One of the terrible tragedies of the Carmel forest fire in 2010 was that the Interior Ministry rejected a number of essential fire trucks prior to the crisis, since they were donated by Evangelical Christians.
As a result of the country’s lack of preparedness, 44 people died and over 5,000 hectares of precious land was burned in the worst natural disaster in Israel’s history.
Instead of thanking our Christian friends, our utter lack of hakarat hatov or gratitude, perhaps contributed to the unnecessary loss of life.
Undeterred, Christian Zionists once again leaped forward with an outpouring of love and support in response to the recent wave of forest fires and arson attacks that ravaged Israel last week.
When the scope of the tragedy became clear last Sunday, I immediately sent a request for help to the primarily Evangelical Christian readers of Israel365, the bible-themed email newsletter that I have sent out each day for the past five years.
Within days, more than 500 readers contributed over $50,000 to help Israeli families.
The donations arrived from countries with strong Evangelical communities like the United States, Canada and China, and many surprises as well, such as donations from Turkey, India and Pakistan.
What’s more touching than donations (averaging $97 per donation), were the numerous notes I received from Christians too poor to contribute financially, but who assured me they were praying up a storm for rain to fall in the Holy Land.
Early in the week, I spoke with Becky Brimmer, CEO of Bridges for Peace, a Jerusalem- based Christian organization, about the community of Neveh Tzuf.
At the time they were looking for 25 washing machines for the displaced families in their temporary homes, and without hesitating, Brimmer readily agreed to provide the needed assistance.
Her only concern was that the Jewish families of Neveh Tzuf may not feel comfortable accepting her Christian gift and so she made sure to tell them: “We do not have an agenda. We do not proselytize.
We have great respect for the Jewish community and in fact feel that everything that is precious to us in our faith comes from Judaism.”
The best-known leader of Christian Zionist fund-raising efforts is Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
It was his International Fellowship of Christians and Jews that offered the fire trucks in 2010, which MK Eli Yishai (Shas) rejected since he refused to take a photograph with Eckstein.
Nonetheless, in response to the recent fires, the IFCJ told me, “Rabbi Eckstein has approved funding of more than one-quarter million dollars to help repair the damage caused by huge wildfires that swept through northern Israel late last week.”
Many other pro-Israel Christian ministries such as the Center for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, have also been inundated with prayers and donations to help the hundreds of Israeli families who lost their homes and personal possessions in the devastating fires.
Despite this outpouring of love and support for Israel, many Jews remain suspicious of what “really” motivates pro-Israel Christians. After all, for centuries, the Christian authorities taught replacement theology, which tragically led to forced conversions and brutal antisemitism.
Many Jews are still living in the past and believe that the only reason Christians support Israel is because it will enable them to convert or kill us.
Ironically, deeply ingrained misgivings toward Christians comes from two opposite camps within the Jewish community.
Skepticism is most prevalent among leftwing liberal Jews who are fundamentally at odds with fundamentalist Christians on nearly every political and social issue and therefore have no interest in repairing the ancient rift.
On the other hand, ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are naturally slowest to adapt to change, are also suspicious of what they feel are the sinister motives behind Christian Zionists. This cynicism is what was behind Yishai’s fateful decision to reject the IFCJ’s fire trucks back in 2010.
Thankfully, over the past several years Israel has learned valuable lessons from the Carmel Forest fire. The country upgraded its fire-fighting capabilities so that even though hundreds of separate fires were raging throughout the country at the same time, not one Israeli lost their life.
Hopefully, we can also learn another lesson, that it is time for all of us to say thank you to our Christian friends. We have hundreds of thousands of reasons to appreciate what Christian Zionists have done for Israel in this past week alone