The war against Christians must end

(RNS) Last week, al-Shabab militants, aligned with al-Qaida, stormed the campus of Garissa University College in Kenya, asking students about their religion. They spared the lives of Muslims and killed the Christians. By the time the mayhem was over, almost 150 students lay dead.

A spokesman for the terrorists boasted: “There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive.”

This is not the first time that this has happened in Kenya. In 2013, at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, 67 people were killed in cold blood. Muslims were allowed to go free.

The dead were all Christians.

In Libya in February, Islamic State militants beheaded 21 men on the beach. Their blood freely flowed into the Mediterranean Sea.

The victims were all Coptic Christians.

The Middle East contains proud remnants of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Their churches have been in flames. ISIS has demanded that the Christians convert to Islam, pay extra taxes or be killed. In Syria in February, ISIS militants abducted scores of Assyrian Christians.

Just because they are Christian.

In his Easter message, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby hailed those murdered students as “martyrs.” On Good Friday, Pope Francis prayed for those who were killed, along with other persecuted Christians around the world.

Several years ago, a teenager was reading a prayer in my synagogue: “In a world torn by violence and pain … ” In one of the holiest malapropisms ever uttered, it came out as: “In a world torn by violence and prayer.”

He was right. The world is being torn apart by violence and prayer.

Muslims are victims. Many critics take savage delight in promiscuously denigrating Islam. And, yes, Muslims have been murdered because they are Muslims. Most recently, three Muslim students in North Carolina were gunned down in their apartment.

Jews are victims — recently, murdered in a kosher grocery store in Paris. Jewish institutions have been attacked in France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium. Jews have been wondering whether they even have a future in Europe. In the U.S., there has been a 21 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents. A recent study revealed that 54 percent of American Jewish college students have experienced anti-Semitism on campus.

And yet, if we were to do a body count, it would be hard to escape this conclusion: The most endangered faith in the world today is Christianity.

I know how American Jews would be reacting if it had been Jewish students who were killed. We can only hope that Christian priests and pastors will do the same: Speak out about the lethal persecution of Christians.

Within a few weeks, Jews and others will be marking Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even as we mark the horror, we lift up the stories of those righteous Christians (and Muslims) who jeopardized their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to rescue Jews. We weep that there weren’t enough of them.

Seventy years later, shall Jews imitate and echo the silence of so many in the Christian world — with their own silence?

As the Jewish writer Julius Lester once said: “We Jews hold out our suffering to humanity as a long-stemmed rose.”

It is now time for rabbis and American synagogues to join in solidarity with our Christian neighbors and partners in faith. This past summer, during Israel’s Operation Protective Shield, the Jewish community of Hudson County, N.J., gathered together in solidarity with the Jewish State.

The honored guest was the Rev. George Greiss, pastor of St. Abanoub & St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church in Bayonne, N.J.

In the midst of the reign of terror against Coptic Christians in his native Egypt, Father Greiss added his prayers for peace. Temple Beth Am in Bayonne, N.J., invited Father Greiss to Yom Kippur services so that we could stand with him in solidarity.

If Jews expect and hope that Christian leaders will speak out when Jews are endangered, how can Jews do any less when Christians are endangered?

I have an odd Easter habit. Days before the holiday, I call a close friend, an Episcopalian priest, and I utter a prayer that I devised just for him: “May Christ arise for you.”

He always responds with his own Passover wish: “May you get out of Egypt, as well.”

That is the joint hope that unites Jews and Christians at this season — an emergence from Egypt, life victorious over death, hope transcending despair.

As Christians despair all over the world, let Jewish hands and hearts reach out to them.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am of Bayonne, N.J.

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