by: Rebecca Brimmer, President and CEO, and Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
After 26 years of living in Israel and building Jewish-Christian relations I am convinced that we must become involved in faithful action.
Unfortunately much of the action the Jewish world has experienced from the Christian world is not positive. Our friend Moshe Kempinski often tells our groups “your Bible says you are supposed to be making us jealous—it’s not working. We don’t see anything to be jealous of.” Ouch!
Being a friend means caring about the things that concern your friend—and a really good friend doesn’t have to be asked to help. He sees what is needed and offers his help. As soon as he hears his friend is in the hospital, he visits.
However, in our tentative steps toward one another in Jewish-Christian relations we need to re-educate ourselves to learn how our friend thinks, what his fears are; what his hopes are. Only then can we be the kind of friend that is needed (and desired). Following are a few practical steps to help you build sincere relationships with people in your local Jewish community.
First and foremost, make sure that you read and study the Scriptures, so that you are firmly rooted in a biblical understanding of the Jewish people, their ancient history, and the covenant relationship they share with God. Then, read widely to understand a variety of modern Jewish viewpoints. Understand that you may have to expose yourself to ideas with which you disagree. This will be a good exercise in interfaith communication. Listening to opposing views without feeling compelled to argue with them is a skill you will need.
There are a number of resources regarding interfaith relationship-building that will help you understand some of the pitfalls. Often matters as simple as terminology can cause confusion or misunderstanding in a budding Jewish-Christian friendship.
For instance, as Christians, we believe we have a “relationship” with the Lord and would love to discuss that concept with a Jewish friend. However, “relationship” is not a word a religious Jewish person typically uses to describe his connection to God, regardless of how vital and alive that interaction might be. In Judaism, the word “relationship” has connotations of equality, and no Jewish person would ever claim equality with God. Neither, as Christians, would we purport to be God’s “equals,” but that is what the Jewish ear hears when we use such terminology. Such a conversation could leave a Christian thinking that his new Jewish friend has no interest in or interaction with the Lord, while the Jewish person might walk away wondering if he actually wanted to build a friendship with such an arrogant individual.
Understand that a word can have a very different meaning to the hearer than is intended by the speaker and don’t expect your new Jewish friends to comprehend or appreciate our Christian vocabulary.
History has taught the Jewish people that Christians are not to be trusted and a demand for conversion lurks somewhere behind every hand outstretched in “friendship.” Many of the things that we hold very dear as Christians have actually been symbols of pain and anguish for them.
The cross, for instance, which to us is the ultimate symbol of sacrificial love, represents the horror of Nazi concentration camp guards wearing iron crosses on their uniforms or so-called Christian neighbors brandishing crosses as weapons and demanding, “Convert or die.”
To us, a crusade is a series of meetings in which the message of salvation is preached and many come to faith in Jesus. To them, a crusade was an historical event that meant death to thousands.
Sensitivity, therefore, is of the utmost importance in building a real relationship. Focus your conversations on those things that our two communities hold in common rather than those that separate us.
Don’t try to be Jewish. Unfortunately, our biblically motivated love for Israel and our desire to connect to our Hebraic roots sometimes produce confusing behavior. Many Christians begin to adopt Jewish customs such as wearing kippot or tzitzit, co-opting other Jewish ritual objects, using Hebrew terms, and even adopting Hebrew names. It is often a surprise to them that this behavior can be offensive to their Jewish neighbors rather than creating a bridge of friendship.
In Israel we show our friendship in practical ways—feeding the needy (many of them new immigrants.) We provide food for 26,000 people in 52 communities every month. We work through social workers, Jewish NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and municipalities. We don’t push our beliefs on anyone but we do make sure they know that the assistance is coming from their Christian friends around the world. We repair homes for the needy. We sponsor needy children in school by providing books, backpacks, participation in school outings and hot meals. We welcome new immigrants with gifts for their kitchen, blankets and more.
In other countries, where the Jewish communities don’t have these kinds of needs, we assist in other ways. For instance, Cardiff, Wales: when a Jewish cemetery was vandalized, our team in Wales immediately showed up and began helping with the cleanup.
The list of needs is long—we just need to figure out where we can assist. Not everyone can do everything but if we all do what we are able to—we can make a huge difference.
This is, of course, the most important point of all. Pray for wisdom and guidance, for supernatural sensitivity and understanding, for divine appointments and solid connections in both communities. Ask the Lord to truly reveal to you His heart toward the Jewish people and allow you to fully comprehend His vision for the relationships you will build.
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