I have been troubled recently by Israelis who have advocated avoidance of Jewish participation in this week’s Feast of Tabernacles events, under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ). The ICEJ deserves our greatest respect and gratitude in general, and for the devotion, commitment, and love for Israel make the Embassy’s work and this week’s events so important. I look forward to participating wholeheartedly.
The past few decades I have been privileged by my role as part of a crucial bridge between Jews and Christians, one that’s become more pronounced and meaningful since moving to Israel a decade ago. Sometimes, people joke and ask, “What’s a nice American born and educated Orthodox Israeli Jew doing in a place like this?” I love it when other Jews ask me, because it gives me the opportunity to share and explain that times have changed.
So to all Jews reading this, wherever they are and wherever they may be coming from, and to all Christians reading this who are in Jerusalem physically or whose hearts are here, I’m pleased to share why I will be right there beside thousands of Christians this week, with pride and pleasure, and continue to do so.
Jews come into relationships with Christians with lots of baggage. For much of the past 2000 years, people representing “the church” committed gross horrors against us. It’s legitimate to be wary of strangers’ intentions. Because I have deep relationships with so many Christians whose love is unconditional, I get to witness to fellow Jews that this is not the Inquisition, it is not the pogroms, it is not the Holocaust, but this is a genuine love. Many still don’t get it, but some do.
Jews and Christians are united by worshiping and exalting the One true God. I am impressed by how much of Christian worship and scripture is so familiar, of course because Jesus was a Jew as were the disciples. When Jews and Christians learn more about one another, including Christianity’s roots in Judaism, we see so many things that we have in common. I have prayed with Christians each according to our tradition, experiencing God through fellowship and mutual pouring out our hearts to Him. More than once, I’ve had to wipe tears from my eyes.
Many things unite Jews and Christians. God is one. Israel is another. Once, I had the privilege of speaking with a renowned pastor and asked him, “How did you become such a great Christian Zionist leader?” His answer was vivid. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his father the day Israel was born again as a nation and his father said, “This proves that there is a God and He keeps His promises, and that everything He says is true.” There are many reasons why Christians support Israel. For Jews it’s our ancient home and modern refuge; a source of saving lives and living out prophesy. Yet the unwavering support expressed by millions and millions of Christians for Israel is a tremendous blessing and comfort, and not something to be taken for granted in a world where so many challenges exist, questioning our legitimacy and threatening our existence.
Jews and Christians also have many similar enemies. This is especially vivid in today’s global events where Christians are being imprisoned, threatened, and slaughtered. The main reason Jews are not also being imprisoned, threatened, and slaughtered in these places is because we have largely left and come home. Current events playing out before our eyes prove the veracity of the saying, first they come for the Saturday people and then for the Sunday people. As a Jew, what’s happening to Christians throughout the Islamic Middle East and Africa is an affront.
I have been blessed the past several years to be part of a trend that’s meaningful, important, and heartwarming. Through Heart to Heart, a program I founded and have the privilege of growing and directing, I have brought thousands of people to do something extraordinary while in Israel: donate blood. There is much symbolism in this selfless act, and the emotion driving it is sincere and deep. For those who cannot donate blood in Israel in person, many participate in a “virtual blood donation” program, providing support to be sure Israel always has a safe and plentiful blood supply to save lives of all Israelis and, many non-Israelis as well.
I understand the clear calling upon Christians to bless Israel according to God’s mandate in Genesis 12:3. As much as so many Christians do this with a full heart, the blessings I have received from my relationships with so many Christians are vastly greater.
Because of the past, it’s understandable that Jews would think twice about engaging with Christians, albeit those who represent a very different church than that of the past. However, I believe we are seeing the prophecy of Isaiah 60:14 being fulfilled — The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
I’m often asked why as an Orthodox Jew I would show up at events like these, write and speak to Christian audiences, visit churches, etc., or why even to care. My answer is simple. I explain that when someone loves us unconditionally and embraces us wholeheartedly, my only answer is to love and embrace them back.
So to all the wonderful Christian visitors in Jerusalem this week, when you see a Jewish guy with a kippah (head covering) and the back of a shirt that says “I’m here because I love you back,” it’s me. Please come give me a hug.
And to fellow Jews, please come join me.