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Anti-Semitic concerns raised as Passion Play returns to Trafalgar Square

by Heather Preston

Concerns over the association between re-enactments of Jesus’ crucifixion and antisemitism have been raised as Trafalgar Square is set to host its annual ‘Passion of Jesus’ production on Good Friday.

The Wintershall Trust’s dramatic re-telling of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has been performed at the iconic location since 2010.

The Easter story will be performed by a cast of over a hundred people at the central London site, alongside horses, doves and a donkey. It is estimated to reach an audience of 20,000.

Following the October attack on Israel and the ongoing conflict in Gaza, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks both locally and internationally. Passion play producers have been advised to assess their content to ensure words, costumes and portrayals do not inflame anti-Semitic behaviours.

Charlotte de Klee, producer and director of the Wintershall Passion of Jesus says she has made a number of amendments to the production, following guidance from the Council of Christians and Jews, to ensure the piece is sensitive to the Jewish community.

Speaking in a briefing with the Religious Media Centre Klee said: “We have modified the clothing; we don’t use the tallit - prayer shawls. We have taken out the word ‘priest’ in a lot of the script and put ‘authority’ in.”

Klee will also read a statement at the start of the play to reiterate that there is no anti-Semitic intent in the production.

Rev Dr Nathan Eddy, Do-Director, Council of Christians and Jews told the briefing it’s important for Christians to take care in the way they tell this story, not forgetting the persecution Jewish people and other faiths have faced.

“We should take care if we have Jewish neighbours near our church or if there’s a synagogue down the street, what it might feel like if we had a psalm Sunday procession with a cross pass a synagogue.

“Antisemitism isn’t just about our intentions … it’s how our faith neighbours perceive us to be.”

Eddy also cautioned passion play producers against using Matthew 27: 25 “And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” in their productions.

“That verse has been the cause of accusations of the Jewish crime of killing Christ, as deicide and it has echoed horribly down the centuries and Jewish people have been persecuted in part because of the lies spread about interpretations of that verse,” he said.

Some 19 Passion Plays are set to take place across the UK this Easter.

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