by: Ilse Posselt
Friday, 05 May 2017 | Some 2,500 years ago, God pledged through the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8).
On 14 May 1948, more than two millennia later, the promise was fulfilled: the State of Israel was reborn—in one day, as per God’s promise.
The restoration of the Jewish people to their God-given homeland has long since been regarded as nothing short of miraculous. Every Independence Day, Israel marks the occasion with thanksgiving and praises to God. This year, as part of the Day to Praise initiative, groups of Christians from around the world once again joined their voices with the Jewish people to praise God together for the creation of the modern State of Israel.
The Day to Praise initiative is the brainchild of Dr. Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of the Israeli town, Efrat, and Founder of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC). The aim of Day to Praise is to unite Jews and Christians—particularly on such a miraculous occasion as Israel’s Independence Day—to have praises to God resounding across the world for the tremendous miracle He has done in our lifetime.
This year, Day to Praise took place in Jerusalem on Tuesday, 02 May. As per tradition, the Jewish and Christian attendees celebrated by reciting the Psalms 113–118. Hundreds more from around the world also participated via live streaming.
“Psalms 113–118 has a rich history in Jewish liturgy,” explains David Nekrutman, Executive Director of the CJCUC. “It is recited during the morning prayers on biblical feasts such as Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). This series of psalms is entitled Hallel, which means praise.”
A year after Israel’s rebirth, the Chief Rabbinate instituted Independence Day as a minor holiday within the sacred calendar of the Jewish people. That is why reciting the Hallel on this day is regarded as an integral part of the celebrations.
The purpose of Hallel, says Nekrutman, is to thank God for His extraordinary redemptive acts towards His people. The rebirth of the State of Israel according to God’s promise is not only a Jewish miracle, but something that Christians can also rejoice in.
According to Nekrutman, the inspiration for the initiative is found in the Hallel itself. Psalm 117 issues a clear invitation to the nations to praise God for His covenantal love and faithfulness towards Israel. At first glance, Nekrutman argues, this mandate may appear strange. “It makes sense that the recipient of God’s loving-kindness should be the one to thank God. However, why does the psalmist require the nations to praise God for what He has done for Jewry?”
The answer, explains Nekrutman, lays in the two reactions of thanksgiving and praise in response to a miracle. Thanksgiving, he holds, comes from “the beneficiary of the miracle itself.” Praise, on the other hand, is the reaction of one who sees something awe-inspiring or miraculous.
The return of the nation of Israel to its homeland after some 2,000 years in exile arguably qualifies as awe-inspiring and miraculous. “No other rational explanation in the world can explain the phenomenon of Israel’s existence today except that God continues to be faithful to His covenantal promise made thousands of years ago to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” says Nekrutman. “The miracle of Israel today should serve as an inspiration to other nations to bless the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is our hope that one day the fullness of Psalm 117 will be witnessed in our lifetime.”
“One of the key focus points during this year’s Day to Praise program was on how do we as Jews and Christians walk out holiness and sanctification together,” Nekrutman explains. “We see that within the Psalms itself the importance of looking at one another and walking together. This was one of the main themes we explored in this year’s Day to Praise—the significance of walking together, of walking as one. The miracle of the State of Israel presents us as Jews and Christians with the opportunity to step into this moment, to read the Psalms together and to embark on this walk as one.”
“Another part of the program was focusing on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem,” he continues. The significance of the City of Gold once again standing as the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people is tremendous. Jerusalem, Nekrutman argues, is after all believed to be the epicenter of the world.
This year also featured a new translation of the Hallel Psalms from Hebrew to English. Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, Associate Director of the CJCUC was responsible for the translation.
The CJCUC opened its doors in 2008. The idea for an initiative that would see Jews and Christians praising God together first became a reality on Sukkot 2014. “For the first time we invited Jews and Christians to read through the Hallel Psalms together. Something wonderful happened in the room that day—it was like all the walls between the Jews and Christians who were there were coming down. It therefore became our vision to host an official Day to Praise on Israel’s Independence Day.”
The vision was realized the next year. On Independence Day 2015, the CJCUC hosted its first annual Day to Praise. This year’s celebration marked the third such initiative.
Over the past three years the initiative has grown and expanded as more Jews and Christians from around the world have gotten involved. The last year has proven particularly eventful, says Nekrutman. “One week before Independence Day I attended the first Day to Praise initiative taking place outside Israel. It was hosted by Christians in East Germany and they invited the center’s staff to attend. Together with a group of 125 German Christians, we praised God for the miracle of the State of Israel.” What made the experience particularly poignant, he shares, was that these Christians were unable to visit Israel between 1948 and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Then, a few days after Independence Day, the first synagogue outside Israel hosted a Day to Praise initiative. “The synagogue in Youngstown, Ohio invited Christians to join them for a Hallel service,” Nekrutman holds.
While this year’s praises continue to echo in the memory of those who attended, the countdown to next year’s initiative has already begun. The Day to Praise 2018 will take place on Thursday, 19 April.
Posted on May 5, 2017
Source: (Bridges for Peace, 05 May 2017)
Photo Credit: Julie Palmer/CFI Jerusalem
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