Bishop P.A. Brooks with The Fellowship Founder and President Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. (Photo: Justin McMahan)
President Donald Trump’s recent announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and declaring that the U.S. will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem did not happen in a vacuum or come out of nowhere. It did not happen solely because of Jewish influence, either. It happened because millions of good Christians in America urged the president to do so.
But where did this groundswell of Christian support come from?
It was exactly 40 years ago when I initiated some of the earliest dialogues ever between evangelical Christians and Jews. Little did I realize then that these Christians, whom most people never even heard of, would grow in numbers and influence both in America and around the world, and would become such a crucial base of support for Israel and the Jewish people.
Five years later, in 1983, I founded the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), with the goal of building bridges of cooperation and understanding between evangelical Christians and Jews as well as broad, grassroots support for the State of Israel.
The notion of changing 2,000 years of bitter history and replacing it with a partnership marked by friendship and acts of unconditional love (without missionary activity) was regarded at the time as an unattainable pipe dream. But I went ahead nonetheless, despite the criticism, skepticism and attacks. I began bringing evangelical leaders to Israel to meet various prime ministers, starting with Menachem Begin, and to the White House to press for pro-Israel policies. Later, we launched the “Christian tourism to Israel” industry, in partnership with the National Religious Broadcasters, the umbrella organization of all those involved in evangelical Christian media. Today, more than 1 million Christians visit Israel each year.
From there we proceeded to grow broad-based political support for Israel among evangelicals, opening an office in Washington, D.C., and a Stand for Israel advocacy program that today reaches millions of people around the world every day. Finally, 20 years ago, we began raising funds from Christians, primarily through TV and direct response marketing, to help Jews immigrate to Israel from the former Soviet Union, feed and care for needy Jews in Israel and around the world, and provide security for Israel and Jewish institutions worldwide. It would take four decades of hard work as well as the financial support of just a few hundred Jews in the earlier years, and later of 1.7 million Christians, to reach the point where we are today—the largest global source of Christian support for Israel.
Over the years The Fellowship often came under attack, initially by Reform and liberal Jews and establishment Jewish groups, and later mostly by extremist haredi Jewish leaders and rabbis who even refused our overtures of help because the funds came from Christians. Some still refuse to accept our help even today.
But eventually The Fellowship was, in the words of former Sen. Joe Lieberman, “vindicated.” Today, The Fellowship helps roughly 1.4 million people each year, in Israel and around the world. Our $140 million annual budget supports the most vulnerable segments of Israeli society—the poor, the elderly, Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities, immigrants, minorities, terror victims, veterans and others. Indeed, The Fellowship is today the largest philanthropic welfare organization in Israel.
In addition, we provide $30 million a year from Christians to help the world’s most destitute Jews in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere with basic needs such as food, medicine and heating fuel. We’ve brought more than 750,000 Jews on aliyah from 28 countries where they were threatened by anti-Semitism, terror and economic despair, and helped found the U.S. aliyah organization Nefesh B’Nefesh. We provide millions of dollars in security assistance to more than 100 Jewish communities worldwide.
Over the years our Christian partners have contributed more than $1.4 billion—mostly with an average sacrificial donation of $76 per person—to help Israel and the Jewish people. These are not wealthy mega donors, but people who care wholeheartedly for Israel and relate to her and the Jewish people with unconditional love.
I am recounting this not to herald our organization’s impact, but to remind us all of how the growth of Christian support for Israel and the Jewish community during the past four decades contributed to President Trump’s historic announcement on Jerusalem.
Today, phrases like “Jews and evangelical Christians supporting Israel” barely raise an eyebrow; as if it were a given. But Christians’ faithful support for Israel was never a given. Nor is it today—especially if we measure it in terms of the dwindling level of support for Israel from the next generation of evangelicals.
We owe these Christians a debt of gratitude—of “hakarat hatov” (Hebrew for the recognition of good).
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews)
There are an estimated 100 million Pentecostal Christians in China alone, and hundreds of millions more in Latin America, the Far East and other regions. Most of them are where the evangelical community in America was 40 years ago, when I first began working with them. They have not yet been taught that it is their biblical duty to stand with Israel and to bless the Jewish people.
It is imperative that the Jewish community invests in educating them, reaching out to them, and rallying their continued support—and that of their children—in the years ahead. Much more needs to be done if we seek to rely on evangelical support in the future.
Evangelical Christians remain an essential, steadfast, strategic partner for Israel, both in the U.S. and around the world. But their continued friendship is not a given. We need to invest in their burgeoning communities and in the next generation of evangelicals to ensure that they too stand with Israel and that their support grows rather than diminishes in the years to come. Our survival, and that of the State of Israel, depend on it.
Most of all, we need to unequivocally and unabashedly say “Todah rabah” (Hebrew for “Thank you very much”) to President Trump and to our evangelical Christian friends.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
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A common but mistaken reading of the current strategic situation in the Middle East presents the region as approaching the end of a period of instability. The “return of the Arab state” is one of the more arresting refrains that this perspective has produced.
