By Jonathan Feldstein
In the era of growing Christian awareness of the theological significance of and support for Israel, and thriving relationships between Jews and Christians, the view of some Jews of Christian support for Israel as a faith based ATM must be addressed, and stopped.
For most of my career I have been an active partner building bridges with Christians who love and care about Israel and the Jewish people. Many Jewish friends look at me with a raised eyebrow because of the frequency with which I, an orthodox Israeli Jew, write for Christian publications, speak in churches, and attend evangelical conferences.
It’s humbling to be in situations like these where support for Israel is not just shown in words, but in deeds. Much of this is philanthropic. Indeed Christian support for Israel reaches hundreds of millions of dollars annually and is the sum of tithing as little as $10. But overall support for Israel goes much deeper and is demonstrated in fervent prayer and many other ways. And this does not end with support for Israel as the fulfillment of God’s promise to return His people to the Land, but profuse support for the Jewish people.
Recently I was introduced by a pastor friend in front of thousands of Sunday worshipers, receiving enthusiastic applause after he said that I am one of God’s chosen people and party to God’s covenant with Abraham. I knew that it wasn’t about me personally, but what I represented to his congregation of God, Bible, and Israel loving Christians.
This year, attending two particular conferences, the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) I was in my element, with so many friends to see that there wasn’t enough time to visit everyone. As one of a handful of Israeli Jews who make time to invest in relationships that are deep and wide, Christian friends appreciate the fellowship. Jewish friends are typically interested and curious, albeit with suspicion. I explain to my Christian friends that 2000 years of baggage including discrimination, expulsion, forced conversions, and murder in the name of “the church” is a lot for Jews to ignore completely.
Because I represent one of a few traditional Jews who attend events such as these, I see many interesting, and sometimes troubling, things. This year, Christian friends highlighted something that I have witnessed personally, but that troubles them, triggering intense conversations. In all cases, however, these conversations take place in quiet, one on one, so as not to come across as anything other than loving us unconditionally.
The issue relates to fellow Jews who often come across referring to, thinking about, or interacting with Christians more as objects, often literally or figuratively using the pejorative word “goyim.” Biblically it’s a solid word; there are the Jews and the goyim, nations of the world. Christians even appreciate that. But in the context with which I have seen and heard it used, and my Christian friends have sensed, it’s not entirely positive.
The Yiddish, a shanda fur die goyim, literally means “a shame before the nations,” describing embarrassing behavior by a Jew where a non-Jew can witness it. It can be used negatively, but also positively. I am always careful that my actions as an orthodox Jew represent Jews and Judaism to non-Jews in a positive way. It’s not because I fear the non-Jew as my relatives did in Europe, worried that certain behavior seen by non-Jews would be the catalyst for further discrimination, or a pogrom, but because I want to uphold the finest of Judaism to the nations. That’s the case whether I am at a Christian conference, writing for a Christian website, or making a connection between flights in any airport.
But it is also an embarrassment when Jews show up at a Christian event and their intent for self-promotion is so transparent and not relational, that doesn’t build bridges, that is more about Jews looking at Christians who love Israel, as objects rather than partners. I have seen and felt that for some time, but it took my Christian friends raising it with me, and my being embarrassed about it, as the catalyst to address it now. There are many examples, so I’ll share just a few. The identities of those involved are being kept anonymous to protect the guilty.
I saw a colleague recently who shared with me the impending publication of a book. Because this colleague knows of my relationships among Christians who support Israel, a comment was made this will be “right up their alley.” I inquired, “Why do you think that?” I received a tepid response, and tried to explain that this may be naïve. But my colleague was convinced; “they” will buy it.
Once I witnessed an associate who sells a product made in Israel at an evangelical convention, trying to sell this product on the simple and somewhat naïve basis that he was Jewish, the product is it made in Israel, and Christians should buy it. I made a comment about needing a new marketing approach, it but I did not deter this person from continuing the same, unsuccessful, sales pitch.
Nonprofits get a twinkle in their eye thinking that because Christians love Israel, and they do something good in Israel, Christians should give money. I am asked for advice by nonprofits often, and typically I discourage colleagues from going forward. There are two main reasons. First is because it’s simplistic to think that just because someone shows up with a cause from Israel that Christians will run to it, or that they should. Also, to spend precious resources expecting a short term return without the long term investment is naïve, offensive, bad business, and a misuse of charitable funds. Yet colleagues who have no interest in heeding this still show up at Christian events and, thousands of dollars later, inevitably fall short of their expectations.
