Graciousness is a virtue the American Jewish establishment has learned a lot about recently, but we can stand to learn more.
For years, the Christian Right supported Israel with more passion than many Jews could muster. But rather than thank Christians and seek to deepen that support, groups like the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center acted as private police agencies, rooting out any hints of Christian "intolerance." Intolerance was defined as expressing certainty either about moral matters (homosexuality, abortion) or about certain theological questions (like, "Who goes to Heaven?" or "Who killed Jesus?").
When Christian leaders committed "intolerance" they could count on being publicly humiliated by the likes of Abraham Foxman of the ADL or Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center.
This pattern persisted even into the recent crisis in Israel, when pro-Israel sentiments among Christians were clearly what was behind the pro-Israel tilt among congressional Republicans and in the White House.
Christian-Jewish cooperation is suddenly the idea of the moment.
Then, amazingly, something changed. You began to see media report after media report about Jews, in the establishment and at the grassroots level, who had been, simply, overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude. Apart from America, the whole world was against Israel. And here were these customary bogeymen, these Christian right-wingers, for whom even an Abe Foxman couldn't help feeling a certain warmth. In New York's Jewish Week, it was reported that Foxman approached and thanked -- yes, thanked -- pro-Israel Christian politico Gary Bauer, though he stipulated that he would continue to oppose Bauer's conservative domestic agenda.
Now we have the latest development. Yechiel Eckstein is a Chicago rabbi whose group, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, raises money from Christians for Israel and for impoverished Jews elsewhere in the world. (Last year, more than $22 million.) With fanfare from the New York Times and a full-page ad in the Washington Post, Rabbi Eckstein has retained the services of political consultant Ralph Reed to be the Christian cochairman of "Stand for Israel," a new group for Christian Zionists.
Christian-Jewish cooperation is suddenly the idea of the moment. All of which is a most welcome improvement on the previous state of affairs.
Yet something further needs to be learned about graciousness, and about friendship. It's wonderful that Abe Foxman is now Gary Bauer's pal. But what does friendship really mean?
To be a friend is by definition to feel obliged.
Being a friend to another person or to a group of people is different from using them, however amiably. This fact, often overlooked, is stamped into the language of the Jewish soul: etymologically, the Hebrew word for friend, chaver, is a variation on the root that means "obligation." That is, to be a friend is by definition to feel obliged. It means you have to give as well as take.
This should be of interest to Jews, but also to Christians, who may feel emboldened to start asking for something back.
At a minimum, Christians can reasonably ask that groups like the ADL, the American Jewish Congress, and Wiesenthal Center lay off a bit. In exchange for their vital support of Israel, at least until the Mideast crisis has subsided, let Foxman et al. declare a moratorium on bashing Christians.
If they're feeling bolder, let Christian conservatives ask that the Jewish establishment reconsider its programmed loyalty to every whim and prejudice of the Democratic party. They might mention that the Jewish religion itself lines up naturally with a conservative way of thinking about politics -- emphasizing individual rather than state moral responsibility, giving a prominent place to religious values and symbols in public institutions, two themes that are in evidence on almost every page of the Hebrew Bible.
All this is a matter of learning and expressing graciousness. That's the ethical reason Jews might want to consider giving to Christians just as we receive from them.
For a lengthier treatment of the moral grounds for transforming the way the Jewish community deals with Christians, in the form of a free pamphlet, call up the organization I work for, Toward Tradition, at 800-591-7579, or send us an e-mail with your address at email@example.com.
Our pamphlet deals as well with a more pragmatic consideration, which I'll mention here just because it's amazing that the Jewish community, so devoted to Israel, is also so unaware of its own self-interest.
American Christians love Israel because they revere the Hebrew Bible. So far they haven't been deterred by the experience of being kicked around by some members of the Jewish establishment. So far! But could there be a limit to Christian patience? That is a question to which, for the sake of Israel, a nation dependent on American favor, let's hope we never have to find out the answer.