(photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Representatives of around 250 Muslim families in need gathered in Lod on Wednesday to receive food donations courtesy of a Jewish organization funded by Evangelical Christians.
The interreligious event was organized by the Chicagobased International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which gave basic foodstuffs to Muslim residents of the impoverished mixed Arab-Jewish town on the occasion of the start of Ramadan.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the Fellowship, said the food
campaign was part of his organization’s commitment to Israel and all its
citizens, regardless of their religion.
“We already have two food campaigns among the Jewish community: Rosh
Hashana and Pessah,” Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post. “This year we
plan on giving on Ramadan, too, and hope to add this to our annual
Eckstein invited Minister of Minorities Affairs Avishay Braverman and
Big Brother television show alumni Fatna Jaber to an abandoned cigarette
factory to help hand out hundreds of food baskets containing olive oil,
tomato paste, sugar and salt. Within an hour none was left.
Braverman, who shook hands with recipients and greeted them in basic
Arabic, said he encouraged initiatives in which the nation’s non-Jewish
citizens also benefited from donations raised abroad.
“I’ve appeared in the US and said this many times before: If you want to help Israel, you have to help Jews and Arabs,” he said.
Eckstein’s group, which receives 95 percent of its donations from Evangelical Protestants, has often been criticized.
Haredi rabbis have forbidden followers to receive its donations because
of the non-Jewish source of its funds. Anti- Defamation League National
Director Abraham Foxman has called Eckstein an opportunist, accusing him
of “selling the dignity of the Jewish people.”
But Eckstein is unapologetic about his mission.
“The image of our donors, who are mainly Evangelicals, is that they are
radicals. But with funding from them we’re helping all of Israel. The
one group we don’t help is haredis, some of which say it is prohibited
to take money from us.”
Recipients of the food donations seemed oblivious to the controversy.
Michsam, a middle-aged Arab woman who, like most of the others at the
gathering, wore a black hijab and a traditional Arab dress, said she
“Among us Arabs there is no one who gives like this. I wish there was.”
Jaber, too, said she supported the food campaign. The Arab reality TV
celebrity, who stirred controversy when she discussed Jewish-Arab ties
on the hugely popular Big Brother television show, said it made no
difference where the donations came from.
“I believe that not only does this make a material difference to the
families, but it also sends out a message of coexistence and tolerance
that will take hold.