For many Jews, bunnies, baby chicks, and colored eggs can’t hide centuries of unpleasant associations with the most important religious holiday in the Christian calendar.
Until recently, Easter was the most dangerous time of year to be Jewish. Two lies, supported by church and state, caused centuries of Easter-related murder and mayhem against the Jews:
- “The Jews” killed Jesus, and all Jews forever are personally responsible. That was the theme of a recent popular movie.
- Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzo. That lie appeared periodically for 1,000 years.
It’s Personal, Not Theological
Around Easter, 1912, Lithuanian Christians burned my great-grandfather’s mill in the Name of the Lord. Easter violence against Jews was common in the Russian empire back then. Great-grandpa moved the family to America that year to escape violent anti-Semitism.
In 1911, a Ukrainian Jew was on trial for his life, accused of using a Christian child’s blood to make Passover matzo. My Ukrainian great-grandparents, whose Jewish neighborhood had already survived one Easter riot by Christians, moved their family to America to escape that violent anti-Semitism.
A few months later, a Jewish man in Georgia was put on trial for the same thing.
The Blood Libel
A Russian jury acquitted Menahem Mendel Beiliss in a “trial of the century” that attracted world attention and an American Jewish defense lawyer. The incident became an embarrassment to the Czar.
After another widely publicized trial of the century, Leo Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death. When the governor reduced his sentence to life in prison, a mob took him out of the jail and lynched him.
The victim’s family and supporters still claim publicly that Frank was a lascivious, dishonest pedophile and whore master, who sexually abused many of the young farm girls who worked in his sweatshop. They say he deserved what he got.
It’s Ancient History, Or Is It?
Pope John Paul II distanced the Church from the Christ-killer myth, and apologized to the Jews for all the pain it caused through the centuries.
Protestant ministers stopped teaching it long ago.
The malignant, centuries-old blood libel has either died out or gone into remission.
But for many Jews, these Easter memories are still too recent and traumatic.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ
When Mel Gibson chose to film the most anti-Semitic, blame-the-Jews account of Jesus’s last days from the four versions in the New Testament, many Jews, including some national leaders and organizations, got furious and scared.
Mel Gibson’s well-documented Jew-hatred, and millions of Christians calling his Passion of Christ a “religious experience, Jewish fear and loathing escalated
Many or most Jews never felt threatened. There was no evidence that we were in danger of a new outbreak of anti-Semitism. No preacher would have advocated it, and no politician awould have tried to exploit t it.
Jewish reaction was almost post-traumatic. Throughout the Middle Ages, into modern times, the spark that set off deadly anti-Semitic hate crimes was often a performance of a Passion Play, the conscious model for Mel Gibson’s movie script.
For most American Jews born since World War II, this kind of anti-Semitic violence is something we learn about in Sunday school, or from our grandparents, not a personal memory. I don’t believe Christians inherit their ancestors’ guilt, but do Jews inherit their ancestors’ traumatic memories?