How can a tiny nation, often hated wherever it resides, possibly survive? This has been the paramount question governing Jewish existence for two millennia. First, the Romans decimated and exiled the Jews from their land. Then Christianity claimed to have replaced the Jewish religion itself as the true Israel. How could a nation so displaced continue? Three solutions have traditionally been offered for the survival of the Jewish people:
The religious solution - Jews survive only through adherence to their tradition.
The Zionist solution - Jews can survive only with a country of their own.
The miraculous solution - Jewish survival is a mystery, a supra-rational sign of God's providence.
For the first time in history there is a fourth and highly potent medium for Jewish survival: non-Jews.
That's right, the one group traditionally identified as the single greatest threat to our continuity is becoming one of the chief guarantors thereof. Specifically, believing Christians are taking it upon themselves to ensure the survival and prosperity of the Jewish people in general, and of Israel in particular.
TO BETTER understand this development we must first take a look back at history.
For thousands of years other nations have appreciated what best-selling author Thomas Cahill has referred to as The Gifts of the Jews. The Jews have been credited for contributing to civilization its most important building-blocks, including God, the Ten Commandments, the infinite worth of the human person, morality and messianism.
But while the nations loved the ideas of the Jews, they divorced those ideas from the nation who originated them, co-opted the ideas, then claimed them as their own.
Both Christianity and Islam, even as they based their own faiths on Jewish principles, went so far as to persecute the Jews as unworthy and hypocritical bearers of the message. The Jews, in non-Jewish opinion, were not essential to the message of ethical monotheism they initiated. It could be carried on without them, perhaps even flourish better in their absence.
Some groups even went further, not only coopting Jewish ideas but claiming to have become the new, or real Israel in the Jews' place. Muslims claim to be the real seed of Abraham through Ishmael, as opposed to his lesser son, Isaac. Black Hebrews claim to be the original 10 lost tribes of Israel, and the Mormons espouse the idea that they are Israel, and Utah is the new Zion.
AND WHAT of the original Jews? Well, they gave us God. Fantastic! But, like a withered older mother who has already delivered her baby, the carrier was rendered superfluous.
In recent years Christians have been taking a new look at the Jewish people and determining that without the nation God originally chose to be the carriers of ethical monotheism the message itself is diminished. There can be no redemption that is not inspired by the inclusion of God's chosen people.
Evangelical Christians cite biblical passages such as God's promise to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless thee," and the Psalmist's beautiful plea: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you," (Psalm 122). And any functional diminishing of God's chosen people on the earth would be a functional diminishing of God's light in our world, say the evangelicals.
Thus originated a movement of non-Jews to support, and even fund Jews in need and to rally to the call of the imperiled Jewish state, surrounded as it is by a multitude of enemies that cry daily for its destruction.
How can Israel survive as a tiny democracy in a hostile sea of Arab tyranny? And with Jewish numbers declining throughout the world, how can Diaspora communities influence their respective governments to support Israel, or indeed even fund their local responsibilities when their donor base grows smaller each year?
No doubt, the fact of pitifully low Jewish numbers must finally be addressed through a vastly increased Jewish birthrate. But the new answer must be Christian love and support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
A CASE in point is the ground-breaking work of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. Thirty years ago, Rabbi Eckstein bucked the trend in Jewish organizations and started building bridges to evangelical Christians. He endured withering criticism and personal attack by those whose shortsighted vision saw in evangelical Christians enemies rather than friends.
But today the IFCJ is one of the foremost providers for Jews in need contributing close to $100 million per year to Jewish immigration, resettlement and social welfare projects in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and abroad.
The Fellowship has sponsored the rescue of Jews in Arab countries, Ethiopia, France and elsewhere, and has provided treatment and long-term medical care to Israeli terror victims. It was especially active in the recent war in Lebanon, initiating massive aid programs for the imperiled residents of northern Israel. Through the Fellowship, evangelical Christians are sponsoring food packages, home care and medical assistance, as well as heating and fuel for elderly Jews in Israel and abroad.
My own life-long work of building Jewish bridges to non-Jews, especially religious Christians, has led me to join Eckstein in furthering evangelical support for Israel, and it is time others in the community overcame their skepticism of Christian support for Israel and accepted that while the two faith communities have substantial issues on which they will always disagree, on the most important issue, the survival of God's chosen people, we are in perfect harmony.