According to this view, the wars in Syria and in Iraq are drawing to a close. The defeat of the Islamic State in these countries represents the eclipse of the political ambitions of Salafi jihadi Islamism for the foreseeable future. Assad is set to restore his repressive but stable rule in Syria. In Iraq, the firm reaction by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to the Kurdish bid for independence has ended prospects of the imminent fragmentation of the country. In Lebanon, attempts by Sunni jihadis to export the Syrian war have failed, and all is quiet.
In July 2016, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (pictured in front at center)—the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church—hosts Ignatius Aphrem II (left), patriarch of Antioch and All East of the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Aram I, head of Lebanon’s Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has been arguably the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. A new report by the Christian charity group Open Doors has found that most of Israel’s neighbors, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are among the world’s most dangerous places for Christians.
Kingdom says Jerusalem agreed to pay compensation over deaths of three people, in order to end diplomatic standoff
Jordanian protesters wave national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration near the Israeli embassy in the capital Amman on July 28, 2017, calling for the shutting down the of the embassy, expelling the ambassador, and canceling the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. (AFP PHOTO / KHALIL MAZRAAWI)
Israel is paying $5 million in compensation to the families of two people shot dead by an Israeli embassy guard last year, as well as a Jordanian judge killed in a 2014 incident, diplomats in Jordan told the al-Rai newspaper Saturday.
Ultra-Orthodox women and children attend a ceremony to welcome new Torah scrolls in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, Oct. 1 2014.
Reuven K., who is about 30 years old, is an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic man who lives in Betar Illit, one of Israel’s most prominent ultra-Orthodox localities. Reuven studies in a yeshiva, a Jewish school for Talmudic learning, but works half of each day as a wholesale merchant selling religious ritual supplies. His wife, Bracha, works as a bookkeeper in a governmental institution.
Palestinian boss Mahmoud Abbas recently declared that Israel is “a colonial enterprise that has nothing to do with Jewishness.” Moses, King David and thousands of years of Jewish history would disagree. Israel and the Jews are part of the story of human civilization. Over 50% of the human race has a holy book that tells of the Jewish journey to Israel. That includes Mohammed’s own copy of the Koran.
Israel isn’t a “colonial enterprise.” Palestine is.
Anyone who wants to find out where the name Israel comes from can open the Book of Genesis 32:29. The story even appears in Islamic hadiths. But where does “Palestine” really come from?
It may not be a shooting war. For the most part. (Though don’t tell that to some Republicans at a charity game practice who were targeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter.) But it’s a war all the same.
The war is still being fought with paper and protests. But it’s based on irreconcilable differences between parts of the country. Much like the ones that brought on the war between brothers.
This is a topic that I’ve written about quite often over this past year. Rush Limbaugh saw fit to read and promote some of those pieces. And now I’ll be giving a talk on the subject at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. It’ll take place from Jan 20-22. I’m scheduled to speak on the 21st, but there are plenty of other great speakers there.
The speech was loud and clear. It wasn’t just the “may your house be demolished” curse that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired at the leader of the strongest world power. It was the utterly delusional ideology, with false claims that only make the Palestinians sink deeper into a path of delusions and collapse.
The reactions were predictable: We have to understand him. He’s under a lot of pressure. He has no political horizon. The Palestinians are desperate. He didn’t really mean it.
A document drafted by members of the global Christian community convening at the 3rd International Christian Forum held in Moscow, detailed how over the past 10 years the Middle East’s Christian population has shrunk by 80 percent and warned that unless current trends are reversed Christianity “will vanish” from its ancient homelands in a few years’ time. Around the year 2000, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas today there are only 100,000, roughly a 93 percent drop, the document notes. In Syria, the largest cities “have lost almost all of their Christian population.”
Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has delivered a speech triggered by his rage at the President of the United States Donald Trump, going so far as to hurl the most bitter curse in the Arabic language at the POTUS: “May your house be destroyed.”
This imprecation does not merely relate to someone’s present home, but to all the members of his family being thrown into the street to lead lives of destitution, humiliation, and shame. Only someone familiar with Middle Eastern culture understands the real significance of this curse.
The 1964 presidential election was the second in which I voted. Lyndon Johnson who had succeeded John Kennedy was running against Barry Goldwater. I didn’t like either candidate: Johnson’s personal characteristics were obnoxious, though he had achieved much, especially in the area of civil rights; Goldwater’s personal characterizes seemed fine, but I disapproved of his conservative political views.
I was shocked to read an article in Fact magazine, based on interviews with more than 1,000 psychiatrists, which concluded that Goldwater was mentally unstable and psychologically unfit to be president. It was Lyndon Johnson whose personal fitness to hold the highest office I questioned. Barry Goldwater seemed emotionally stable with excellent personal characteristics, but highly questionable politics. The article was utterly unpersuasive, and in the end, I reluctantly voted for Lyndon Johnson. Barry Goldwater went back to the Senate, where he served with great distinction and high personal morality. Lyndon Johnson got us deeply into an unwinnable war that hurt our nation. The more than 1,000 psychiatrists, it turned out, were dead wrong in their diagnosis and predictions.