March 31, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel,
This past Sunday – Easter Sunday for Christians around the world – hundreds of Pakistani Christians were celebrating the holiday at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan, the country’s second-largest city. It was a warm evening, and the park was bustling with young families . . . until a suicide bomber entered and, next to a bumper-car ride in the children’s section of the park, turned the holy day into a day of horror.
At least 72 people have been confirmed dead, 29 of them children, and more than 300 others were injured. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, soon claimed responsibility for the attack. “It was our people who attacked the Christians in Lahore, celebrating Easter,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Taliban group, said. “It’s our message to the government that we will carry out such attacks again until sharia [Islamic law] is imposed in the country.”
As I grieve this heinous act and pray for those recovering, I feel a familiar disgust, one I felt after another attack carried out on a religious holy day. In 1973, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Syrian and Egyptian forces attacked Israel to try to regain territory they had lost during the 1967 Six-Day War. The invading troops knew many Israeli soldiers would be away from their posts to observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and used the Jews’ religious devotion to their own political and violent advantage. That calculated timing was offensive enough when enacted against soldiers in a secured city; it is unconscionable when directed at women and children in a neighborhood park.
Tragically, this attack is part of a larger wave of violence against Christians throughout the Middle East. Millions of Christians in the region have had to flee their homes, seeking sanctuary in overcrowded refugee camps and in smuggling routes to Europe. Open Doors, an organization that helps persecuted Christians around the globe, releases an annual World Watch List, ranking the countries where it is most difficult and dangerous to be a Christian. Currently, five of the top ten countries on that list are in the Middle East. The situation is so grave that the United States recently called ISIS’ actions against minority groups in the region – including Christians – “genocide,” the first time it has used that term since referring to Darfur in 2004.
Just as we continue to fight anti-Semitism and those it would motivate to violence, so we now fight this rising Christian persecution. We as God’s people, Christians and Jews together, must remain vigilant in our insistence that the violence perpetrated by radical Islamists is unacceptable. We must insist that these religiously motivated acts of violence be covered by the media and denounced by our leaders. We must continue to observe our holy days, having greater faith in our God than we have fear of our enemies. And we must continue to implore Him for His precious gift of shalom, peace.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President