Kathryn Jean Lopez: The evil of antisemitism

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

By Kathryn Jean Lopez

Eva Weintraubova and her older brother Pavel. Marthe Suzanne Tepfer. Rosa Henriette de Vries-Gersons. Petr Haim. Eva Neuova. 

Those are just a few of the names of children at Auschwitz who were recently remembered in an online memorial. The Auschwitz museum in Poland regularly posts photos on social media of people who died in the gas chambers. These posts note the birthdays and death days of people of all ages. Most jarring are the daily photos of children. 

The recent scene at Columbia University has me paying more attention to those faces who never got to live to adulthood. Protesters demonstrating against the war in Gaza have camped out and disrupted classes. The situation has grown so fraught that classes have gone online for the remainder of the semester. 

It’s easy to criticize this situation from the outside, but it certainly seems like an example of giving in to bullies. But more than that, what a wasted opportunity to learn something about history and relationship. 

Just a few weeks before the chaos on campus, I went to the Easter vigil for the Catholic campus ministry at Columbia. There was rejoicing and a focus on light extinguishing darkness. My first reaction to the encampments and violence on campus was to think: We clearly didn’t pray enough. 

In the fall, I was part of the launch of a coalition of Catholics against antisemitism at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The school, in Ohio, offered to expedite the transfer of any Jewish students who didn’t feel safe at other universities. There were rumblings at places like Columbia already, and I cynically thought no student from such a place would want to go to Steubenville, Ohio. That offer, unfortunately, might be looking increasingly attractive. 

Antisemitism is evil and pernicious and more widespread than we tend to acknowledge — even in New York City. Even as we are watching it in real time, there is denial. 

At Franciscan, we were remembering the 1965 Vatican declaration “Nostra Aetate” on non-Christian religions, which said, in part: “the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

Antisemitism is a real thing in New York. Just ask Hasidic families who have considered in recent months what measures they may have to take for their protection. And it didn’t start with the attacks on Israel in October, either. In addition to that, the protests simply ignore the good of neighbors. 

Beyond antisemitism, there is an additional cruelty afoot. It’s the end of the school year. Seniors this year were freshmen during the COVID lockdowns. It’s not life or death, but there are traditional celebrations that come with the end of college. With campus activities curtailed, those rites of passage are being missed. 

As a native New Yorker, I find the scenes from Columbia maddening. Because of the intolerance on display. Because of the disrespect for the students who persevered through a somewhat hysterical time in our history — in New York City, especially. Free speech and assembly are surely critical. So is reverence for one’s neighbor. We don’t even need to get into all the wartime concerns to agree on these points. 

Non-Jews — especially Christians — need to combat this hate with charity, education and friendship. You don’t have to endorse every move the Israeli government makes. You’re bonding on common humanity. 

Congratulations to all students, and especially, Jewish students graduating this year. The Palestinian attacks in October were an attack on all Jews, not just in Israel. May the memory of those who have died because of the evil of antisemitism be a blessing in your life. The Christian reflection of salvation history makes clear: God doesn’t let suffering go to waste.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.