by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
How can Catholics, Christians and others who may not even know Jews counter antisemitism and advance what Pope Francis calls “the journey of friendship”?
Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of the Institute for Jewish- Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, suggests that individuals should be aware of personally held stereotypes and use of language deemed harmless but laden with antisemitism — for example, the phrase “Jewing people down.”
He encourages that upon hearing an antisemitic statement, persons should call this out and not let it pass. He believes the Catholic Church should re-evaluate hymn lyrics and homily hints through the lens of sensitivity to Jews and Judaism.
First on the list for Gavriela Geller, executive director of Jewish Community Relations Bureau|American Jewish Committee Kansas City, is: “Educate. Educate. Educate. You may not recognize antisemitism unless you spend time to understand it.”
Geller offers her organization as a resource for groups seeking to begin this process. She identifies building relationships at the organizational and individual levels as important — operating from a position of friendship rather than fear.
She urges people to recognize that antisemitism is not just a Jewish issue, saying, “Allowing conspiracy theories to proliferate and grow is dangerous for the values we all hold dear in our democracy.”
At the national level, the March 2020 American Jewish Committee (AJC) policy statement on “Countering Antisemitism and Hatred at Home and Abroad” calls for opposition to antisemitism and hatred in all its forms and the restoration of U.S. leadership on this issue. AJC advocates for countering hateful rhetoric and antisemitism; improving hate crime reporting; addressing white supremacist ideology as “the most deadly and dangerous threat to the United States”; and asserting American leadership to confront antisemitism abroad.
Cunningham’s work is directed toward acknowledgment that Christians and Jews walk with God in different ways but with many resonances.
“We should assist each other in living out our respective covenantal obligation; we should be ‘co-covenanting companions,’” he proposes. “This requires constant, sustained intensive dialogue.”