Will you give your life for them?

Dear coworkers,

It’s been a week full of beautiful encounters since I last wrote you from Kurdistan, northern Iraq.

Joyful feasting with families whose children returned from Israel with healed hearts, like Ali and Shalaw:

feasting with Ali family

feasting with Shalaw familyGratefully watching God pour out his love on the families of Mohammed and Hazhin, who both died in the hospital in Israel:

Mohammed family

Hazhin familyWatching how the children our coworker Jakob served over a year ago still love and respond to him, like Nozhdar:

Jakob and NozhdarSeeing a Jewish believer fulfilling her longtime call to share Messiah’s goodness with Muslims, in this case Syrian Kurdish army officers:

Syrian officersSeeing the hope in the faces of young Muslim parents when they hear their first child can come to Israel for heart surgery:

New family to IsraelAnd for me the most meaningful encounter took place in the middle of one night in a rural area. I had a bad headache and was hiding from mosquitos under a stifling blanket on a mat on a concrete floor. Somehow God’s spirit turned my sweating and agony into intercession: Lord don’t leave your people like this. Save them.

In response came a question: Will you give your life for them?

I knew right away what this meant. Was I willing to give up my hopes and dreams and desires so that others could live, just as Messiah did for us?

Probably my thinking was influenced by the Catholic song “Here I Am, Lord” that we’ve been singing lately in our Ashdod community. (Someone, probably Max, made the observation that Protestants only sing their own words to God, while Catholics often sing God’s words to us).

Here I Am Lord
I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart

I, who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

I, the Lord of snow and rain
I have borne my people’s pain
I have wept for love of them
They turn away

I will break their hearts of stone
Give them hearts for love alone
I will speak my words to them
Whom shall I send?

I, the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save

Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart

Of course it was Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Samuel and Isaiah who first answered Hineni (“Here I am”) to the call of God. It is first and foremost the people of Israel who were sent to the nations with the word of God. It is they who reached us.

Let’s take note of parallel but opposite responses to the calling of Israel this week, from West and East. As the Gaza war grinds on the Jewish people are increasingly aware that they have lost the West. “The [antisemitic] mask is off now,” wrote one young Jewish women after her experience this week on the UCLA campus, “and it feels like there is no going back.”

Respected writer Yossi Klein Halevi is only a little more optimistic as Israel enters Holocaust Remembrance Day:

We are losing a generation, but we haven’t yet lost. Like other radical movements, anti-Zionism could go too far in its righteous rage, potentially alienating the majority. Perhaps that process has already begun. 

The challenge of our generation is to defend the story we inherited from the survivor generation. We need to tell that story with moral credibility, in all its complexity, frankly owning our flaws even as we celebrate our successes, acknowledging the Palestinian narrative even as we insist on the integrity of our own. 

We desperately need new strategies to counter the anti-Zionist assault. A good beginning would be the creation of a brain trust, composed of community activists, rabbis, journalists, historians, public relations experts, that would devise both immediate responses to the current crisis and a long-term strategy, emulating the decades-long patient work of the anti-Zionists. 

The Jews are a story we tell ourselves about who we think we are; without our story, there is no Judaism. It is long past time to mount a credible defense of our mid-20th century story, which continues to sustain us as a people. 

But here’s the good news: something opposite and totally unexpected is happening in the Middle East. From a well-known Pakistani journalist:

In the aftermath of the recent unprecedented Iranian attack on Israel, the Arab world deployed an unconventional arsenal, cucumber memes, to mock Iran.

One that went viral depicted a Shia cleric riding a ballistic cucumber. The comic treatment poured in from across the largely Sunni Middle East, from Qatar to Egypt with a wide range of images and videos

Sunnis constitute over four-fifths of the global Muslim population, including those in Saudi Arabia, but the Shiites, though smaller in number, have an outsized influence because of Iran. Today, the sectarian war within Islam might have its first ever official Jewish participant, as Israel finds itself increasingly allied with Sunni Arab regimes against Shia Iran.

For Israel, the Sunni Muslim world, which could potentially one day formalize diplomatic ties with Israel if Saudi Arabia does in the future, has become a natural ally against Iran, its regional allies, and militant proxies at its doorstep – Hezbollah and Hamas.

That alliance has started to feel more tangible with comments made Monday by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, who said that an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia about normalization of ties with Israel “very, very close”…

The Islamic rationale for the recognition of Israel was put forth by Sunni scholars who argued that fighting antisemitism is an Islamic “obligation” citing Quranic references to the Jews as “The People of the Book”.

Furthermore, the recent rise of “Arab Zionists,” in the form of young influencers promoting Israel in wake of the Abraham Accords, has sought to unravel the Islamist takeover of the rhetoric on Israel.

In the aftermath of the Abraham Accords and further back, after the Oslo peace accords were signed in the 1990s, some Arabs in the Sunni world appear to have warmed up to the idea that respite for the Palestinians can only be achieved via reconciliation with Israel. This stands in contrast to the hysteria over alleged genocide in the Gaza war by Israel that is today reverberating much louder outside the Arab world, especially on U.S. college campuses. Notably there’s usually more visible anti-Israel sentiment in South Asia, than there is in moderate Sunni Arab states.

Meanwhile, in contrast, perhaps given its non-Arab, Persian origins, Iran has leaned into the hyper-Islamization of Muslim causes to maintain its ambition of Islamic leadership.

Sunni Islam’s focus on scripture, meanwhile, has paved the way for selective Quranic interpretations to transform Jews from being dubbed Islam’s enemy not too long ago, to now being touted as cousins in faith, as seen in Dubai where a multi-faith complex was built to include a mosque, church, and a synagogue – the first official synagogue in the country.

Friends, it may just be that the ground is being prepared for a revolution in Arab-Jewish relations. If so, thank God that we’ve lived long enough to see it, and if it please God we may even be able to share in it.

The days are dark, but they are full of opportunity.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity…for there the LORD commands the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).