The underground bomb shelter in the hotel at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel hardly seems
like a place where history might be made.
Located on the second floor
beneath street level, it is a large rectangular room in which the air
conditioning does not work and the interior design appears to have been copied
from the Soviet Union’s pre-Brezhnev era: drab, dull and dreary. Appearances
aside, though, the confined space served as the improbable venue last week for a
remarkable scene, as dozens of Christian leaders from 40 countries on five
continents gathered together to discuss... Jews.
The occasion was the
fourth bi-annual leadership forum of Christians for Israel, a non-denominational
Christian organization that was established in Holland in the 1970s by Karl van
Oordt and which has grown to boast hundreds of thousands of members around the
The group lobbies European parliamentarians in Brussels on
Israel’s behalf, supports soup kitchens in places such as Beit Shemesh, assists
Diaspora Jews to make aliya and even partnered with the Jerusalem Foundation to
restore the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim
Their goals are sincere and unequivocal: “Christians should
repent of the treatment of the Jewish people by the Church over the centuries,
fight anti- Semitism in all its forms and guises, pray for the peace of
Jerusalem, and comfort the Jewish people.”
No missionizing, no
proselytizing, no hidden agendas.
It says a lot about the way in which
relations between Christians and Jews have evolved in recent years that we have
come to take such things almost for granted.
Christians supporting the
Jewish state? It hardly seems like news anymore.
But let’s put things in
perspective. Several centuries ago, a similar gathering of worldwide Christian
leaders would surely have devoted its energies to finding new ways to harm the
people of Israel.
Nowadays, they come together to help.
really set this event apart, and underlined the sea-change taking place, was the
keynote speaker for the evening: the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the State of
Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger.
In a rousing and emotional address, Rabbi
Metzger surveyed relations between the two faiths, neither shying away from the
darkness of the past nor ignoring the challenges we collectively face. He
described how Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had not invented the idea of a Jewish
ghetto, but rather had adopted the practice from the medieval model created by
At one point, as he related a story about Holocaust
survivors, the rabbi choked up, prompting many in the audience to shed tears of
Rabbi Metzger also vigorously defended Israel and condemned
the culture of hate of our foes, messages which resonated with the audience and
met with their accord.
“I want to give you our thanks for your support
and to say that you are truly the sons of Abraham and our brothers,” he told
them. Before concluding, the rabbi added an important final point, telling the
audience: “If you know of someone who wants to come here to try and convert
Jews, tell them not to do it,” pointing out that such proselytization efforts
damage relations between Jews and Christians.
As I watched the chief
rabbi address the Christian leaders, I could not help but think how
extraordinary this scene was. Just 20 or 30 years ago it would have been
unthinkable for such a thing to occur.
Moreover, the rabbi’s remarks were
like those between friends, without a hint of antagonism or
Afterwards, Andrew Tucker, the Christian group’s executive
director, presented Rabbi Metzger with framed copies of a document in English
and Hebrew entitled, “A Call to Repentance, A Word of Hope.” As Tucker began to
read the text aloud, he too grew emotional and had to pause to compose himself
“We acknowledge with deep shame,” he said, “that the
Church for centuries has rejected, persecuted and murdered the Jewish people in
the name of Christ. We repent of the supersessionist theologies of the Church
which have claimed all of G-d’s blessings for themselves, and have denied any
continuing place for the nation of Israel in G-d’s plan of redemption for the
world. We cut the root and stole the fruit.”
Tucker, along with the
group’s international chairman, Harald Eckert, and its president, Rev. Willem
Glashouwer, all reaffirmed their commitment to remorse for the past and resolve
for the future.
Now I know that there are many Jews who are still
skeptical about Christians and their intentions. And we certainly must be
vigilant against those who seek to convert Jews, an act which cannot and must
not be tolerated. But we must also learn to differentiate between them and those
who truly wish to forge bonds of amity and goodwill. Not all Christians are out
to get us, and to suggest otherwise is simply fatuous and misleading.
be sure, we can neither forgive nor forget what was done to our people over the
past 2,000 years in the name of Christianity, the persecution, pogroms,
massacres and forced conversions, expulsions and blood libels. But when
Christians nowadays take responsibility for the actions of their forefathers,
seek atonement and extend a hand of friendship, it behooves us to respond in