In the era of growing Christian awareness of the theological significance of and support for Israel, and thriving relationships between Jews and Christians, the view of some Jews of Christian support for Israel – objectifying them as a faith-based ATM – must be addressed and stopped.
For most of my career, I have been an active partner in building bridges with Christians who love and care about Israel and the Jewish people. Christian support for Israel runs deep. It is biblically rooted, a natural response to God’s injunction that He will bless those who bless Israel. But there are many ways to bless Israel, and making meaningful relationships must be a cornerstone of that. It is not and should not be all and only about money.
Many Jewish friends look at me with raised eyebrows because of the frequency with which I, an Orthodox Israeli Jew, write for Christian publications, speak in churches, and attend evangelical conferences.
It’s humbling to be in situations like these where support for Israel is not just shown in words, but in deeds. Much of this is philanthropic. Indeed, Christian support for Israel reaches hundreds of millions of dollars annually and is the sum of tithing as little as $ 5-10. Once, a woman approached me with a penny in her hand and tears in her eyes that she didn’t have more to give. But overall support for Israel goes much deeper and is demonstrated in prayer and many other ways. And this does not end with support for Israel as the fulfillment of God’s promise to return His people to the Land, but profuse support for the Jewish people.
A few years ago, I had an experience I’ll never forget. I was introduced by a pastor friend in front of thousands of Sunday worshipers, receiving enthusiastic applause after he said that I am one of God’s chosen people and party to God’s covenant with Abraham. I knew that it wasn’t about me personally, but what I represented to his congregation of God, Bible, and Israel-loving Christians.
There are a growing number of Israeli Jews who make time to invest in relationships with Christians. Many of these are deep and wide, and our Christian friends appreciate the reciprocal fellowship. Jewish friends are typically interested and curious, albeit with suspicion. I explain to my Christian friends that 1900 years of baggage including discrimination, expulsion, forced conversions and murder in the name of “the church” is a lot for Jews to ignore completely.
Because I represent one of a handful of traditional Jews who also attend Christian events that I do, I’ve seen many interesting, and sometimes troubling, situations. Occasionally, Christian friends highlight and address what troubles them, triggering intense conversations. In all cases, however, these conversations take place quietly, one on one, so as not to come across as anything other than loving us unconditionally or airing dirty laundry in public.
One issue relates to fellow Jews who often come across referring to, thinking about, or interacting with Christians more as objects, often literally or figuratively using the pejorative word “goyim.” Biblically it’s a solid word; there are the Jews and the goyim, nations of the world. Christians even appreciate that. But in the context with which I have seen and heard it used, and my Christian friends have sensed, it’s not entirely positive.
While Jews speaking about Jesus is not the norm, and in many circles frowned upon, I have found that even among some of the Jews I know who work with Christians, not only will they not mention Jesus by name, but they won’t even use the word Christian.
The Yiddish expression, a shanda fur di goyim, literally means “an embarrassment before the nations,” describing such behavior by a Jew where a non-Jew can witness it. It can be used negatively, but also positively. I am always careful that my actions as an Orthodox Jew represent Jews and Judaism to non-Jews in a positive way.
It is not because I fear the non-Jews as my relatives did in Europe, worried that certain behavior seen by non-Jews would be the catalyst for further discrimination, or a pogrom, but because I want to uphold the finest of Judaism to the nations. That’s the case whether I am at a Christian conference, writing for a Christian website, or making a connection between flights at any airport.
But it is also an embarrassment when Jews show up at a Christian event and their intent for self-promotion is so transparent and not relational, one that doesn’t build bridges, and which is more about Jews looking at Christians as objects rather than partners. I have seen and felt that for some time. There are many examples, so I’ll share just a few. The identities of those involved are being kept anonymous to protect the guilty.
Some examples of Jews seeing Christians as a mere source of money
I bumped into a colleague who shared with me the impending publication of a book. Because this colleague knows of my relationships among Christians who support Israel, a comment was made that this will be “right up their alley.” I inquired, “Why do you think that?” I received a tepid response, and tried to explain that this may be naïve. But my colleague was convinced: “they” will buy it.
Once I witnessed someone who sells a product made in Israel at an evangelical convention, trying to sell this product on the simple and naïve basis that he was Jewish, the product is made in Israel, and Christians should buy it. I made a comment about needing a new marketing approach, it but I did not deter this person from continuing the same, unsuccessful, pitch.
Nonprofits get a twinkle in their eye thinking that because Christians love Israel, and they do something good in Israel, Christians should give money. I am often asked for advice by nonprofits about how to interact with (meaning raise money from) Christians. Typically, I discourage colleagues from going forward for two main reasons. First is because it’s simplistic to think that just because someone shows up from Israel with a cause, Christians will run to it, or that they should. Also, to spend precious resources expecting a short-term return without the long-term investment is naïve, offensive, bad business, and a misuse of charitable funds. Yet colleagues who have no interest in heeding this still show up at Christian events, and thousands of dollars (or more) later, inevitably fall short of their expectations.
