You will not forget your people

Dear friends,

Hospitals emptied out as Israel entered the eight-day long Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) tonight at sunset. Julio and Luzma’s daughter Paula took special joy as our Jaffa sukkah went up:

And between visiting guests and families waiting for surgeries, the Jerusalem sukkah that Ben engineered is already filling to capacity, thank God:

The three with their backs to the camera are honored guests from Syria, their homeland much in our hearts and prayers this week with the Turkish invasion. One of them, our dear friend Hussein, spoke last night at an impromptu demonstration in support of the Syrian Kurds near the home of the prime minister in Jerusalem:

Tonight an Israeli academic who helped organize that demonstration invited us to share the festive first meal of the holiday under his rooftop sukkah. He gathered a group of Jews who are intensely committed to reaching out to their Muslim neighbors, and they introduced us to the work of journalist Elhanan Miller, a rabbinical student who is producing a series of popular videos called “People of the Book” explaining the faith of Jews to Muslims:

The videos have racked up tens of thousands of views, including from many Muslims who have made contact, seemingly intent on following the God of Israel. This has created a dilemma for the rabbinical student, due to the now-entrenched tradition that Jews should discourage non-Jews from converting. For our part I catch a glimpse in all this of the vast, virtually untapped potential for sharing with our Muslim neighbors–sharing not the traditions of men, but the word of God, revealed through the Jewish people for the salvation of the nations.

I think a year or two ago I would have been writing to you much more tonight about the political and military situation of the Kurds in Syria, about the injustice of their abandonment, about what should be done to help them. But my visit there last winter opened my eyes to know that the political project underway there does not and cannot represent the salvation of the Kurdish people, just as the Zealot rebellion against Rome in Jesus’ day did not represent the redemption of the Jews. (May we remember that about political projects in our own homelands as well).

Instead, I ask us to pray tonight that the painful, shocking developments in Syria would turn out to be the mercies of God for the Kurdish people, to bring them, finally, to himself. To that end I’d like to share the song “Until You Do” released just this week by St. Aldate’s church in Oxford. We had a sneak performance of it earlier this year when the singer/songwriter Esther visited our community with a student group. Let’s make it our prayer for our neighbors tonight:

Through every trial
Through every fear
Through every tear we can’t conceal
God we look to you

Through every storm
Through every pain
Through every grief we can’t explain
God we look to you

You became a man of sorrows
That we might know joy
You have treasured every teardrop
And said that you’d restore

You will not forget your people
You’ll make all things new
Until you do
We choose to trust in you.

Jonathan for Shevet Achim

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