Caspari Center Media Review………………September, 2002 #1
In the period of time covered by this review, we received 94 articles on the subjects of Messianic Jews, Christianity and the Mission. Of these:
- 29 articles dealt with Church related issues.
- 13 dealt with Christian support of Israel.
- 24 dealt with Missionary activity.
- 3 dealt with messianic related issues.
- 9 dealt with non-Jewish immigration to Israel.
- 3 dealt with issues in Israeli society and current events
The remaining 13 articles dealt with different matters of Jewish or Christian interest.
Rabbi Yechiel Ekstien and Evangelical Christians (The Jerusalem Post, 16.08.02, 30.08.02) (Ma’ariv, 30.08.02)(Yediot Acharonot, 05.09.02)
Among the many articles that continue to follow Christian support of Israel several provided an in-depth profile of a man who has been a key player in building Jewish Christian relations and raising financial support for Israel and immigration.
Rabbi Y. Ekstien, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has been instrumental in raising funds- most of which come from the evangelical Christian community in the U.S. This support has provided money for immigrants, terror victims, needy communities, bulletproof buses and more. These articles describe the Jewish-Evangelical connection as the “life work” of one man. Over 30 years ago, Ekstein realized the potential within a community of over 80 million, which is very supportive of Israel and has the power to affect policy from small town mayors, to the White House.
While praising Ekstien and his vast works for charity, the article also reminds its readers of the problematic source of this support. Until recently, this joint Evangelical cooperation was un-acceptable to most of the Jewish community both in the U.S. and in Israel. Jewish organizations found many reasons not to accept Christian donations, mostly on the basis of the underlying suspicion that this Christian empathy was temporary, and that these works of goodwill had a missionary ulterior motive. It must be said that the articles mention a foundation belonging to Yaffa Deri (wife of former “Shas” chairman Arie Deri) among those who have received funding from the fellowship over the years.
Ekstien answers that it is unethical not to expect support at a time when Israel stands alone in the world. “George Bush is an evangelical. So Sharon won’t talk to Bush because his vision is different? We won’t work with them because Jesus is supposed to return? The vision doesn’t disturb me. I don’t cooperate with those who immediately want Jews to convert, that is my principal.” On the basis of this principal, he has raised over $60 million. Ekstien has worked with outstanding figures such as Billy Graham and Pat Robertson, who have raised support for Israel through their television, radio and Internet ministries.
As mentioned before, all of this has been unacceptable to different Jewish organizations. This changed with the start of the ‘Aksa’ intifada 2 years ago, and the terror attack on September 11th 2001. These events shook the traditional political affiliations, and many became supportive of the Bush administration, while a common fight against Islamic extremists united formerly opposed factions of “democratic” Jews and the Republican Christian right. “Ekstien found himself at a junction of support for the president, of evangelicals and Christians likewise.” On the other hand, Israel, who found herself isolated as a result of the intifada, searched for “friends” anywhere, “and along came Ekstien with the evangelicals willing to support Israel under any conditions”. Suddenly the response changed. Jewish senators like Joe Liberman began to praise his efforts. For Ekstien this was the breakthrough he had been waiting for.
In Israel many questions remained unanswered. Not all appreciate this Christian fervor, and many wonder how to deal with the obvious religious tensions. The department of state has held strategic discussions on the subject, and numerous papers on government policy remain half written.
As for Ekstien himself, he remains “a dear sympathetic man who is an enigma to many”(Maariv). He was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Canada. He studied at Yeshiva University in New York, and received his PhD at Columbus where he studied different religions, and taught Jewish studies. He sings and plays Chasidic music, and anyone waiting on the telephone line of his newly opened Jerusalem office, can hear him singing.
Well understood (and appreciated) or not, Rabbi Yechiel Ekstien has been a catalyst in a changing the tide in Jewish Christian relations.
Yad L’Achim Shuts Down Conference (HaModia, 23/08/02) (Hadashot Hamishpacha, 22/08/02) (Yom HaShishi, 30/08/02)
These three religious papers reported on Yad L’Achim’s success in shutting down a conference that was to be held at the Park Hotel in Netanya on August 16. This conference was to be a training seminar for participants who were to learn how to give emotional support to victims of terror and their families. Yad L’Achim discovered that the conference organizers were in reality a missionary organization officially registered in Israel under the name ‘Hands of Mercy.’
What particularly enraged Yad L’Achim is that the organizers appear to be completely orthodox Jews but in reality are Messianic Jews and hide a missionary agenda. Among the names mentioned are Jay Rawlings who is called a ‘well known missionary’ and Yoel Ben David who is labeled “the most dangerous person without a doubt…” Ben David was so orthodox in his appearance that a Yad L’Achim spokesperson said he would not have been uncovered if his mother had not gone to Yad L’Achim for help in rescuing her son from the mission. One of the articles (Yom HaShishi, 30/08/02) carried a large photograph of Yoel whose appearance is orthodox Jewish.
