Unexpected advocates: Young Christians combat antisemitism

“There is no substitute for walking the land ... of the patriarchs, kings, prophets."

 A Christian student studies the Bible in Israel during a Passages trip (photo credit: PASSAGES)
A Christian student studies the Bible in Israel during a Passages trip
(photo credit: PASSAGES)

A group of young Christians is taking action to fight antisemitism on college campuses and across social networks.

“If there are antisemitic conspiracy types of things, at least one way for the Christian community to get involved is to be vocal … and respond in a kind and gentle way but to highlight that antisemitism and be willing to engage within their circles so as not to allow those things to go unanswered,” explained Serene Hudson, vice president of education and Israel operations for Passages.

Hudson oversees Israel trip logistics for Passages, an organization that arranges missions to Israel for Christian young adults between the ages of 18 and 30. Similar to Taglit Birthright Israel for Jewish students, the visits center on the notion that “a trip to Israel should be a rite of passage for every Christian.”

“There is no substitute for walking the land where Jesus walked and traversing the paths of the patriarchs, kings, prophets and the first disciples,” the Passages website explains. “The origins of both ancient Biblical faith and of a present-day nation—rich with culture, diversity, beauty, and challenges—are in Israel. The land and the people of Israel have a story to tell. By coming to Israel, you make Israel’s story part of your own.”

Christian students on the Mount of Olives during a Passages trip to Israel (Credit: Courtesy of Passages)Christian students on the Mount of Olives during a Passages trip to Israel (Credit: Courtesy of Passages)

According to Hudson, Passages has brought around 8,000 Christians to Israel since its founding less than six years ago. 

But beyond the individual’s travels, they are encouraged to stay involved with Israel and the Jewish people on their return to the States. 

“We use the Book of [the Epistle] James as a springboard to talk about how faith should lead to action,” Hudson said. “We talk about Christians’ responsibility to act on behalf of the Jewish people because we are recipients of this heritage from them. We must act out of gratitude for these roots and take a stand as those who follow Jesus and desire to support the people that Jesus came from.”

In 2022, this means fighting an increasing pandemic of antisemitism.

ADL recently reported more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment against Jews in 2021 - up 12% from the previous year. 

“This is the highest level of antisemitic incidents since ADL’s tracking began in 1979,” the organization said on its website.

Passages has established partnerships with Jewish and pro-Israel organizations on college campuses so that the 20% to 30% of travelers who wish to stay involved on their return to America can find a home for their advocacy. These include Hillel and StandWithUs, for example. 

“We encourage students to plan Shabbat dinners, for example, to partner with Jewish students on campus so they realize there are not along in their stance of supporting Israel,” Hudson explained. 

Serene Hudson (Credit: Courtesy of Passages)Serene Hudson (Credit: Courtesy of Passages)

In addition, Passages is developing an advocates program where it takes trip alumni to Pittsburg on the anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting attack to stand with the community and learn about the impact of antisemitism on Jewish and American life. 

Eleven people were killed and seven others (including the attacker) were injured in the mass shooting event, which took place on October 27, 2018. 

Hudson said a group of students traveled to Pittsburg last October and spoke with rabbis and Jewish Community Center and other leaders, which helped students understand “the way we can come together and fight against” antisemitism.

When the recent Colleyville, Texas hostage situation took place, Passages alumni sent out WhatsApp messages calling on Christians to respond in prayer. A local student helped coordinate a prayer vigil on the scene. 

“We take a survey of students before Israel and post-trip,” Hudson said. “At least from their own self-reporting, we see a dramatic increase in their willingness to go a little deeper into the Jewish roots of their faith and to speak out about antisemitism on campus or engage more closely with the Jewish community in their city after their trip.” 

This also includes speaking out on social media, she said. 

Passages started as a result of a reported decline in Christian faith among younger generations and due to a weakening of their connection to Israel in contrast to their parents and grandparents, Hudson added. The hope, she said, is that this gap will close by taking young people on life-changing trips to Israel. 

How will the organization know if it has been successful?

“We would like to see better survey results,” Hudson said, meaning an increase rather than decrease in faith as reported by Pew and Gallup. “We would like to correct the trajectory so that when these surveys are taken in the next 10 years the young generation of Christians is more engaged in their faith.”

On the Israel front, she said they would like to see today’s young people taking the lead on cultivating the relationship between the US and Israel in the future.

And regarding antisemitism, “we would love to see a downturn of antisemitism in America because we have people speaking up when hate crimes happen in our communities.”