Why Jews and Christians must work together for Israel

“I think today, we are at a place where Christians understand Jewish people’s red lines and sensitivities."

 THOUSANDS OF Christian Evangelicals and Israelis march in a parade in central Jerusalem marking the Feast of the Tabernacles, 2018.  (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)
THOUSANDS OF Christian Evangelicals and Israelis march in a parade in central Jerusalem marking the Feast of the Tabernacles, 2018.
(photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

"It is often tempting – and certainly emotionally justifiable – to glance around us and see enemies on all sides,” said Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm, CEO of the Bnai Zion. But he said that when the Jewish people spend all of their energy “exclusively trying to counter those who hate us or convince them to stop hating us,” they are missing the opportunity to connect with their friends.

“It is our obligation to look around the world for friends who can help us transform society across the globe for the better – who can help us, once again, to build something extraordinary that will inspire the world,” Lamm said, adding that “in 2022... there is actually not just hatred of the Jewish people, but organized love of the Jewish people and Israel. And it is primarily coming from our friends and allies in other communities of faith, particularly from Christian communities throughout the world.”

RABBI DR. ARI LAMM, CEO of Bnai Zion: ‘It is our obligation to look for friends who can help us transform society  for the better.’ (Credit: Bnai Zion)RABBI DR. ARI LAMM, CEO of Bnai Zion: ‘It is our obligation to look for friends who can help us transform society for the better.’ (Credit: Bnai Zion)

Lamm wrote these comments in an op-ed on the eve of the launch of The Jerusalem Post’s new Christian World portal on jpost.com – a new space where individuals can connect to the people, land and State of Israel through a Christian and biblical lens. Of course, Christians, and specifically Evangelical Christians, are already united with Israel.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 50% of the country’s annual tourists were Christian – 2.5 million of Israel’s 4.5 million visitors in 2019, according to the Tourism Ministry.

The majority, 84%, visited Jerusalem, and 65% Tel Aviv, as well as many holy sites throughout Israel, from the Jordan River to the West Bank settlements they call the “biblical heartland.”

Christians are investing in Israel

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (the Fellowship) raised more than $225 million last year from 630,000 donors – mainly Evangelicals, according to its president Yael Eckstein, making it the largest philanthropic organization in Israel.

She added that these same donors are investing in Israeli companies, partnering on oil exploration in the region and providing political support for Israel by pushing for anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation in their states or countries, acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism or designation of the entire Hamas or Hezbollah organizations (not just the “military” wing) as terrorist entities.

“Many of my friends who are proud Christians laid the groundwork for the Abraham Accords,” Eckstein said, “working with these countries to try to get Israel more friends in the region.”

Eckstein’s father, the late Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, fought for more than three decades to achieve acceptance of Christian support for Israel. Today, Eckstein said, people appreciate and celebrate it.

“I think today, we are at a place where Christians understand Jewish people’s red lines and sensitivities,” Eckstein said, and that the Jewish and Christian communities “know each other now.” At the same time, the relationship is still evolving.

“This is a historic journey,” she said. “There is still a long way and a lot of places to go.”

Rooted in the Bible

Take Rev. Johnnie Moore, founder and CEO of The KAIROS Company. He grew up in South Carolina loving Israel and reading the Bible but never meeting a Jew.

REV. JOHNNIE MOORE, founder and CEO, The KAIROS Company: ‘I am a proud Christian who studies the Hebrew Bible.’ (Credit: Vitaly Manzuk)REV. JOHNNIE MOORE, founder and CEO, The KAIROS Company: ‘I am a proud Christian who studies the Hebrew Bible.’ (Credit: Vitaly Manzuk)

“It was this weird thing, where you think well of Israel, read a Bible filled with Jewish people and places, but don’t actually know any real-life Jewish people,” he said. “What has happened in recent years, is there has been a change where more Christians and Jews actually know each other, spend time with one another – and that makes a big difference.”

He said the power of religion is that it can bring people together around common values.

For Jews, Christians and Muslims, those values are in the Bible.

