Now that a little time has passed I want to put down in writing some of the most important things that I brought back from Israel after spending ten days last January with over twenty Evangelical Pastors from Las Vegas on a mission organized jointly by CUFI (Christians United for Israel) and The Las Vegas Jewish Federation.
So, here they are…These are the things I brought back. No filters, no editorializing, no softening it up! Just the honest truth about what that experience meant to me.
1. We should always keep an open mind!
Sounds easy, right? It’s a no brainer… We all should always keep an open mind. In reality most of us don’t. It takes an experience that forces us to see things in a different way so that we can actually open our mind to new ideas. After coming back from Israel it was clear to me that we live in a country that has gotten so politically polarized that many of us can’t have a civilized discussion about things that we hold dear. The most important intellectual exercise to engage your mind in openness is to fins a common thread that links your life with that of those who you consider to be “so different” that you think there is nothing to talk about with them. We very often drown in the sea of intolerance because we approach our interactions with others as a complete win or lose situation. We have elevated conversation to competitive arguing and the problem is that it is very hard to speak or to be heard!
2. What makes us different can also become what brings us together!
I have lived most of my entire adult life interacting with The Jewish Community and all of its parts on a daily basis. Before this trip I would have never thought I could find things that I have in common with Evangelical Christians. Before this trip I was always concerned about what are obvious divergent views on specific issues that are political detonates in our country. I was always afraid to have a “real conversation” for fear of judging or being judged. Yes, at the beginning it was all about Israel. Now, I actually get together every other week with another Rabbi and two Pastors to study Bible! Our difference in studying styles and understanding of The Biblical text are great but at the same time that is what makes it so interesting. We are not there to convert each other or to convince each other. We are there to learn from one another! In learning from one another we understand how it came to be that we can see certain issues so differently. I have discovered something that we all think we know but we actually very rarely put into practice. All of us look at religion as a way to make our world better. That is the common thread and that is the biggest inspiration. We all come to that conclusion through different paths and journeys. Believe me, it is good to be on that Journey, when you discover that there is no difference that our common love for humanity will prevent us to talk about it and study it respectfully and out of love.
3. Christianity is NOT Monolithic!
To many of us this is an obvious notion. Not for me! I was born in a country with one of the largest catholic populations on earth. Up to a certain point in my life the word Christian was interchangeable with the word catholic. I was personally shocked to discover some of the profound, very profound theological differences between evangelical Christians and other branches of Christianity. I already knew about their love for Israel. What I did not know is that the way in which they approach theology is not that dissimilar to mine. Granted, completely different religions but very similar religious processes. This was especially true when it comes to Religion and magic. The way fanaticism is expressed through archaic religious symbols and artifacts, “idol like” concepts that just bind us to a specific place in time and do not allow us to grow spiritually.
4. The Pastors on our mission were really NOT trying to convert me!
Before I departed for Israel last January, many of the members of my congregation admonished me: “You know, what they really want is to convert you!” I think that this specific way of thinking has prevented us from understanding these peoples true intentions. Many of them are genuinely oppressed by the notion that we were persecuted as Jews by Christians for centuries! All of them understand what we feel when we see aberrations in groups like Jews for Jesus or so called Messianic Jews and are fully aware of how offensive it is to us and our community. As I visited places in Israel that I had never seen before, I saw for the first time in my life, the love that people who are not Jewish can experience for not only The Land of Israel but for The State of Israel with all of its institutions, its greatness and its imperfections! The love for Israel extends to an unconditional love for The Jewish People and for the first time I heard words that I never heard before: “We come from you.” Without engaging in replacement theology or mental gymnastics, the love was clear, without suspicion and above water. I was amazed because believe me, I was trying very hard to find something wrong! I was trying as hard as I could to live up to the promises made by many of my congregants. I was “watching out” for the conversion pitch, for when they would throw me in The Jordan River and try to baptize me. You know what, that never happened! I am grateful! The powerful feeling that comes from understanding that after thousands of years of our search for self-determination, we are not alone is absolutely redeeming!
5. Friends are friends. They come in all sorts of colors, sizes and shapes!
When I look around us I see many things that I can’t understand. Jewish Students in The United States turning their back on Israel. Questioning every passing hour whether Israel acts morally or not. Siding with the calumnies of our enemies and believing their rhetoric. I know how we got here and I don’t like it! When my own son tells me that he won’t apply to colleges where the anti Israel movement is vibrant and strong like the University of California schools, my heart breaks. Why? Because many of the most staunch anti Israel advocates come from our own communities. They are home made! I am proud of my son for taking this stand but saddened that is happening all around us. Some years ago I provided a scholarship for a student member of an Evangelical Church to attend The CUFI conference in Washington DC, this same student who was then in High School is now engaged in his college in the Pro Israel movement in a very strong way. Never in my life did I think I would give such a scholarship to a non Jewish Student. This is a time when we need to be engaged in understanding who our friends are and stop looking at their friendship with suspicion, not only because it is the right thing to do. We have no alternative. These Pastors that went with me to Israel, who saw Israel first hand, who held the hand of IDF soldiers standing at their post on the border with Lebanon… They not only understand us but they actually support us! I have always ben puzzled at The “Rabbis” that fast when Israel attacks terrorist targets or that are fully engaged in boycotting The State of Israel. These Pastors will NOT turn their back on us and that is what I call a friend.