Christians at Hebrew University

Three fellow Christian students offer different answers to the question: “You’re not Jewish, so what are you doing here?”

Andrew Cross (photo credit: Courtesy)
Andrew Cross
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every year hundreds of students from all over the world are drawn to the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Most of these foreign students are Jewish, yet among them are always Christians drawn to this unique institution of higher learning.
Founded in 1925, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the oldest and most prestigious university in Israel. The school has an enrollment of 23,500 students spread over four campuses.
At the Rothberg International School, many of the foreign Jewish students find it odd that Christians also attend, and they wonder what has brought them.
Three fellow Christian students at Rothberg offered different answers to the question: “You’re not Jewish, so what are you doing here?” Andrew Cross from Canada enrolled in the undergraduate program at Rothberg because of his keen interest in Israel’s ancient and modern history.
“As a Christian, the land and people of Israel have obvious significance for me,” said Cross.
But his fascination goes beyond his own faith to the remarkable history of the Jewish people and their reestablished nation. “Both the exile and the return of this people were foretold in the Bible, and I believe that one does not have to be religious to see something extraordinary about Israel.”
Cross was also attracted by the city of Jerusalem, which has become a huge hurdle in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He views the entire conflict between Muslims and the Western world as centered around Jerusalem and cannot think of a more interesting place in the world to be studying history.
A graduate student from California, Jen Gold came to Rothberg not only for an advanced degree, but also because of her connection to Judaism and Israel.
“Since my first visit to Israel as a tourist, Israel has been the only place in my mind for study abroad,” said Gold.
Like Cross, Gold is very interested in the culture and history of Israel. But on a more personal level, she also feels connected to Israel because her Christian faith is deeply rooted in Judaism.
“Why am I here? This land and nation belong to me as well,” she said.
Gold is studying social entrepreneurship and plans to study in the graduate program at Hebrew University for two years.
The Hebrew University also has foreign students enrolled in the Mechina program, in which they spend the first year studying Hebrew and English, and the next three to four years taking courses in Hebrew at the regular university alongside local Israeli students.
Esther Kim, an 18-year-old Korean Christian from Singapore, has come fresh out of high school to be a Mechina student at Hebrew University. Kim plans to major in international relations, and she said her heart was set on coming to Israel to see for herself what is really happening.
“The media I have been exposed to from across the world seems to be biased against Israel and even anti-Semitic in ways,” said Kim. “The news is always told from the Palestinian perspective, without any effort to understand Israel’s side.”
While attending the Feast of Tabernacles in October, Kim learned for the first time about the frequent rocket attacks on Sderot and was startled at the lack of media coverage of the horrendous situation.
“I want to absorb as much as I can about the reality Israel faces and then inform others about what is really happening here,” she said.
Kim plans to stick with the Mechina program for four years and is considering living in Israel after graduating.
All three Christian students said they are very much enjoying their time in Israel so far, though life on campus as a Christian has been somewhat challenging.
Gold feels that everyone is very open-minded and tolerant at this liberal university, while Kim anticipated more day-to-day tensions between the three main religions on campus. However, she has found that Jews and Muslims are not much different from her, and is pleasantly surprised that people of different religions can study, live, and build relationships together.
Cross, meanwhile, has engaged in many conversations with non-Christians and even rabbis about faith and religion, which have allowed him to reflect upon his own faith and to challenge himself with difficult moral questions.