This is an important week for Jews and Christians. Jews celebrate the first day of Passover on Thursday, and Christians celebrate Good Friday, followed by Easter on Sunday. Both holidays link sorrow with liberation as the tragic gives way to redemption, with rejoicing in the renewal of spring.
The Last Supper, famously rendered in the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, was a Passover Seder, after all, which in Christian teaching was followed by the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ. The two holidays have been entwined in history since, and the word Pasch, originally "Passover," means Easter, too. The holidays do not always fall so closely together as this year (2006 by the Christian calendar, 5766 for Jews).
Neither have the two faiths always been tolerant or respectful of each other. But now they're enjoying a renewal of mutual appreciation. The turning point was the Vatican's adoption in 1965 of "Nostra Aetate" ("In Our Time"), the papal encyclical deploring anti-Semitism at any time, from any source, and further declaring that the Crucifixion of Christ cannot be blamed on the Jews. Among those present at the adoption were Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II, and Joseph Ratzinger, the German cardinal who became Pope Benedict XVI.
Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the adoption of "Nostra Aetate," Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican designate for Catholic-Jewish relations, said that Catholic confrontation with the Holocaust and support for the state of Israel was merely "the beginning of the beginning" in the evolving relationship of Catholics and Jews, and it has been an important rapprochement. The Nostra Aetate has influenced better relations between Protestants and Jews as well; indeed, evangelical Christians in America are among Israel's most stalwart friends.
It's no secret that the 2,000-year history of Christian-Jewish relations has been a turbulent one. The blood libel of the Middle Ages perpetuated the vile tale that Jews kidnap Christian children to get their blood for a recipe to make matzoh. In this century, the "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," a forgery devised by the Czarist secret police in 1903, was revived by the Nazis and is used by Islamists today to justify the killing of Israelis.