was because she was afraid of Christians.
It took a great deal of patience and understanding before my mother was able to engage Grandma in conversation. Eventually, she warmed to my mother. Most people do. My mother discovered that this woman had lost many relatives during the Holocaust. She believed it was Christians who were responsible. Our family represented everything she feared. Her fear so dominated her life that she kept a suitcase packed and tucked away in her bedroom should she ever need to flee.
The day my mother learned about that suitcase, she made Grandma a promise. She promised that “this” Christian family would do what they could to protect her. My mother came home and shared that story with me. I understood that it was a promise which I, too, was responsible to keep. I have to admit it frightened me a bit. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank in school. Corrie Ten Boom had spent several days in our home. I heard the story of her family’s suffering first hand. I thought about the “cost” of keeping such a pledge. Nevertheless, as a young Christian girl, I made a commitment to do what I could to keep my mother’s promise.
You may ask, “Why was the promise necessary? We live in a free country. Nothing like the Holocaust would happen here.”
I believe that the promise was and is necessary because within our culture, and within our Christian communities, anti-Jewish sentiment continues to exist. Oh, not blatant, as was the case in Hitler’s Germany. But, Germany’s anti-Semitism did not really begin with Hitler. It began, centuries before. Before Luther. In fact, Brother Martin may have even stirred it up a bit. The idea was that Jews were Christ killers and that they needed to be watched and controlled – even punished for their “parent’s” sins.
Under the terrible economic hardships of post-World War I Germany, anti-Jewish sentiment simmered and grew. People began to blame all of life’s problems on the Jews. They believed that they were the oppressors. They were different. Subtle and not so subtle remarks were made by adults in front of children. Prejudice was passed on from generation to generation. So, when Jews began to disappear within neighborhoods, many Gentile neighbors conveniently looked the other way. And, you know the rest of the story.
So, I am vigilant. I correct folks who tell jokes about Jews in my presence (unless they are Jews telling jokes on themselves). I correct false statements made about Jews. I watch main-line denominations as they tend to promote pro-Palestinian politics without providing balance that includes anything positive about Israel. Is Israel perfect? Is she innocent of wrongdoing? Of course not. We who are reformed Christians should have a healthy doctrine of sin. All people are capable of doing unthinkable things. If we’re honest, we Presbyterians know that there are wolves that howl within our own souls.
Is our denomination made up of anti-Semitic Christians? Of course not. But, by our silence – and by our promoting a pro-Palestinian position without remaining open to Israel and what they have suffered – we become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
A generation is dying off that has lived through one of the darkest times in world history. We must keep the memory of what happened to them alive. We must be watchful, lest we fall into the unthinkable. With them, we must say, “Never again!”
As a Christian I have a responsibility to love my neighbors, no matter who they may be. As a member of my family, I have a promise to keep.