Loving Us To Death

Loving Us to Death
Shevat 9, 5767, 28 January 07 04:58
by Ellen W. Horowitz

(IsraelNN.com) When it comes to Israel's flourishing relationship with Christian Zionist and Evangelical groups, many of us across the Jewish religious spectrum - in both Israel and the Diaspora - continue to grapple with feelings of uncertainty and suspicion. It's an alliance which offers promise and, at the same time, arouses complex and ambiguous feelings.

Indeed, it would seem that the Talmud sanctions such hesitation by suggesting that the proper approach to a relationship where the motives remain unclear would be to employ the formula of "respect them and suspect them."

I believe the reservations we Jews have vis a vis Christian charitable intentions and expressions of support transcend theological differences, historical angst, an aversion to End-of-Days fervor, or fears of missionary activity and hidden agendas. In fact, I am quite certain that all of the aforementioned very real concerns pale in comparison to what's truly haunting us - and it has little to do with the foundations of Christianity. This is an exclusively - and deeply rooted - Jewish problem.

Could it be that our reliance on Christian support, and the relatively easy money we receive from a variety of non-Jewish groups for our charitable institutions, has caused our thinkers, activists and fundraisers to become lazy and subsequently alienate and abandon what was, for many years, a fervent and devoted Jewish Zionist sector? Based on a piece he penned last month, Michael Freund appears to encourage this unsettling development: "Like it or not, the future of the relationship between Israel and the US might very well hinge far less on America's Jews than on its Christians." ("In Praise of Christian Zionists", December 21, 2006, Jerusalem Post)

Jews in the Diaspora may be a harder sell, as more time and effort may need to be exerted before they come forth with the funds, but this is hardly due to a lack of generous spirit on the part of the Jewish people.

Our unconditional acceptance of the outpouring of "unconditional" love and devotion showered upon us by the Christian Zionist community has quelled the innate Jewish desire to connect to, inspire and support Am Yisrael. It has stifled our ability to effectively plead for and pray for our people within our own camp. This lack, and rejection, of challenge has dulled all of us.

Tugging at heartstrings in order to loosen purse strings is part and parcel of a process that is almost obligatory for Jews, and it used to be second nature (that is, until we opted out of the struggle and embraced an easier path). This push-pull process has little to do with being miserly. Pulling the teeth of our brethren in order to secure a donation or gift serves a profound purpose and is, in fact, a form of prayer.

This approach to Jewish philanthropy may appear at odds with the unconditional, no-questions-asked Christian take on charity. But I suggest that the Jewish methodology is downright Biblical in a very big way.

Our sages tell us that the reason the Biblical matriarchs were barren or conceived with great difficulty was because G-d loved and treasured their tears, prayers and pleas for children. They needed to cry, and He needed to hear it, before He delivered the goods.

This formula works on a microcosmic level, too, and it's how we emulate a Divine process.

My mother, a Reform Jew and staunch Zionist - with an operatic voice - would pick up the phone come United Jewish Appeal campaign season, and she would have to croon an obligatory and heartrending tune before the party on the other end would up their pledge and deliver. I can still recall how she'd be sitting on a bed strewn with UJA pledge cards when I left for school in the morning. I'd return home to find her still in her pajamas, on the phone, and pleading for her people and the land of Israel. She always got her man and she knew she wouldn't fail, but she nevertheless agonized over each call.

The ability to articulate, hear, and respond to a song, which will penetrate hearts, doesn't come easily, but it's something we Jews have always strived for - until we lost our voice and ability to communicate with our own people. This was the common denominator or unifying link that, in a crisis, bridged the gap between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews, across the political spectrum, in both Israel and the Diaspora. And this is possibly the highest, simplest, and most powerful and direct form of prayer. It's the "Oh G-d, please heal her!" that Moses uttered on behalf of Miriam.

Continuing to develop and nurture Israel's relationship with those Christian groups that take a moral and Biblical stand on behalf of the Jewish state may be a worthwhile endeavor. But one shouldn't forget that, more often than not, "Yaakov remains alone." And our commentators suggest that, prior to engaging in a momentous struggle and crossing over into Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov returned to his camp to see if he had forgotten anything of value. Perhaps, we Jews need to take a hint from our patriarch and return to ourselves, to the Jewish Zionist camp, to see if we've left anything or anyone behind.

I imagine the debate will continue over the merits and complications of soliciting Christian support. Until the verdict's in, I'll continue to exert my energies in a more difficult, but perhaps more rewarding direction: pleading for my people, through my people.

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