Yad L’Achim successfully pressured the management of the Park Hotel in Netanya to cancel the seminar and they worked through the chief rabbi of Netanya who said that a hotel that would endanger Jewish souls could not be trusted to keep the kashrut laws.
Shas Cancels Huge Gathering (HaModia, 28/08/02) (Hadashot Mishpacha, (29/08/02)
These two religious papers report on Shas International’s decision to cancel a large gathering of their followers and prominent rabbis that was to be held during the Feast of Tabernacles at the National Convention Center in Jerusalem. The decision was made after the management of the National Convention Center refused to cancel and bar all ‘missionary conferences.’
Non- Jewish Immigrants and Russian Autonomy (Jerusalem Report, 26.08.02) (HaTsofe, 21.08.02) (Yediot Acharonot, 27.08.02) (Ha’aretz, 21.08.02)
As last month, many papers carried articles that dealt with the controversial issue of non-Jewish immigration. Many also addressed the group of Russian immigrants who demand cultural and legal autonomy for non-Jewish Russian Israelis.
A 1970 amendment to the law of return allows automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews, their children, and grandchildren, regardless of faith. The law, which originally was meant to be Israel’s answer to the Nazi Nuremberg laws, has in reality allowed for the immigration of many who feel no connection to Judaism or Israel. “We came here to better our lives, that’s it” said one family voicing the sentiments of many who fled the former USSR having no other option than Israel. Many spoke of the difficulties of isolation in a society they could not identify with, while their children have in fact become Israeli. This in itself has produced a new set of problems creating a whole generation of Israelis who think they are Jewish but are not considered so. Children whose mother is not Jewish are not halachakly Jewish, and although they are Israeli citizens who serve in the army, they encounter frustrating bureaucracy which reminds them that they are not Jewish.
Timor Klemberg, a discharged combat soldier, voiced the frustrations of many when he spoke of a somewhat schizophrenic existence. Ukrainian born, Klemberg came to Israel with his Jewish father and Ukrainian mother. “Over there I was a Jew, and here I am a Goy…I served in Hebron, Gaza and other places. I feel very Israeli… but when a Russian soldier is buried in a corner somewhere, it hurts…it is not right. I accept the fact that this country was in essence founded on a religious principle, a religious story. But a modern state cannot be ruled by religion.”
While sentiments differ between those who feel Jewish but are not, and those who have no connection whatsoever to an Israeli or Jewish identity, frustration is the common denominator. Frustrations such as these led to the founding of the Slavic union, Israel’s first Russian nationalist organization. The group demands autonomy, civil marriage, Russian language and history in schools, and “our right to be proud Russians and not apologetic Jews…we don’t want to convert or be part of the Jewish ethos. We want our own cultural symbols and icons recognized,” said founder A. Korobov.
While immigrants must deal with this identity crisis, Israeli society is also at a turning point. Newspapers warn of a vanishing Jewish majority and many demand changes in the law of return. With the call for a Russian autonomy, many Israelis are wondering what this faction is doing here, and why they were encouraged to make aliya. “Maintaining a Jewish majority is at the crux of the Zionistic ethos… the main demographic threat comes not from insiders but from outsiders, namely Israeli Arabs and Palestinian population growth. That is changing. For the first 40 years of Israeli existence, most Israelis were halachikly Jewish, which allowed a common national, religious and cultural identity. But since the 90’s when the waves of Russian immigration began, that balance was disturbed. Statistics show that the percentage of non-Jews reached 70% of all immigration in 2002. These issues are highlighted because of the essence of the state of Israel, a country where even secular identity is defined by religion.
Conflict in the Greek Orthodox Church (Jerusalem Post, 23.08.02, 31.08.02, 01.09.02)
(Kol HaZman, 30.08.02) (Ha’Aretz, 23.08.02) (Yediot Acharonot, 23.08.02)
Since last year, the new patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church has been struggling for recognition by the Israeli government. While Metropolitan Ireneos was the leading candidate for the position, he was also considered the Palestinian nominee approved by Arafat – and so the government refused to approve his election. The elected Ireneos held his coronation without the formal government approval in a ceremony that included hundreds of representatives and diplomats from different countries including Greece, Russia, and Turkey. A senior Israeli official was quoted saying that “without approval of the government, Ireneos is not the patriarch.” This in fact, is true. As the most powerful Christian clergyman in the country, who is solely responsible for the vast assets of the church, which include real estate, educational institutions, and businesses throughout the country, the government that is sovereign over the patriarch’s jurisdiction must approve the elected patriarch. Without recognition, Ireneos was powerless, and couldn’t deal in church finances or business – as his signature was not official. In April, it seemed that the controversy would be solved. After much negotiation, he was invited to several official Israeli events, but as in most political instances, events took an additional turn. According to church sources, an Israeli official appeared at the patriarch’s offices with a letter for the patriarch to sign. This letter would have transferred certain church property to the use of the Israeli government to Israel; lands that the Arabs accuse are intended for settlers. Ireneos didn’t sign the letter, and the government didn’t approve his appointment. In spite of this, rumors quickly spread through the church about a land deal, and copies of a signed letter reached even the Greek foreign minister. Ireneos filed a complaint that his signature was forged, but it was to late. In addition to not being recognized by the Israeli government, many of his Arab supporters left him on account of the alleged land deal.
