Picture this: I am standing in the home of Israel’s Ambassador to Spain having a rather dynamic encounter with the most prominent religious leaders in the country. Flanked by Ambassador Bar-On to my right and Keren Hayesod representative Dani Kaplan to my left I ask “How can we not take a moment to reflect on the historic significance of this moment?”
“Over five hundred years ago my ancestors were subjected to the horrific torture, murder, and forced conversion of the inquisition at the hands of your ancestors. At the time, do you think either of them ever imagined that the day would come when a Jerusalem Jew would be in the home of the ambassador of the Israel teaching about the Jewish State to Christian Pastors?”
“Indeed,” I went on, “the Jewish People have endured some very dark times in this country. Is it fair, however, for you to be punished for the sins of your fathers? After all, I imagine that there isn’t one of you who has ever lifted a finger against a Jew in your entire lives.”
I gave the question a moment to sink in.
“As the Jewish people are approaching Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are immersed in the spiritually uplifting yet fundamentally challenging process of repentance, known in Hebrew as Teshuva”.
“And the highest level of repentance,” I went on to explain, “is called Teshuva Gemura, complete repentance. The opportunity to achieve this level of repentance is both precious and rare. Complete repentance happens when one is confronted with the same situation in which they sinned in the past, but this time a different path is taken and a new identity is forged. It is only “just” for the children to be punished for the sins of their fathers if they would repeat them given the same opportunity”.
I glanced toward Ambassador Bar-On hoping that I was not making him uncomfortable. At first impression, he struck me as a kind and welcoming man who brings a healthy sense of dignity to the position. Thankfully, I detected a supportive smile.
“Right now in Israel we are surrounded by nations seeking to destroy our state, undermine our legitimacy, and murder our people – to literally put out all the lights. And the consequence of standing with Israel today may be no different than it has been many times throughout history – casting your lot with ours means that our fate becomes yours. A Christian who was caught hiding a Jews during World War II would end up next to that very same Jew in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The decision to stand with Israel can, indeed, have significant consequences.”
“Allow me to conclude by making one thing clear,” I explained. “It is not our fate which lies in the balance. It is yours. Both individuals and nations will be judged based on their treatment of Israel. And we are here reaching out a hand of friendship and brotherhood, offering you the opportunity to be our “ambassadors”, to share the truth about Israel with your congregations, defend Israel to your politicians, and lead the Spanish people in the path of Teshuva Gemura, complete repentance.”
There was a dramatic silence and the head of the evangelical federation, one of the “leaders of leaders” stood up and declared “coming here today I had no idea that we were going to be confronted with an offer of historic, even biblical, magnitude. Allow me to state in clear and unequivocal terms that I, for one, stand with Israel.”
Another hand went up and then another as these brave leaders, many with tears in their eyes, erupted in a round of applause which conveyed, at least to me, both the sincerity of their friendship and clarity of their position.
Many in that room, and others like them around the world, have already paid dearly for their vocal and unrelenting support of Israel. As I look back at my experience that day I can not help but feel inspired by the courage and intellectual honesty I encountered, and continue to encounter as I travel the globe.
The book of Dvarim, Deuteronomy, explains 16:29–32 states, “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work – whether native-born or an alien living among you – because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.”
When we commence Yom Kippur this evening, may we all, Jews and non-Jews alike, grasp this golden yet fleeting opportunity to turn our back on our errant ways and embrace a life of Torah, truth, and God “For her ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:17