I don’t agree with everything Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says in this op-ed. But I do agree with his take on Evangelical Christians - and the IFCJ (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews) that my friend Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein founded and leads.
And lead he does - to the tune of 100 million Christian dollars donated to Israel and other Jewish causes every year. As Shmuley says, this is a staggering amount of ‘no strings attached’ money! And it is money that we - the Jewish people would never otherwise see! I am therefore pleased to present this Jerusalem Post op-ed in its entirety!
Every year, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raises about $100 million from mostly evangelical Christians in the US for distribution to social-welfare projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union. This is a staggering sum, making the IFCJ arguably the largest foundation for needy Jews in the world. One would think that the Jewish community would show immense gratitude to our Christian brothers and sisters for such love. I therefore found it extraordinary to hear that there is a campaign in the Israeli rabbinate to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish groups from benefiting from its funds.
In our religion, the worst of all character traits is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart. No one wants to be taken for granted. So great is the Jewish emphasis on appreciation that our greatest prophet, Moses, was commanded by God not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood (in the first plague against the Egyptians) because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby. Later, in plague number three, God warned Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt (and turning it into lice) because that dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.
Imagine that. A man who spoke to God “face to face” was told he must show thanks to water and dust. Such is the extent to which Judaism demands gratitude.
Over the past two decades, evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel. Even in the worst bombings of the second intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support.
While President Barack Obama continues to bully Israel over apartments in Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, many American Christians have a litmus test for their elected leaders: You don’t support Israel? You’re out.
As I write these lines, former president George W. Bush is enjoying a public renaissance in America with the publication of his book, Decision Points. The best friend Israel ever had in the White House makes clear, at the beginning of his book, how he turned his life over to Jesus, and there can be no question that there is a direct link between his deep Christian faith and his unyielding support for Israel against those who, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seek its annihilation.
I am well aware of our differences with the Christian evangelical community, and would venture to say that I have conducted more debates with leading Christian scholars and missionaries – like my friend Dr. Michael Brown – on the messiahship of Jesus and the evangelical insistence that only Christians go to heaven than any other American rabbi over the past decade.
Jesus was a devout and observant Jew for every day of his life. He ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin and insisted on the indivisible unity of God. It would behoove our Christian brothers and sisters to conclude that they have much to learn about the historical Jesus from Jews.
Indeed, not only must attempts to convert Jews be emphatically resisted by the Jewish community, but precisely the opposite is true; Christians must learn from the Jews to reject any deification of Jesus – something which he would have seen as the ultimate sacrilege, and which is the subject of my upcoming book. They must follow Jesus as teacher and prophet rather than as God. Every human being is a child of God, as the Bible makes clear in Deuteronomy.
But whatever our theological differences, nothing negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship these Christians show Jews and the Jewish community.To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate sacrilegious character assassination.
I was disheartened, in a recent visit to a mega-church in North Carolina, to hear even a renowned Christian scholar tell me the only reason American evangelicals send money to Israel is because they mistakenly believe that the funds are used to proselytize Jews.
Bullocks. I meet these evangelicals all the time. I have travelled with great men like Glen Megill of Rock of Africa on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they told me their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people – for no other reason than that God commanded it.
Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many enemies. Rather than rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians for having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to all the hardworking Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the Earth is blessed.