A friend was rushing back to Dublin on Sunday evening; he was to meet a Jewish couple at a railway station and was anxious that they be not left standing on a deserted platform. The man had been his boss in times past, a good and kind mentor to him in his younger years. In their mid 70s, the family of one had come from Germany and the family of the other had come from Poland. The family memories they must have carried through the decades are unimaginable.
“Sometimes we are not even conscious of our anti-Semitism”, my friend observed. “Once I made an unwitting comment and my old boss turned to me, ‘Ah, blaming the Jews again? Always, it is the Jews’. Perhaps he was being over-sensitive, but, then, I haven’t had my family wiped out’.
The Jews seem the only group of people where actions by any small element is associated with the entire community. Did anyone blame the wars of President Bush on the Christians? Or the deceits of Tony Blair? How often do people speak of ‘Christian’ bankers?
Anti-Semitism in the Church is centuries old. The Good Friday prayers from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England included:
O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live; Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
The good, tolerant, inclusive members of the Church of England spent centuries regarding Jews (as well as Moslems and other religious traditions) as receiving God’s mercy only by becoming good, presumably Protestant, Christians.
The Church of England, while abjuring the explicit anti-Semitism of its past, persists in customs that, were I a Jew, I would find deeply offensive. It has instructions for the observance of the Easter vigil, the service on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday morning.
It is specific in its recommendations, “It is desirable for the building to be as dark as possible during the Vigil”. During the darkness there are readings from the Bible, the Church of England liturgy says, “A wide variety of possible readings has been provided . . . It is desirable that the reading from Genesis 1 be used. The Exodus 14 reading should always be used.”
The argument from the Anglicans would be that the darkness is symbolic of the entombment of Jesus. Maybe so, but Exodus 14 is the Passover story; a sacred point in Jewish salvation history. The most important story in the Jewish tradition is read by members of the Church of England sitting in darkness. Were I Jewish, I think I should be offended.
Unwitting? Maybe. But how would you feel about something sacred to you be appropriated by someone else and recalled in darkness because it is lesser than their light?