A quintessential Jewish value

Dear coworkers,

We awoke early this morning to word that our beloved coworker Mike unexpectedly went to the Lord. Healthy, strong and in his mid-sixties, he and his wife Kati were the pillars when we opened our Jerusalem home last year:

mike and katiIt’s a shock for those of us with illusions of limitless time before we meet our master; less so for those who’ve learned from the word of God that like grass we spring up in the morning and fade by evening.

First thing in Ashdod we prayed and praised God for his love and faithfulness to Mike and Kati, and she responded to our video clip within minutes with characteristic strength:


kati text 2
Our daily reading brought us to Messiah’s end-of-days warning in Luke 21, that the day of his return will also come upon us suddenly. Side-by-side we hear his instruction to first-century Jewish believers to flee Jerusalem when they see it surrounded by armies. And we reflected on the huge historical significance of this.

Until this point the Jesus movement with its thousands of believers may well have been outstripping the Pharisaical movement in the battle for the hearts and minds of first-century Jerusalem. But when Messiah’s disciples remembered his words and fled across the Jordan to Pella, it was left to the remnants of the Pharisees to recreate Judaism after the destruction of the temple.

Why Lord? Shaul/Paul tells us it was for our sake that they fell, so that salvation could come to the Gentiles. How deeply we are in the debt of the Jewish people.

As I’ve listened to the Jewish people over the last six-and-a-half months of war, I keep realizing how much this nearly 2000-year-old division over Jesus is still the essential context to understand what is happening in Israel. Hear for example the director of a respected Israeli charity very reluctantly admitting this week that they are helping their enemies:

Israeli aid

An Israeli humanitarian aid group has helped provide thousands of tents to shelter Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are fleeing the ongoing war between Israel and the terror group Hamas.

SmartAID founding director Shachar Zahavi revealed the project to the eJewish Philanthropy website in a report Tuesday, explaining that despite the moral dilemma of helping “enemies,” he felt that, as a Jew, he needed to be a part of the humanitarian effort…

“We have been doing this quietly for months,” Zahavi said, adding that he wants critics of Israel “to know that we are an international humanitarian aid organization, and yes, we are Israeli, and yes, helping our people, and yes, we are helping our enemies.”

“That is what Jews do,” he said, noting that during the Syrian civil war, the Israel Defense Forces quietly arranged for injured civilians to be brought to Israel for treatment..

“I’m not doing this lightly, but there is also the Jewish side of us, the Holocaust side of us, the human side of us,” said Zahavi, who comes from a family that had few survivors of the Holocaust. “How are we going to live with everything that is going on in Gaza?”

“I felt we had to do something. I know there are a lot of groups and individuals around the world in the Jewish community who are against this and I totally understand.”

Come on, this has Jesus written all over it. Why so embarrassed? Because for the first time the ideological descendants of the Pharisees and Zealots are in positions of power over civil security forces in modern Israel, and to them it is truly anathema to help one’s enemies. They are convinced their enemies should be destroyed.

It’s commonly said during this war in Israel that “Jews don’t turn the other cheek.” Friends, when Jesus said this he was quoting straight from the Hebrew bible, most notably Jeremiah and Isaiah. Were they Jews?

Interestingly it is the secular and some of the haredi Jews who seem closer to the teaching of Jesus on this point than the religious Zionists. The secular IDF leadership has been fighting a losing battle to hold on to the old standards of protecting innocent civilians during battle. Now the Jewish secretary of state in the US Antony Blinken has created an uproar in Israel by deciding to place sanctions on the “Netzah Yehuda” religious Zionist unit within the IDF:

Asked at a news conference in Italy about reports that the State Department has recommended cutting off of military aid to certain Israeli units over possible human rights violations in the West Bank, Blinken did not outright confirm the reports, but promised results very soon.

blinken

“I think you’re referring to the so-called Leahy Law and our work under that,” he responds. “So this is a very important law. And it’s one that we apply across the board. And when we’re doing these investigations, these inquiries, it’s something that takes time. That has to be done very carefully, both in collecting the facts and analyzing them.

“And that’s exactly what we’ve done. And I think it’s fair to say that you’ll see results very soon. I made determinations. You can expect to see them in the days ahead,” Blinken said, without elaborating.

Netzah Yehuda was created so that ultra-Orthodox and other religious soldiers can serve without feeling they are compromising their beliefs. The soldiers do not interact with female troops to the same extent as other servicemen and are given additional time for prayer and religious study.

Members of the unit have been involved in multiple controversial and violent incidents and have also been convicted in the past of torturing and abusing Palestinian prisoners.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the US has issued three rounds of sanctions against settler individuals for violence against Palestinians. The latest round was issued on Friday and included the leader of the far-right group Lehava, Benzi Gopstein, who is a close ally of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir said Saturday that imposing “sanctions on our soldiers is a red line.”

Describing the Axios report as “extremely grave,” Ben Gvir stated that he “expects Defense Minister Yoav Gallant not to submit to American dictates” and that the members of Netzah Yehuda “must be fully supported.”

“If there is not anybody at the Defense Ministry who will back up the battalion as required, I will ask to absorb them into the Israel Police and the Ministry of National Security,” continued Ben Gvir, who added that he would be willing to integrate the battalion into the Border Police.

Over our 30 years of partnership with Israel to provide heart surgeries, I’ve seen again and again how many Jews find great delight specifically in following the instruction of Jesus to love their enemies. It is a quintessential Jewish value. And it is this value that is under attack in Israel in our days.

So what shall we do? In eight days we have an appointment to bring four-year-old Rafiq from Jenin to Israel for evaluation for surgery:

rafiq

In the current climate no other charity in Israel will help him. And we’re committed this year not to bring children until we have funding. Rafiq currently needs $5300. We’re asking our Father through his people to help Rafiq.

And one day later it is the Gazan baby Hur (now under our care in Bethlehem) who needs to come for another interventional catheterization. To our knowledge she is the only Gaza child entering Israel since the start of the war.

Hur in Bethlehem

Giving Israeli doctors this opportunity to love their enemies will also require $5300.

We know firsthand that there are hearts in Gaza open to the people of Israel and to the God of Israel. See also this week’s interview with a Gazan journalist who claims that 90 percent of the people in Gaza don’t want Hamas:

It was a mistake that Hebrew was not taught in Gaza to every single person. When Hamas rose to power and started brainwashing people about its divine mission to fight the Jews and liberate Palestine, I started wondering “Where will they lead these poor people, with their lies and their wars? I don’t want to die for their cause, let them go to die…”

So let’s create one country, and we [Palestinians] will live together with you. There is no other solution. The alternative is endless war and killings — widows and sorrow.

I ask myself: Who does the Jew pray to and who does the Muslim pray to? Both pray to God. How many Gods are there? Only one. So we pray to the same God. Muslims are the children of Ishmael, and Jews are the children of Isaac.

We wait for you Abba. And we wait for the day when the people of Jerusalem and Gaza will together sayBlessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133).