Empathising with Christian plight

Elliot Steinberg
1 September 2015

Taking its title and inspiration from Hillel’s famous question, the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) chose August, and indeed the beginning of Elul, to launch our If Not Now When initiative – to highlight and reflect upon the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

Designed as a month of prayer and spiritual reflection, we were trying to open the door for the Jewish community to engage on a spiritual, emotional and indeed practical level with the plight of Christians suffering in Syria, Iraq and across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.

We did not need to push that door very hard. Jewish leaders and communities from across the spectrum, including many Liberal synagogues and rabbis, included reflective passages in their sermons, created special prayers responding to the issue and held discussion groups to engage in a profound way with this suffering.

Our resources were greatly enhanced by materials composed by Rabbi Sandra Kviat and Rabbi Michael Hilton, to resonate more deeply with participants from Progressive Jewish backgrounds.

During this period, we saw Jewish communities reach out to local Christian groups to consider how best to be supportive and, in some cases, to hold joint reflections, using the tragic situation to build relationships and to transform into something positive.

But this did not end in the summer. Looking to the future, we will be holding informative briefings and seminars to increase awareness of the ongoing persecution in the region and to better equip more people to respond effectively to it. We are also hoping to broaden the initiative to consider the persecution and suffering of other groups in the Middle East due to the regional instability and particularly due to ISIS.

In many ways the initiative has grown far beyond what we had envisaged, thanks to the support and endorsement of both Jewish and Christian leaders and communities. We hope that together with our Still An Issue campaign, addressing antisemitism, we can begin to engage Christians and Jews more deeply with one another’s key concerns.

For more information about the If Not Now When initiative, please contact me by emailing elliot.steinberg@ccj.org.uk or calling 020 3515 3003.

Elliot Steinberg is programme manager of the Council of Christians and Jews. For more information about the initiative, email cjrelations@ccj.org.uk

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