ICEJ Israel Answers - Pivotal Moments in Jewish Christian Relations

Pivotal Moments in Jewish-Christian Relations

By Dr. Susan Michael, ICEJ USA Director

Even a casual observer of history cannot help but notice the astounding relationship that has developed between Jews and Christians over the last 80 years. None of this would have happened without the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948. Since then, however, other pivotal moments have greatly affected and encouraged Jewish-Christian relations—and growth.

1980 – Birth of a Movement

The first was the birth of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) in 1980. Christian leaders from several different countries founded this organization to represent the love and support of millions of Bible-based Christians around the world who wanted to bless and assist Israel. The ICEJ’s mission was to demonstrate that support to the people of Israel through practical assistance and partnership.

This was ground-breaking because for most of the 2,000-year history of Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations had been horrible. The New Testament records incidents of Jewish persecution of early Christians, and as the Christian faith grew and became more established, it retaliated and turned against its Jewish roots. Centuries of Christian antisemitism followed, paving the way for the Holocaust.

The ICEJ soon developed a presence in many countries, but the local Jewish communities were not so quick to engage with the Christian Zionist world. They were afraid, and most of the Jewish press reinforced that fear with accusations of hidden motives and agendas. Israeli diplomats tried but often failed to convince Jewish community leaders otherwise.

The Second Intifada

This changed almost overnight during the Second Intifada of 2000. A wave of suicide bus bombings traumatized the people of Israel and halted tourism to the Holy Land as both Jewish and Christian tours were canceled. But then it came time for the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration, and thousands of Christians showed up. Some pilgrims went downtown in Jerusalem to ride city buses in solidarity with the beleaguered Israeli people.

When news of this made its way back to the United States, I was invited to speak with leaders and boards of Jewish organizations to explain who evangelical Christians are, what we believe, how many support Israel, and whether the Jewish community should work with us. Several of these organizations made official decisions to launch a Christian outreach to expand their work. Others decided not to do so on a national level but to encourage a relationship at the local level.

By that point, a growing number of Christian organizations were focused on supporting Israel, further improving Jewish-Christian relations. One such organization was Christians United for Israel (CUFI), started by Dr. John Hagee in 2006. Many American Jews were exposed to Christian Zionists for the first time through CUFI events, and the impact was life-changing for them. Since then, a plethora of Christian ministries have formed at the local and national level with the mandate to support Israel, and they are being met by a growing number of Jewish pioneers seeking to work together with them.

October 7, 2023: A Pivotal Moment in Jewish-Christian Relations

This brings us to yet another and more recent pivotal moment in the relationship. After the horrific terrorist attack on October 7, 2023, that killed 1,200 Israelis and took another 250 people captive, a wave of support for Israel resounded around the world. Unfortunately, it was quickly followed by angry protests and antisemitic slogans on campuses and in the streets of capital cities on five continents. The American Jewish community was not just scared but shocked to find many of the more liberal movements they had supported now turned against them.

When Christians showed up to stand in solidarity with them at rallies around the world—particularly the one attended by 300,000 people in Washington, DC—there was a collective sigh of relief that Christians really were their friends and were publicly standing with them. In response, leading rabbis representing vast rabbinical networks reached out to link arms with Christian clergy and organizational leaders. Tens of thousands of churches committed to pray in solidarity with synagogues the weekend of November 17–19. Prayers were lifted for Israel and the release of the hostages. Within days some 110 of the captives had returned home.

In January 2024, 70 rabbis, pastors, and Christian and Jewish leaders joined arms for the first time ever to ascend Capitol Hill to meet with Democratic and Republican lawmakers. This historic partnership affirmed to our nation’s political leaders the breadth and depth of American support for Israel, but it also demonstrated something new: a blossoming relationship between Jewish and Christian clergy and a game-changing moment in the history of Jewish-Christian relations. It had moved beyond organizational missions, fundraising, or projects and was now about the relationship between the clergy of the two faith communities.

In 1943, amid World War II, 400 Orthodox rabbis traveled to Washington, DC, on behalf of European Jewry. They were alone in their mission to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who refused to see them. Eighty years later, during Israel’s war with Hamas and a growing tide of antisemitism, Jewish leaders did not go to Washington alone. It is a new day in Jewish-Christian relations.

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