During the week covered by this review, we received 11 articles on the following subjects:
The Pope and the Vatican
Christians in Israel
The Early Church
The Pope and the Vatican
Yediot Ahronot, December 19, 2013
The pope will arrive in Israel for a two-day visit on the 25th of May. He will also visit the Palestinian Authority, where he will end his stay with a mass in Bethlehem. Pope Francis will meet with President Shimon Peres as well as with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Sources in Israel say they are disappointed with the length of the visit, as well as with the fact that the pope won’t hold a mass on Israeli soil. Representatives of the Prime Minister have also expressed their dissatisfaction that Netanyahu will have to go meet the pope at the Notre Dame Cathedral, rather than have the pope come to Netanyahu, “but it was made clear to them that this is how it happened when other popes visited.”
Christians in Israel
Maariv, December 20, 2013
Ariel Horowitz takes a close look at the churches in south Tel Aviv that are serving a variety of refugee populations in Israel. At the end of the 1990s, writes Horowitz, there were no fewer than 70 refugee churches operating in south Tel Aviv. In one building, for example, there is a church for refugees from Ghana on the first floor, a Nigerian church on the second floor, and on the third floor a Filipino church across the hall from an Ethiopian church.
Historically, Israel did not have foreign workers, but only opened its doors to this population at the beginning of the 1990s. Very soon after that, about 15,000 migrants, mostly from Africa, arrived in Israel. When their work visas expired, they became illegal immigrants, but the authorities chose to turn a blind eye. By the year 2000, there were over 240,000 foreign workers (both legal and illegal) in Israel. Many of these workers are Christian, but they found it hard to integrate into the Christian-Arab churches in Jaffa, on account of the language barrier as well as a mismatch in days of worship (the migrants have Saturdays as their day off, while the Christian-Arabs worship on Sunday). Thus it became necessary for these communities to form their own churches.
The new churches quickly found themselves acting not just as places of worship, but also as community centers. Professor Galia Zabar has been researching these churches since 1998. At first she tried to categorize them according to their theological differences, but when one of the church leaders told her that “we believe our life is our faith and our faith is our life. We do theology, and in so doing, we give people hope, purpose, life and strength,” Zabar realized that categorizing these churches is irrelevant. Instead, “I began to pay attention to what the church was offering the immigrants,” explains Zabar. “The church enabled them to live not just as workers, but as people. It provided them with a social context, and enriched their daily lives. It strengthened the women and the men. … The church was very flexible, and adapted itself to the needs of its congregants.”
A change came over the church beginning in 2005, when thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees began to cross the border from Sinai to Israel (there are probably around 50,000 such refugees in Israel today). This new group of refugees changed the community structure, as most of them were young men who were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of the older migrant churches were happy to receive these newcomers, although there were some that did not welcome them in.
Reverend David Neuhaus, who belongs to the Latin Patriarchy, oversees many of these migrant or refugee churches in south Tel Aviv. Living in Tel Aviv is not easy for these communities, says Neuhaus. One of his greatest challenges is educating the children of the refugees in their Christian heritage. Most of the refugee children who were born in Israel attend secular Israeli schools, and it is not easy to connect them to their Christian roots. “Even when they learn about Christianity in school,” says Neuhaus, “it’s usually in a negative context – pogroms and crusades.” These young people are undergoing an identity crisis. “Who are they?” asks Neuhaus. Are they Israeli, or are they something else? It is a difficult question to answer.
The churches are an important element in the shaping of these immigrant groups, since they offer not only a place for spiritual worship, but a place to come together and form a culture, an identity, and a community. “Their suffering unites them,” says Sister Monica. “They live with a mixed feeling of suffering and joy, asking: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ and also: ‘How shall we sing praise to God on foreign soil?’ Who will listen to them? Who will sing with them? Who will stand by them? Will Israeli society know how to listen to their song?”
The Jerusalem Post, December 19, 2013
In his Christmas message, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way it is “hindering development in the Middle East.” Twal said that “while the world’s attention has shifted from the situation in the Holy Land to the tragedy in Syria, it must be stated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains crucial to the region and is a major obstacle in the development of our society and stability in the Middle East.” Twal made note of the political instability in a variety of countries across the Middle East, including Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, where large numbers of Christians are being forced to flee for their lives.
David Neuhaus, who is a vicar of the Latin Patriarch, added that “the situation of African migrants and asylum-seekers in Israel, many of whom are Christian, should also not be forgotten. ‘We need to be in solidarity with those who are the most fragile.’” The church, said Neuhaus, has been very active in helping the asylum seekers and refugees, especially those in south Tel Aviv. He expressed his concern at the growing racism within Israeli society. “The hope of the church,” Neuhaus said, “is that if the Jewish people reflected on the Jewish people’s own heritage as a marginalized, fragile people there would be a more open heart to understanding the plight of these people, the terrible circumstances in which they are trying to survive, and the terrible trauma which they have passed through.”
