Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Every year Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews raises about $100 million dollars from mostly evangelical Christians in the United States for distribution to social-welfare projects in Israel and the former Soviet Union. This is a staggering sum making the fellowship arguably the largest foundation for Jews in need in the world. One would think that we in the Jewish community would show immense gratefulness to our Christian brothers and sisters for such love. I therefore found it extraordinary, not to mention embarrassing, to hear that there is a growing campaign among elements in the Israeli Rabbinate to discredit the organization and forbid Jewish organizations from benefiting from their funds.
The worst of all character traits in the Jewish religion is to be an ingrate. Denying the goodness that others perform on your behalf leads to a closing of the human heart. Noone wants to be taken for granted. So great is the emphasis on appreciation in our religion that our greatest prophet, Moses, is commanded by G-d not to strike the Nile River and turn it into blood in the first plague against the Egyptians because that same river had saved his life when he was a baby. Later, in plague number three, G-d will again warn Moses against smiting the dust of Egypt and turning it into lice because the dust had saved his life when he had to bury the body of a murderous Egyptian taskmaster.
Imagine that. A man who speaks to G-d face to face is told he must show thanks to water and dust. But such is the extent to which Jewish values demands gratitude.
Over the past two decades evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most staunch and reliable friends. Pastors like John Hagee, my friend Pat Robertson and countless others have galvanized colossal Christian support for Israel. Even in the worst bombings of the second Intifada, when tourism to Israel fell off a cliff, Christians still came in their millions. The same is true of stalwart Christian political support for Israel. While President Obama continues to bully Israel over apartments in Israel’s undivided and eternal capital, Jerusalem, American Christians have a litmus test for their elected leaders. Don’t support Israel? You’re out.
As I write these lines former President George W. Bush is enjoying a public renaissance in America with the publication of his new book, Decision Points. The President who was the best friend Israel ever had in the White House makes clear, at the beginning of his book, how he turned his life over to Jesus to be saved, and there can be no question that there is a direct link between his deep Christian faith and his love and unyielding support for Israel against those who, like Mahmoud Ahmedenijad, seek its annihilation.
I am well aware of our immense differences with the Christian evangelical community. I would venture to say, with no intention at arrogance, that I have conducted more debates against leading Christian scholars and missionaries, like my friend Dr. Michael Brown, on the Messiahship of Jesus and the evangelical insistence that only Christians go to heaven, than any other American Rabbi over the past decade, most of which are available on YouTube. Jesus was a devout and observant Jew for every day of his life on earth. He ate kosher, honored the Sabbath, donned tefillin, insisted on the indivisible unity of G-d, and fought for the independence of the Jewish nation against brutal oppression of Rome, beliefs for which he was ultimately crucified. It would behoove our Christian brothers and sisters to conclude that they have much more to learn about the authentic historical Jesus from Jews than any misguided attempts at converting them. Indeed, not only must these attempts be emphatically resisted by the Jewish community with overwhelming scholarship, but precisely the opposite is true. Christians must learn from the Jews to reject any deification of Jesus, which he, as a Pharisee, would have seen as the ultimate sacrilege and which is the subject of my upcoming book on the Jewish Jesus. They must follow Jesus as teacher and prophet rather than divinity. Every human being is a child of G-d, and not just Jesus, as the Bible makes clear in Deuteronomy.
But whatever our theological differences with our evangelical brothers, none of this negates the unparalleled kindness and friendship they show Jews and the Jewish community. To say they do this merely to convert us, or because gathering Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse, is to perpetrate a sacrilegious act of character assassination. Christians support Israel out of deep love and brotherhood. And it’s an act of defamation that even some Christian leaders are guilty of. I was disheartened, in a recent visit to a mega-church in North Carolina, to hear a renowned Christian scholar tell me that the only reason American evangelicals send money to Israel is because they mistakenly believe that the money is being used to proselytize Jews. Bullocks. I meet these evangelicals all the time. I have travelled with great men like Glen Megill of Rock of Africa on Christian relief missions to Zimbabwe, the poorest country on earth, and have listened as they have told me that their first commandment as Christians is to love and protect the Jewish people for no other reason other than G-d commanded it.
The man more responsible than anyone else for building this bridge between Christians and Jews is Rabbi Eckstein, a man whose efforts, with Christian support, feeds thousands of hungry Jewish children and Jewish elderly every day in Israel and abroad.
