A total of 700 Christian students from across the United States joined the “March for Israel” in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2023. Credit: Passages.

by Brittany Bertsche

(JNS) — On April 26, I stood with Jews and Christians just outside Columbia University chanting “Bring Them Home” amid a sea of Israeli flags and photos of the hostages still held captive in Gaza. I couldn’t get through every round of the chant because of the tears filling my eyes and the sobs catching in my throat. The grief was almost too much to bear.

As I write this, it has been 207 days since Oct. 7. There are still some 134 hostages in the Gaza Strip — men, women and two children. It is unknown how many are still alive. Friends of mine, Israelis and Palestinians, continue to lose loved ones in this conflict. Rabid antisemitism is consuming college campuses across the country with Columbia University at the epicenter. To be there rallying for the hostages felt all the more important knowing that just a few yards away, Columbia students led by those who openly declared that they believed that “Zionists don’t deserve to live” were camped out demanding Columbia divest from Israel.

It pains me deeply that the focus of the conversation happening in our country is not squarely and solely on the hostages, but rather on the radicals protesting on campus. Perhaps I am naive, but it seems to me that the plight of men, women and two small children suffering at the hands of terrorists should be the one thing we can all agree on. Nothing justifies the taking of hostages and abusing them in captivity. That we cannot agree on that premise is mortifying to me.

As I looked out at the sea of people around me, the gravity of the moment gripped my heart. There I stood with Jews and Christians, raising our voices for the voiceless as others nearby used their voices for destruction. I felt a pang of pride: We were doing the right thing.

As a student of the Holocaust, I understand that Christians do not have the best track record when it comes to standing against antisemitism. The maddening reality is that even when the church was not committing evil acts against Jews, it was not stopping them either. It is certainly true that brave and righteous Christians stood against the evil of the Holocaust, but many more remained silent.

That Christians struggled or refused to do the right thing during that dark period of history challenged me deeply after Oct. 7. When the time came — and there was no doubt that it would — would I choose to be an upstander or a bystander? Would I do the right thing, even if it came at a cost?

My advocacy is deeply influenced by those who have gone before me. If Corrie ten Boom, a Christian motivated by her love of God and the Jewish people, could bravely weather imprisonment at Ravensbrück concentration camp for hiding Jews in her home, I could show up for my Jewish friends at a protest, no matter the potential consequences.

The rally for the hostages was not my first Israel-related event that week. I marched with other Christians at Columbia past jeering crowds, including a group calling themselves “Christians for Palestine.” I went to the University of Texas-Dallas and counter-protested with a small but mighty group. The leaders of the anti-Israel protest led the crowd in chants of “Globalize the Intifada” — a call for violence against Jews worldwide.

The risk of encountering violence at such events is never zero. But if I wanted to “put my money where my mouth is,” I would show up. Other Christians are showing up too. At Columbia, two Christian students attempted to hold back the students trying to take over an academic building. Other Christian students have led campus prayer and worship events in sharp contrast to openly antisemitic and violent protesters. I am thankful for these brave Christians.

But I am disappointed that more Christians have not spoken out against the antisemitism so clearly on display. Shouts of “go back to Poland” or physical assaults on Jewish students should cause us to resoundingly say, “Enough is enough.” I want Christians to stand boldly without hesitation against the harm perpetrated against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

There is nothing more important than doing what is right. What is right, especially at this moment, is to stand with the Jewish people against antisemitism. Hatred of Jews is evil. Scapegoating of Jews is evil. To my Jewish friends: Though it may feel like it, you are not alone. As long as God continues to put breath in my lungs, I will stand with you, no matter what. You have an ally and a friend in me.

Brittany Bertsche works at Passages, a Christian organization dedicated to taking Christian students to Israel and mobilizing young people to support the Jewish state and fight antisemitism.