Merkaz HaInyanim Zafon, December 9, 2013
The “Festival of Festivals” event, which takes place every year as a joint celebration of Hanukah and Christmas, might not draw Jewish crowds this year on account of the violent protests staged by the city’s Arab population last week. The event, which is organized by the Haifa municipality, is meant to bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together in a show of solidarity, but its real purpose is to “lure empty headed youth and young people who fall easily into the trap that is set for them.” The trap, says Yosi Segal, is that of assimilation. If Jews fail to turn up to the event, it will be a welcome relief to the local Jewish faction “who care about the wholeness of the nation” and who are always “warning Jews not to come to this place.”
Haaretz, December 18, 2013
Israelis don’t have to go abroad to experience Christmas, writes Rina Rosenberg. There are plenty of opportunities to delve into the Christian holiday in Israel’s mixed cities, like Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Haifa. “Even though it’s a Christian holiday,” writes Rosenberg, “Israelis are not embarrassed anymore to take part in the celebrations of the birth of Jesus.” Some two hundred thousand Israelis are expected to visit the Festival of Festivals in Haifa, and another six to seven hundred thousand will likely pass through Nazareth’s Christmas market.
Michal Ben-Atar tells Rosenberg that “Christmas is a big consumer holiday in the Western world, and Israelis are also influenced by this and want to go and see Santa Claus and real Christmas trees, as well as experience mass. It’s an event that is able to draw the Israeli tourist into the content of Christianity, not from a religious perspective, but from an anthropological one.” Having said that, Ben-Atar stresses that Israelis must realize that some of the events – like mass – are religious ceremonies and must be attended with the respect due them.
The rest of the article lists a variety of events taking place in each of the three cities.
Sof HaShavua, December 20, 2013
Meital Sharabi recommends visiting Nazareth in order to experience the Christmas festivities. Giving some historical background, Sharabi writes that “according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but his mother Mary received the announcement of his birth by the angel Gabriel in her home in Nazareth. Jesus was also raised and educated in this city, but later he escaped from it on account of the Jews’ rejection of his opinions and his messianic faith. Christian tradition says this event took place on Mount Precipice, which is adjacent to the city. … This site is especially holy to Christians, and is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Israel.”
Achbar HaIr, December 20, 2013
Dafna Ya’acovos lists the various Christmas services taking place in Jerusalem on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Her list includes services in Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as a verity of services taking place in Protestant churches, such as Christ Church in the Old City.
The Early Church
A la Gosh, November 30, 2013
Dr. Danny Sion and Eldad Kenan battle it out in a war of words concerning the claims made by Kenan that there is evidence of an Ebionite community in the Galilee at the end of the 1st century CE (see December 16, 2013, Media Review). Dr. Sion lashes out at Kenan, claiming that “Kenan creates a salad [of facts] that is hard to digest” in his attempts to prove that there was a different kind of Jewish community in the Galilee at the beginning of the Christian era. He also accuses Kenan of adopting the statements of controversial documentary film-maker Simcha Jacobovici as fact, when it is evident to most of the archeological world that this is not the case.
Kenan then responds to Dr. Sion’s response, defending Jacobovici’s findings (specifically relating to what he claims is Jesus’ tomb, found in Talpiot in Jerusalem). After taking apart Dr. Sion’s accusations one by one, Kenan invites him to an open debate regarding Jesus’ tomb, to be held in public. “Dr. Sion just has to name to place and date,” and Kenan promises to oblige with a lively and interesting discussion.
Haaretz, December 17, 2013
Haaretz reprinted an article from the International Press which reported on a growing phenomenon in the United States whereby anonymous diners are leaving extremely large tips in the name of Jesus. “May God bless you,” is often scrawled on the tip receipt. An instagram account with the name “tipsforjesus” has been set up to document all the happy waiters and waitresses who have had the good fortune to receive one of these large tips.
Maariv, December 20, 2013
In the “letters” section of the paper, Guy Maroz defends David Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, who has come under a lot of criticism for receiving donations from evangelical Christians. Writes Maroz: “Maybe all the evangelicals want to see us die or come to an end, but it doesn’t matter. What Eckstein is doing with his own two hands is one of the greatest accomplishments of this century.”
Hadashot baNegev vebaGalil, November 29, 2013
This article reported on the discovery of the oldest wine cellar in the world, which was discovered in the western Galilee (see December 3, 2013, Media Review).