Israel is a nation that dwells alone, with few friends and many prejudiced enemies. Rather than Rabbis and lay leaders attacking Christians as having nefarious motives for their charity, we should offer thanks and gratitude to hard-working Americans of faith who believe, as the Bible says, that through Israel all the earth is blessed.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach heads This World: The Values Network, which seeks to heal America through universal Jewish values. An international best-selling author of 24 books, his most recent work is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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November 8, 2010 | 11:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Home to 5000 Chabad Colleagues By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 7 November 2010 - Tonight I attended the international Chabad emissary conference – the Kinus Hashluchim HaOlami – for the first time in sixteen years. When I was the Rebbe’s emissary at Oxford University I came annually. But with my split from Chabad over my inclusion of non-Jewish students at Oxford, I stopped. A lot has changed in that time. The man responsible for my firing from Chabad was himself fired. My close friend Cory Booker, whom I made president of our organization and who became the symbol of the non-Jewish outreach that cost me my position in Lubavitch, has become an American political superstar and one of the most sough-after speakers in the American Jewish community and will be the guest of honor at next month’s Colel Chabad dinner. Most significantly, the Rebbe passed away a few months after the last conference I attended. So it was with some trepidation and more than a little lingering pain that I joined my former colleagues in Chabad’s annual celebration of its global network of Ambassadors. How did it feel? Like being reborn.
Like coming home and having a central riddle of one’s life make sense again. What motivated a modern-orthodox boy of eight to fall in love with a Hassidic Jewish group who in the 1970’s was largely dismissed as a cult? More than anything it was this: Chabad made me feel like my life mattered. In a private audience the Rebbe told me I was born for great things.
I was part of an eternal people who had vastly contributed to the dissemination of G-d’s light in an otherwise dark world. Through persecutions and holocausts, assimilation and intermarriage, materialism and ignorance, that people were now endangered. And there was a sage who lived in Brooklyn whose English was broken but whose determination was resolute. He would, before he died, breathe new life into a fading nation. He beckoned me to join him as an agent of Jewish renewal. Chabad became the passion of my life. Defying my parents’ strong objections I left home at fourteen to be part of the Rebbe’s dream of a global Jewish renaissance and never looked back. A few years later I was his official representative at an important center of higher education, surrounded by impressionable young minds who thirsted for spiritual purpose. I knew then in theory what I witnessed tonight in practice: Chabad would one day take over the Jewish world. Why? Because of the grandness of their vision and the passion with which they executed their mission. Other Jewish organizations sought to educate the people about their tradition. But Chabad sought to raise the earth’s inhabitants to a higher G-d-consciousness and to make Judaism the driving force in every decision of daily life. The passion and dedication of Chabad emissaries was infectious. They did not preach the Torah. Rather it coursed their veins, seeping out of every pore. Hassidic teachings about the approachability of G-d and the accessibility of a higher spiritual reality was grafted onto the average Chabad activists’ very DNA, becoming an inseparable part of their character and personality. Witnessing the fulfillment of that premonition tonight at the conference was an awakening. Chabad is no longer merely a Jewish movement. It is Judaism. I find it astonishing that Prime Minister Netanyahu flew in from Israel to attend the Jewish Federations Annual General Assembly but bypassed the Chabad Shluchim conference.
If an Israeli Prime Minister wants to be part of the gradual unfolding of modern Jewish history then he has to address Chabad. No other organization even comes close to its global reach and grass roots impact. And it is growing exponentially. When I last attended the Chabad Shluchim conference there were a few hundred of us from about twenty countries. We all fit into a small ballroom. A decade and a half later there are 5000 from 80 countries. No doubt, with its staggering birthrate and about half of all its members dedicating themselves to a lifelong posting, by the year 2020 Chabad will be fielding more than 15,000 emissaries in nearly all the world’s nations and will be the mainstream Jewish branch in most. In countries like France, Russia, Australia, and Britain this has largely happened. But even in countries with robust and highly developed Jewish communities like the United States and Canada the smart money will be on Chabad to emerge as leader. Of course, it is not just Chabad which has changed so dramatically over the past 16 years. I have changed as well. My love for Chabad is just as deep, but I am past my infatuation. I see flaws that need to be corrected. The leadership must strive to be more democratic. A growing nepotism must be reversed in favor of the meritocracy which was responsible for Chabad’s astonishing cultivation of entrepreneurial talent. Most of all, if it is to impact the mainstream rather than just the Jewish world Chabad must finally overcome its Jewish insularity and embrace the Rebbe’s collective vision of a global Messianic awakening. Indeed, what was most missing from the gathering tonight was the Rebbe’s tangible presence. Chabad was never about money. Indeed, for me it was a refuge from modernity’s corrosive materialism. But a global movement with an enormous budget must honor the heroic philanthropists who make their work possible. But it must be done in a manner that never compromises the Rebbe’s defining characteristic of treating paupers and billionaires as being of equal and infinite value. But whatever my reservations, the electrifying spectacle tonight more than compensates. Not long ago the Jewish people were made to believe that if they were to succeed in the modern world they would have to make accommodations with strict adherence to tradition. Scraggly beards would have to be shaved off. Large families would have to give way to two kids and a dog. Names like Elazar and Tova would have change to Leo and Tiffany. Yeshiva and smicha would have to be forfeited in favor of Wharton and a Masters. Even orthodox Jews embraced this vision, if not in the name of progress than at least in the name of survival. And yet, the movement that has superseded them all is that which continues to believe that Judaism is so potent that the world will slowly bend to accommodate it rather than the reverse.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the international best-selling author of 24 books, heads This World: The Values Network, an organization dedicated to spreading universal Jewish values to heal America. His newest book is ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.