I laid my head back in my seat, sunburnt and exhausted, as my late-night flight took off from Washington, D.C. back home to Dallas. I closed my eyes and vividly I recalled the events of the day, processing how unforgettable my experience was.
Nearly 300,000 people rallied last week at the National Mall in support of Israel and against antisemitism. I’m on the team at Passages, a non-profit organization that has accompanied over 11,000 young Christians to Israel over the last 8 years, connecting them with the roots of their faith and introducing them to the modern day state. I stood together with 700 Passages alumni and friends for this historic event. Over the years, I and the Passages team have attended many events alongside the Jewish community, but this day was very different.
It started with a simple task: arrive at the rally early with a handful of our staff and save a spot. We dragged 100-pound boxes of signs and shirts that read, “Christians Stand with Israel,” ready to pass out to our group. As we stood around chatting to pass the time, our conversations slowly began to be interrupted by rally participants trickling in.
“Yes! Christians! Thank you for being here!”
Some attendees walked over and gave us high fives and some hugs; almost everyone wanted photos. It was in these early moments that I could sense today would be different than any Passages experience I’d been a part of yet.
As more of our group began to arrive, we realized that some of us needed to go stand farther out with our signs to help guide the rest of the group to our spot. Four of us ventured out 100 yards near the pathway to hold up signs for our group, right in the flow of rally participants. And that’s when the experience became life-changing. Every 20 seconds, someone came up to thank us for our attendance today. Groups of hundreds were pointing, cheering loudly. Individuals ran up to us with tears in their eyes and embraced us.
Here are just a few moments that stood out:
A woman ran up insisting to take a photo with us. After the photo, she turned around and said, “My mother is a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz, she will not believe there are Christians here.”
Another woman embraced my friend Jamie and wept. They held each other for a powerful minute. Not many words were exchanged, but they both understood everything about the moment.
A father with his grade school son read our sign, tapped his son on the shoulder, and pointed at us. I saw his mouth exclaim from a distance, “Christians!” They both began waving wildly in our direction.
Another man came forward and exclaimed, “A few brave Christians came out today!” We were excited to share with him there were 700 more just behind us. His countenance changed, his shoulders dropped, and tears welled up in his eyes. We exchanged an embrace, and he walked away without words.
One man walked up and grabbed my face, pulling me in for a whisper. “It’s not obvious that you’re here. It’s important. Thank you.” I never saw his face before he walked away, but I’ll never forget his words.
“Hey, I think this is what we’re meant to do today”, I shared with my colleagues. So, we stood there the entire rally, and let the Jewish community know they are not alone. Because with every thank you, I was soberly reminded that our Christian presence wasn’t obvious.
As I flew home, a Jewish man's desperate embrace and wavering voice echoed in my head and my heart: “It’s not obvious you are here, it’s important, thank you.” I’m grateful, yet sorrowful. I am grateful because I was given this experience. Sorrowful, because it wasn't obvious that we Christians would be there.
He is right. In the long history of Jewish Christian relations, Christians many times have not “been there.” In fact, Christians throughout history have often promoted antisemitic ideas and acts. In more recent history, many Americans were silent and apathetic during the Holocaust. And since October 7, acts of antisemitism have increased; they are up by nearly 400% in our American communities in the past year.
Of course, it wasn’t obvious I would be there.
I’m at Passages because I’m motivated to help young people find a strong connection to the roots of their Christian faith; to help them understand how that spiritual root system is a part of a grander story of how a God-fearing people acted “by faith” to protect what is right, good and true. The next chapters of this grand story are being written today. Only with a strong root system of faith, truth, goodness, and righteousness will the next generation have the strength and courage to be bold and write a chapter we can be proud of.
I acknowledge that the current moment is complex. But, evil thrives when we are unwilling to wrestle with complexity to know and live the truth. We cannot just prefer what is easy and comfortable. We cannot be unwilling to be informed and to allow confusion and fear to guide our thoughts.
“It’s not obvious you are here, it’s important, thank you, I recall, once again.”
Let’s write a different chapter in history. Together let’s make it obvious we are here.
Jeremy Rivers is the Chief Operations Officer with Passages, a nonprofit organization focused on introducing Christian students to modern Israel, strengthening their Christian faith and identity, and building up the next generation of Christian leaders.