February 16, 2017
Dear Friend of Israel
Two recent interfaith services caught my attention for what they reveal about our ability to heal in the face of hatred.
Last weekend in Israel, the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, where Christians believe Jesus performed a miracle of feeding thousands of people, hosted an interfaith celebration service. A year and a half after suffering from vandalism and an arson attack, the church had completed extensive repairs and was finally reopening.
In 2015, attackers scrawled graffiti on the church, reading “false idols will be smashed” and “pagans.” The restoration cost about $1 million. The Israeli government reportedly contributed about $400,000 toward it.
A cardinal, a sheikh, a rabbi, and Israeli leaders (including President Reuven Rivlin) attended the service. While addressing those gathered, Rivlin said, “We stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state – who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief.”
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein told the crowd at the service that following the arson attack he gathered rabbis and others in the Jewish community to express hope for friendship across faith lines. “This is the legacy we have to take away from this event,” he said. “We must be dedicated to the mission of friendship, learning, and partnership.”
The week before, similar sentiments were communicated by faith leaders at the Loop Synagogue in Chicago – just two blocks from The Fellowship’s U.S. offices. A few days prior, the synagogue’s front window was smashed and the facade of the building defaced with swastikas. At that Wednesday lunchtime service, over 1,000 people of all faiths filed into the sanctuary to collectively support the synagogue and Chicago’s Jewish community.
Pastor Chris Harris, one of several Christian leaders at the service, said, “The only way we can overcome is when we come over into each other’s community and stand with one another… Whether you’re black, white, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, no matter what they say and no matter what they do, if our love makes as much noise as their hate is making, we can drown them out.”
Acts of religiously motived hatred are deeply disheartening, whether they’re directed against a Christian church on the shores of the Sea of Galilee or a Jewish synagogue in the heart of Chicago. But I am more encouraged by the reactions to these attacks. Over the years I have seen larger and larger gatherings as well as louder and louder condemnation in response to hate.
Unity among people of faith is the only antidote to anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred. Both Jews and Christians should be on the frontlines of this movement of unity and shalom. In doing so, we illustrate the beautiful truth of Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” I feel blessed to lead an organization that exemplifies that truth every day.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President