“The Bible is the best way to build and create healthy relationships between Jews and Christians,” said Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel365, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit focused on building bridges between Jews and gentiles.“The prophecies talk about the physical stage of restoration, the ingathering of the exiles, the restoration of the land,” Weisz shared. “But there is also a spiritual restoration and what is called for is non-Jews studying Torah. Jews are supposed to teach the Torah to the non-Jews.”

Weisz published the Israel Bible, an English translation of the five books of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings with commentaries linking the text to the land of Israel. The Bible was a number one best-seller on Amazon and sells more copies each year than the one before.

Like Eckstein, Weisz does not believe that Jewish-Christian relations have peaked nor that Jews and Christians are learning together enough.

“It is disappointing to me that there have not been more human or interpersonal relationships that move beyond political expediency, which is truly necessary to build healthier relationships between Jews and Christians,” Weisz said.

He noted that in the first generation of Jewish-Christian relations, the Jews were nervous, cynical and suspicious of Christians because Jews were afraid of the Christians’ proselytizing agenda. But according to Weisz, that agenda has been “virtually non-existent” in recent years.

“We now have nothing to be afraid of and therefore we should be building rock-solid relationships and friendships,” he said. “We need to make this a pillar of the Jewish agenda.”

Weisz said he believes that Israeli emissaries sent abroad to teach in day schools and synagogues should set aside time to teach in churches, too.

Moore also said that he believes Christians should be given access to a larger window into authentic Jewish life.

“I think too many Christians come to Israel and have a Christian pilgrimage, they don’t really get Shabbat dinner or any of these experiences,” Moore said.

He learns the weekly Torah portion with a Jerusalem-based rabbi via Zoom.

“Pastors and rabbis studying the Bible together used to be unacceptable to either community,” Moore said. “It is becoming more common.

“I am a proud Christian who studies the Hebrew Bible on a regular basis with a proud Jew,” he continued. “I am not acting like I am Jewish, and he is not interested in being Christian. But we share a common text.”

‘We need to be vigilant’

But Moore admitted that relationships like these may be more challenging with the younger generation. Multiple recent surveys have shown a marked decline in support for Israel among Millennial Evangelicals. Other reports have highlighted a decline in how often American Christians in general, and young American Christians in particular, are reading the Bible.

A study published in June by Tel Aviv University found that the rate of support for the State of Israel among Evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 has declined by more than half between 2018 and 2021 – from 69% to 33.6%.

A 2017 report by Lifeway Research found that more than half (53%) of Americans had read relatively little of the Bible. A more recent report by the American Bible Society showed that fewer than 10% of Generation Z are committed to reading the Bible regularly.

“I think the decline in support among young Evangelicals for Israel, and the accompanying relationship with the Jewish people more broadly, is experiencing a real decline,” Moore said. “But it [the decline] is also exaggerated.”

These surveys, he said, “capture a snapshot of time” and also are largely focused on the United States, while ignoring the exponential growth in pro-Israel Evangelicals in South America, Africa, China and other places around the world.

“On a net basis, do I think Evangelical support for Israel a generation from now will be significantly different? It is going to be more in my opinion,” Moore said. “But we need to be vigilant.”

He suggested highlighting for the younger generation the things about Israel that matter to them. Moore said younger Evangelicals are more aligned with the big picture of the modern State of Israel, the Start-up Nation and its innovation in the realms of climate change and healthcare. He said Millennials also connect to Israel’s humanitarian commitment, such as sending IDF soldiers on rescue missions in times of crisis.

“The modern state of Israel is more aligned with values of young Evangelicals than the more secular founding generation of Israel,” Moore said. “There are a lot of us who are not yet 40 who love Israel just as much as our parents, but you cannot rush relationships. You have to build them over time.”

This is part of the reason Bnai Zion partnered with the Post on the Christian World portal, Lamm said to “make the best of Israel – its past, present and future – available and accessible to our wonderful friends and allies in the Christian community.”

“The Jewish community should have red lines, should be hesitant and should be on guard,” added Eckstein. “That is how we survived more than 2,000 years of exile. I do not think we should put our guard down.

“But within those guards, don’t keep out your friends.”

This article is written in cooperation with The Jerusalem Post’s new Christian World portal. Visit it online at www.jpost.com/christianworld. Send story ideas to [email protected]