'Christian Birthright’ returns to Israel

While this delegation is only a dozen young people, Passages said it plans to bring 3,000 Christian supporters to Israel by the end of summer 2022.

Evangelical Christians visit Israel on Passages - June 2021 (photo credit: CADE CHUDY)
Evangelical Christians visit Israel on Passages - June 2021
(photo credit: CADE CHUDY)
Twelve young Christian adults arrived in Israel last week for the first Passages tour since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
Passages, often referred to as “Christian Birthright,” brings students to Israel to explore their Christian faith in the Holy Land and to get to know modern Israeli society.
“Passages alumni are some of our strongest ambassadors on America’s college campuses, as well as throughout the US,” said MK Elazar Stern, who is expected to be intelligence minister in the government being sworn in on Sunday, when he met with the delegation. “I have no doubt that the new government will continue to recognize how extremely important these delegations and the individual participants are to Israel. We are proud of what Israel stands for and proud of the IDF. The best way to understand what Israel is about is to come and meet regular Israelis.”
The tour began in Lod, one of the country’s mixed cities that was particularly volatile during the recent unrest between Arabs and Jews. Riots struck the city for five days, destroying businesses, cars and putting residents’ lives at risk.
The delegation met with Tahael, an Orthodox Jewish mother who moved to Lod two years ago because she wanted to raise her children in a diverse community. During their meeting, Tahael described how on one of the nights of rocket fire she and her family went down to a bomb shelter in her building only to realize they were sharing it with their Arab neighbors. The tension was so high that she chose to go upstairs at risk of being bombed than stay in the shelter.
The group also visited Ashkelon and Sderot to show solidarity.
 A group of twelve Christians visit Israel on trip with 'Passages' (Credit: Cade Chudy)A group of twelve Christians visit Israel on trip with 'Passages' (Credit: Cade Chudy)
“Every country in the world found itself at a standstill over a harrowing pandemic the past year and a half, but only one simultaneously faced an all-too familiar challenge that’s neither normal nor acceptable,” said Kennedy Lee, a student in the Comparative Politics of Eurasia Master’s program at the Higher School of Economics and a research associate at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, DC, who is on the trip. “I witnessed tears begin to form in a mother’s eyes as she described the painful decision facing her family; of whether to leave their beloved and proud multicultural neighborhood in Lod because of the shock and horror of last month’s riots in their very neighborhood, as well as heard unfathomable stories of the ongoing trauma facing Israeli children in the wake of last month’s conflict.
“But I have also seen the spirit of Israel that initially captured my heart — the hospitality of restaurant owners, smirks of children as they assess the tour group walking by, and the inspirational stories of the grassroots efforts of citizens to ensure peace and coexistence within their communities. I’m confident that I will be even more challenged, but moreover uplifted by the unwavering spirit of the Israeli people, as we travel to Jerusalem for the final days of our trip.”
While this delegation is only a dozen young people, Passages said it plans to bring 3,000 Christian supporters to Israel by the end of summer 2022. To date, it has brought some 8,000 students to the country.
“Passages was established to help Christian college students discover the roots of their faith and ensure future continuity of Christian support for Israel,” said Rivka Kidron, Passages co-founder and board member. “Israelis haven’t seen tourists for 15 months. When we have encountered shop owners, restaurant owners, and Israelis in general, the effect of our presence has been heartwarming and humbling.”
The trip is taking place during the expected transition from a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has gone to great lengths to welcome Evangelicals in Israel, to Yamina head Naftali Bennett. At least one Christian leader threatened that Evangelicals could withdraw support for Israel if Netanyahu did not remain in office.
“Our support for the State of Israel and its people is unconditional,” said Passages Executive Director Scott Phillips. “ The relationship between Israel and the Christian Evangelical community remains solid and we are always looking for ways to improve it.”
Meanwhile, the first Taglit-Birthright Israel trip following the coronavirus crisis landed in Tel Aviv on May 24. Those travelers were all vaccinated college students from the United States.
The Tourism and Interior ministries announced Thursday that vaccinated individual tourists could start coming to Israel beginning July 1.
On Friday, the government voted to extend the ban on traveling to certain states with high levels of infection until June 27. These include India, South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Argentina and Mexico. Ethiopia, Ukraine and Turkey were removed from the list beginning June 14.