During the week covered by this review, we received 12 articles on the following subjects:
Haaretz, December 15, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 13, 2019; Haaretz, December 16, 2019
Out of about 1,200 Palestinian Christians living in Gaza, 951 requested permits to leave Gaza for Christmas, in order to visit family and worship at the holy sites. In a marked shift from previous years, the Israeli government has only approved the permits of 100 Palestinians, aged 45 and over, to cross the Allenby Bridge into Jordan. None were permitted to visit Jerusalem or the West Bank. Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the shift in policy and are appealing for a reversal of the decision. One commentator saw the shift as evidence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s systematic attempt to keep Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank separate in order to better control each region. Another wrote that the Christian community in Gaza is small and stated that there was no reason to prevent it from leaving.
Maariv, December 15, 2019
About 165,000 Christian pilgrims are expected to visit Israel this Christmas season. The Ministry of Tourism will be providing free buses from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This article went on to list statistics related to Christian tourism. 55% of the 4.5 million tourists arriving in Israel in 2019 were Christians. Of those, 43% were Catholics, 31% Protestants, and 24% Eastern Orthodox. Of the Protestant visitors, 83% were Evangelicals (comprising 28% of all Christian tourists, and 13% of tourists in general). 15% of Protestant tourists hailed from African American churches. Of the Orthodox, 74% were Russian Orthodox, 26% were Greek Orthodox. 84% of all Christian tourists visited Jerusalem, and 65% visited Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The most visited sites by Christians were the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa, and the Mount of Olives.
Yavniton, December 13, 2019; Yedioth Ahronoth, December 18, 2019; HaMevasser, December 18, 2019; Maariv, December 19, 2019
The second article noted the sites Israelis can visit during the Christmas season, including the major cities (Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Haifa) and the main churches. The article noted that guided tours to Bethlehem are available, but visitors need special permits from the IDF.
The third article reported that the Municipality of Jerusalem had put up a sign near Jaffa Gate in the Old City wishing Christians a blessed holiday in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. However, after complaints and pressure, the sign was removed and replaced with a different sign with “Happy Hanukkah” on it. Initially, the municipality said that high winds made the sign a security risk. However, after the Hanukkah sign went up, the municipality responded that the old sign was meant for the area of New Gate.
The fourth article (from an Orthodox newspaper) reported that Yad Giora, a middle school in Herzliya, had put up stands devoted to both Christmas and Hanukkah. A number of students were “shocked”, and many parents expressed displeasure. Some parents contacted Yad L’Achim, which, in turn, sent a letter to the Ministry of Education. One student complained, saying that he didn’t understand why Christian values were promoted over Jewish values, and why the Christmas stands were made to look more attractive than the Hanukkah ones.
The fifth article examined “dmei Hanukkah” (Hanukkah money or Hanukkah gelt), the European Jewish tradition of giving children money during Hanukkah. The article noted that the practice is relatively new, dating to the 18th century, and developed in the Jewish communities of Christian countries. In contrast to Christian parents who gave their children presents, Jews gave their children small amounts of money. One theory is that it was a way of teaching children to give money to the poor during the holidays. The article noted that these days, however, it has become more common for Jewish parents, influenced by Christmas commerce and commercialism, to give presents to their children.
Yedioth Ahronoth, December 15, 2019; Israel Hayom, December 15, 2019
These two articles reported that a giant hanukkiah in the shape of a Star of David has been donated to the city of Sderot by the Dutch organization “Christians for Israel”. The hanukkiah is 12 meters high, weighs five tons, and is the largest of its kind in the Middle East.
The Jerusalem Report, December 15, 2019
This was a piece about James Hall, from Chicago, who in his younger years was involved in the mafia but then became an Israel-loving Christian. Hall had various questionable business dealings in his younger years, which made him a multimillionaire. His father had been in the mafia before him. Hall was eventually caught and offered immunity in exchange for helping the authorities capture other criminals. Instead, Hall decided to plead guilty and quit crime. He spent 3.5 years in federal prison, and took only a bible with him. In prison, he felt God was speaking to him, telling him that Jesus loved him. Hall’s life was transformed and after his release, he began attending a Baptist church and getting involved in charity projects. Hall is a strong supporter of Israel. His story can be found in the book, From Godfather to God the Father.
The Jerusalem Report, December 15, 2019
This was an interview with the executive director of the Center of Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC), David Nekrutman. The organization promotes joint Jewish-Christian bible studies, a practice that was established by Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin in 2008. As part of the program, Christians study the bible with Orthodox Jewish rabbis in order to learn more about the Jewish roots of the bible. The practice has become a source of interfaith cooperation, with, for example, priests and rabbis from Latin America coming together to study the bible in Israel. Nekrutman has expanded the practice to include also Palestinian Christians, and has started “Blessing Bethlehem”, a charity devoted to helping Christians in Bethlehem. Nekrutman said that the idea behind the charity is that “… covenant land comes with covenant responsibility. From the Jewish point of view, I am a steward for the third time in this land. I know what it means if we don’t carry out the covenant – that the land itself will throw me out… The bible commands me not only to not oppress those who are not part of my faith but commands me to love the stranger in the land.” When asked how he advises Christians and Jews to pray together, Nektruman said that he tells them to pray for peace, and to pray for all the peoples of the land, not just Jews. He said that we need to remember that 20% of those living in the country are Muslim. Nekrutman also observed that it was difficult for Americans to comprehend the fact that one can be a Christian and an Arab at the same time.