Early this past summer, Mel Gibson invited me to see "The Passion," his film on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The invitation was significant in that I was the first practicing Jew and active member of the American Jewish community to be invited. He did so because he believed, correctly, that he could trust me. I have long worked to build trust between Jews and Christians, especially traditional Christians.
The increasing tension over this film has reinforced impressions I offered Mel Gibson that day. When watching "The Passion," Jews and Christians are watching two entirely different films.
For two hours, Christians watch their Savior tortured and killed. For the same two hours, Jews watch Jews arrange the killing and torture of the Christians' Savior.
In order to avoid further tension between two wonderful communities that had been well on their way to historic amity, it is crucial for each to try to understand what film the other is watching and reacting to.
First, what Jews see. The Jews in the film (except, of course, for those who believe in Jesus) are cruel and often sadistic. One prominent Christian who saw the film along with my wife and me said that while watching the film he wanted to take a gun and shoot those who had brought such pain to Jesus. I couldn't blame him. The Jews in the film manipulate the Romans -- who are depicted as patsies of the Jews and in the case of Pilate, as morally far more elevated -- into torturing and murdering a beautiful man.
Why does this bother Jews so much? Because for nearly 2,000 years, attacked as "Christ-killers," countless Jewish men, women and children were tortured and murdered in ways that often caused more suffering than even Jesus endured (e.g., not only tortured and murdered themselves, but also seeing their families and friends raped, tortured and murdered). For Jews to worry that a major movie made by one of the world's superstars depicts Jews as having Christ tortured and killed might arouse anti-Semitic passions is not paranoid. Even though Islam denies the crucifixion, it is difficult to imagine that this film will not be a hit in the virulently anti-Semitic Arab world.
It is essential that Christians understand this. Every Jew, secular, religious, assimilated, left-wing, right-wing, fears being killed because he is Jewish. This is the best-kept secret about Jews, who are widely perceived as inordinately secure and powerful. But it is the only universally held sentiment among Jews. After the Holocaust and with Islamic terrorists seeking to murder Jews today, this, too, is not paranoid.