Against this background, the Church has found itself in the midst of yet another controversy. The Greek Orthodox Church has always been considered pro-Palestinian, but lately this support has become highly controversial.15 different articles covered the story of archimandrite Attalla Hanna, who not only voiced his support of Palestinian suicide bombers, but also apparently had met with Hizbulla leader Hasan Nassralla in Syria and Lebanon. Attalla Hanna has been quoted in different interviews to Arab papers praising bombings. “Some freedom fighters adopt martyrdom or suicide while others adopt other measures, but all these struggles serve the current intifada for freedom. Therefore we support all these causes”. At one point Hanna was questioned by police over his support for terror, and his illegal trips to Syria and Lebanon to meet with Nassralla. These activities have turned Hanna from a low ranked clergyman into a Palestinian hero, not only
outside the church but also within. While Attalla has been quoted accusing patriarch Ireneos of “undermining the status of the Arab flock” and secret land deals with the Israeli government, the patriarch rebuked Hanna for using the title of spokesman while unauthorized, and also insists that the church will not be tainted by politics. There are many Palestinian and Arab members of the church who are pushing to install an Arab patriarch to replace the Greek hierarchy.
Ignatius of Loyola, Sufferer of the Jerusalem Syndrome? (Erez, August/September)
In a lengthy nine-page article, this popular Israeli journal carries an article that presents the case of Ignatius of Loyola by two Israeli psychiatrists who are working with sufferers of the Jerusalem syndrome. The feature article gives a complete background of Ignatius, who founded the Society of Jesus, known popularly as the Jesuits, and chronicles his conversion to Christianity and subsequent pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The article concludes that Ignatius’ mystical experiences in connection with his pilgrimage to Jerusalem were not the product of a psychological disturbance but that they were “an important component in the crystallization of his identity, and a strengthening of his coping mechanisms…”
The tone of the article is objective and it contrasts the symptoms of the Jerusalem syndrome with classical mystical experience.
Book Reviews: (Jerusalem Post, 30.08.02) (Ha’Aretz, 16.08.02) (Kiriat Sefer)
- “An English Jew – Life and writings of Claude Montifiore” by Edward Kessler. In an article titled “An English Jew not against Jesus” Haim Chertok reviews a biographical book on Claude Montifiore, the great-nephew of sir Moses Montifiore. In contrast to his uncle, Claude Montifiore was not a Zionist and was somewhat his “ideological opposite”. At the center of Montifiore’s work as an author stand four inter-textual subjects: the Bible, Rabbinic Judaism, Liberal Judaism and Christianity. At times his views on these subjects caused controversy within the community “Jesus seems in many respects to take up the role and continue the teachings of prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. By his time religion was individualized, the process which had begun with Ezekiel was finished by him.” To quote Chertok “we are in Kessler’s debt for reintroducing us to the temperate play of this finely tuned mind, and for reminding us for the role it played in our recent past.”
- “Popes and Politics: Reform, Resentment and the Holocaust” A “profound and original meditation on the interplay of theological conviction and political reality.” This book is the work of Justus George Lawler, a scholar of Catholic theology and philosophy of religion. The book does not, as the title would suggest, deal with the subject of Pius XII and actions of the Roman Catholic Church in World War II so much as it places this debate and other contemporary issues in their “historical and cultural context.”
- “Jerusalem Light” Ha’aretz newspaper reported on the publication of a new periodical by the Greek Orthodox Church. “Jerusalem Light” contains texts and photographs that reveal much about the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. It is the first periodical to print informative literary and cultural texts in four different languages: English, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic. “Although it is obvious that “Jerusalem Light” targets primarily orthodox pilgrims… the periodical offers considerable scope for cultural literature”
- The quarterly “Kiriat Sefer” published a list of titles of “Post Biblical literature and early Christianity” which included title, author and publishing house along with a brief summary of the subject matter of each book.