I was once asked if I would guide a consultant who helps nonprofits become more successful in their fundraising and marketing, specifically to reach out to Christian audiences. I replied that while I was intrigued, easily 80% to 90% of their clients shouldn’t even try because it would be insincere and a stretch of the imagination to think that Christians would want to support these organizations. I think they liked my honesty, but they never called back.
During the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, I visited a Christian friend in the US who was organizing a telethon for dozens of Christian TV networks to generate money, support and prayer for Israel. As we met, a call came in from an Israeli colleague, trying to make the case that Israel needed a certain device to protect its citizens from the immediate threat, and that by good coincidence, this person knew where to procure them.
The conversation was on speaker. I listened, silently, trying to think if and how to tell my friend that this “opportunity” was a fraud. It wasn’t my decision what the telethon would support. Yet there was very little I could say that would not have caused me to call out this person as a charlatan.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to. As the call went on, the sales pitch got more troublesome. When it ended, my friend turned to me and said, “There’s something very not kosher about that Jonathan, isn’t there?” I nodded. We talked about how it was our mutual suspicion that this person was pitching this “opportunity” with a piece of the action in play personally.
Friends also share some of the more specious fundraising appeals, asking my thoughts. Sometimes they are just outright misrepresentations of the truth as to what an organization is claiming to do and actually doing. There’s one organization in particular that never misses an opportunity to send a fundraising appeal after every terrorist attack or Iranian threat that makes the headlines. The suggestion is that by donating funds somehow this organization is going to stop that. Once, I saw them recycle a terrorist attack that took place months earlier in a brazen appeal to Christian sensibilities and funds.
OTHER STORIES abound.
There are millions and millions of Christians who deeply love and care about Israel and the Jewish people, and would do almost anything to support us. But they’re not naïve. Because of my relationships, some have shared with me off the record that they sometimes feel used. They’re put off by Jews approaching them like this, never looking for an embrace but always with a handout.
It’s not they don’t want to support Israel, but like anyone, they crave connection, relationship, solidarity, reciprocity and fellowship, and perhaps even more so because of how they feel about Israel and the Jewish people.
Since I speak about this often, many thank me. It doesn’t deter their love and support for Israel, they note, but some have learned to be more discerning. Some also share in confidence that the objectification of Christians as a faith-based ATM is not limited to Jewish or Israeli organizations – there is no shortage of Christians who do this too. I have witnessed it as well, but it is not my place to call out Christian people and organizations for abusing the trust of other Christians. But, obviously, I don’t support it.
This practice and attitude is bad business, and it is very much “a shanda.”
As more and more Jews become aware of the nature of support for Israel and the Jewish people by our Christian friends, I appeal to my Jewish friends and colleagues, and the broader community, to be more thoughtful. Do not look at Christians who love Israel as cash cows, or simply as another source of revenue. And certainly do not have the hubris to think that just because one is Jewish, has an Israeli passport, or represents something even possibly very noble in Israel, it is carte blanche to market yourself somewhat insincerely, and terribly without sophistication.
There are abundant ways in which Jews and Christians should and can participate in a meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship, and ways to fulfill God’s injunction to bless Israel. Participating in these is inspiring and fulfilling. I wish more Jews would get it, or even care.
Some relationships involve charitable donations, purchasing products made in Israel, and definitely prayer. Underlying it all requires meaningful, sincere, personal relationships. A friend who travels often to sell his unique software to a specific client base understands that he needs to show up to make and maintain the relationship, not just to make the sale. There’s no difference in establishing and maintaining relationships between Jews and Christians. All the more so since our relationship is biblically rooted.
I’ve been truly blessed over the last decades to develop numerous meaningful relationships, and believe that Jews need to be open to building such relationships because there is far more that unites us than divides us. But it is embarrassing that fellow Jews would seek out “relationships” and present themselves in a tasteless or callous way.
I once asked a major Christian Zionist leader how he became who he is. He related sitting at his kitchen table the day after Israel declared independence. His father told him that the Jewish people’s restoration to Israel is proof that the Bible is true. Christian support for Israel is bound in faith, and no amount of egregious embarrassments will change that.
However, people entering these relationships will be well advised to do so with taste, in a way that’s not an embarrassment, and that will enhance reciprocal, not one-sided relationships. Mistakes will be made and forgiven, but not an attitude that’s ill-advised from the outset.
Genesis 12:3 concludes with God stating that Israel is and will be a blessing to the families of the world. It’s hard to be a blessing when the root of one’s motivation is a shanda. We are charged to be a light unto the nations, an or la’Goyim, not to be a shanda fur di Goyim. ■
Jonathan Feldstein is a veteran Jewish communal and fundraising professional living in Israel, where he works closely with Christians who support Israel as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation and RunforZion.com. He writes for several major Christian websites and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.