I was asked recently if I would help a consultant that helps nonprofits become more successful in their fundraising and marketing, specifically to reach out to Christian audiences. I replied that, while intrigued, easily 80 to 90% of their clients shouldn’t even try because it would be insincere and a stretch of the imagination to think that Christians would want to support these organizations. I think they liked my honesty, but they never called back.
During the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza, I visited a Christian friend in the US who was organizing a telethon for dozens of Christian TV networks to generate money, support, and prayer for Israel. As we met a call came in from an Israeli colleague, trying to make the case that Israel needed a certain device to protect its citizens from the immediate threat, and that by good coincidence, this person knew where to procure them.
The conversation was on speaker and I listened, silently, trying to think if and how to tell my friend that this “opportunity” was a fraud. It wasn’t my decision what the telethon would support. Yet, there was very little I could say that wouldn’t have caused me to call out this person as a charlatan.
Fortunately I didn’t have to. As the call went on, the sales pitch got more troublesome. When it ended, my friend turned to me and said, “There’s something very not kosher about that Jonathan, isn’t there?” I nodded. We talked about how it was our mutual suspicion that this person was pitching this “opportunity” with a piece of the action in play personally.
Other stories abound.
There are millions and millions of Christians who deeply love and care about Israel and the Jewish people and would do almost anything to support us. But they’re not naïve. Because of my relationships, off the record some have shared with me that sometimes they feel used. Sometimes they feel like a Christian ATM. They’re put off by Jewish people approaching them like this, never looking for an embrace, but always with a hand out. Happily, in most cases, this does not diminish the love they have for us. But it does make them feel used and objectified. It’s not they don’t want to support Israel, but they like any person crave connection, relationship, solidarity, reciprocity, and fellowship. Perhaps, because of how they feel about Israel and the Jewish people, even more so.
This practice and attitude is bad business, and it is very much “a shanda.”
I appeal to my Jewish friends and colleagues to be more thoughtful. Do not look at Christians who love Israel as cash cows or as another source of revenue. And certainly do not to have the hubris to think that just because one is Jewish, has an Israeli passport, or represents something even possibly very noble in Israel, that that is carte blanche to market yourself somewhat insincerely, and terribly unsophisticatedly.
There are abundant ways in which Jews and Christians should and can participate in a meaningful mutually beneficial relationships. Participating in these is inspiring and fulfilling. I wish more Jews would get it, or even care.
Some relationships involve charitable donations, purchasing products made in Israel, and definitely involve prayer. Underlying it all requires meaningful, sincere, personal relationships. A friend who travels often to sell his unique software to a specific client base understands that he needs to show up to make and maintain relationships, not just to make the sale. There’s no difference in establishing and maintaining relationships between Jews and Christians.
I’ve been truly blessed over the last decades to develop numerous such relationships, and believe that Jews need to be open to building such relationships because there’s far more that unites us than divides us. But it’s embarrassing that fellow Jews would seek out “relationships” and present themselves in a tasteless or callous way.
I once asked a major Christian Zionist leader how he became who he is. He related sitting at his kitchen table the day after Israel declared independence. His father told him that the Jewish people’s restoration to Israel is proof that the Bible is true. Christian support for Israel is bound in faith, and no amount of egregious embarrassments will change that.
However, people entering these relationships will be well advised to do so with taste, in a way that’s not an embarrassment, and that will enhance reciprocal, not one-sided relationships. Mistakes will be made and forgiven, but not an attitude that’s ill-advised from the outset. You’ll save yourself and others embarrassment, and the waste of hard earned money.
Don’t be a shanda fur die goyim but rather, an or la’goyim, a light unto the nations.
Jonathan Feldstein is a veteran Jewish communal and fund raising professional living in Israel where he works closely with Christians who support Israel. In addition to being a bridge between Jews and Christians, and several successful reciprocal relationships and campaigns among Christians, he has been responsible for numerous innovative marketing and fund raising campaigns related to Soviet Jewry, supporting American Jewish troops in Iraq, and bringing tourists to donate blood in Israel. He writes for the evangelical Charisma web site and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.