Friends, Foes, and Charvona
When the afterglow fades, we will still be left with plenty to daven for on Purim. Why, then, do we act so stupidly when help is proffered?
Many of us, this writer included, thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress was moving, inspiring, and effectively spoke to American hearts as much as to Jewish ones. (Apparently some Arab and Iranian ones as well.) We hope that, BEH, he may have had some impact, although the initial reactions lined up according to predictable political and ideological positions. However optimistic we may be, at the end of the day we are still somewhat short of an appearance by Moshiach.
Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Jews are leaving Europe in droves, caught between a resurgent right and a steady torrent of Jew-hatred piously chanted in thousands of mosques and madrassas and spread through television and social media . BDS campaigns poison the minds of a next generation of leadership. Jihadists urge the faithful to exterminate the Jews, and we are told to take comfort in the Pew finding that only 22% of the Muslim world supports them. (That is more than the total population of the Axis powers before WWII.) Iran also looks to eradicating the Jewish state, but doesn’t have to rely on blunt knives. According to last spring’s ADL global survey, only a third of the world’s population believes that the Holocaust has been described accurately, which is not much more than the 30% who believe that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” The historical alliance with the Democratic Party may be in tatters, as close to five dozen (including Jewish Democrats) boycotted the Prime Minister’s speech. The boycotters include the lion’s share of the Black Congressional Caucus, possibly indicating the end of another long-standing strategic alliance.
We could use some friends, you would think.
Interestingly, we have tens of millions of them. But too many of us ignore them at best, and abuse them at worst.
There was push-back against the no-shows of the Black Congressional Caucus. At a press conference at the National Press Club, organized by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, the Rev. Dexter D. Sanders of the Rock Center for Transformation in Orlando, Florida was one of several speakers who thundered their indignation. “The thing to me that makes no sense is why the Congressional Black Caucus has teamed up with this current administration against Israel….I’m saying you have gone against Israel when you decide to protest the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu….That is a slap in the face to the people of Israel, and not only that, it’s a slap in the face to G-d. And not only that, it’s also a slap in the face of all Bible-believing African-American people in this country.”
There is only one major source of non-Jewish support for Israel left in the world, and that is among Christians. They have been there for Israel since well before the establishment of the State of Israel. Eddie Jacobson’s intervention notwithstanding, Christian phone calls to the White House in support of recognizing the state-to-be swamped Jewish ones. In the decades that followed, in every crisis that Israel faced, Christian support (especially, but definitely not limited to, the Christian right) was there in force. In the most anti-Israel countries of Scandinavia, there are pockets of people who vocally challenge their own government, and they are almost always Christian.
If I had to guess, Bibi’s beginning and ending the speech with Biblical references and a heartfelt “G-d bless America” took into account the mindset of American Christians.
How do we react? Scarcely a week goes by without some clergy in Yerushalayim being spat at by people from different groups, all of them frum.  The defacing of a Christian seminary last week – days before Bibi’s visit! – was a headline on CNN. A few months ago, I sat with the Custos (i.e. the Pope’s point man in regard to Catholic holy places) and listened to him mournfully tell me that he understood where Jewish antipathy was coming from historically, and could accept that. But how, he wondered, could you live side by side with a not-insignificant Christian community to whom you extended an official welcome, and make no attempt whatsoever to learn who they really are, or what they are really about?
You would think that American Sniper had become the all-time favorite of the frum community. In real life, the hero befriends a troubled vet at the request of that vet’s mother, who then turns his gun on him and a friend at a shooting range, killing both. Even though most of us haven’t seen the movie, and many of us don’t view any movies at all, we treat our friends the same way. The gunman at least entered an insanity defense; some of us don’t even realize that we are insane.
Of course, very few people engage in hostile activity directed at Christians. Far more widespread, however – and potentially more damaging – is a refusal to acknowledge that not all Christians think and act the same, and that tens of millions actually like Jews! In all parts of the Jewish world, we find people who are trapped in a time warp. This includes not just right of center Orthodox, but Dati Leumi, and even secularists. (After all, for too many non-observant Jews, none of the Rambam’s thirteen qualify as a fundamental of faith – only a rejection of Christian belief!) They regard every overture by Christians not only with suspicion, but with contempt, as if it were a truism that if you scratch the surface of every Christian, you will find an anti-Semite poised to steal our souls. When people like Robert Stearns of Eagles’ Wings bring thousands of Christians to Yerushalayim each fall (to comply with what we ourselves read in a haftorah about the nations of the world coming to acknowledge G-d at the holiday of Sukkot), and speak forcefully about their roots being in Judaism, critics turn on them. They point to the Jewish references as stealth missionizing, rather than pushback against the Palestinians who have been working overtime in recent years to decouple Judaism from Christianity.
The fact is that after the Holocaust, many Christian denominations changed the way they looked at Jews and how they taught about them. There are many millions who grew up without ever hearing an anti-Semitic thought. There are many for whom the State of Israel not only is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (and not just a vehicle for some expected mass conversion of Jews), but a living example of an American spirit they see on the wane in the US. There are those for whom attending a model Pesach seder is de rigueur, and others who believe that thousands of years of association with G-d’s word means that they can be relied upon to contribute spiritual insight into contemporary issues.
To be sure, there is a huge amount of anti-Semitism left in dozens of denominations. (There are some philo-Semites of sterling quality in the same denominations.) There are large numbers of people who work assiduously to convert us, overtly and through subterfuge. (There are also huge numbers who have been convinced that the best marketing they can do for what is dear to them is to live righteous lives.) We have to be cautious, and never naïve.
But we should not be tone-deaf to the genuine voices of friendship  and respect that abound in our times, for reasons only HKBH knows. Perhaps it is part of a Divine midah keneged midah that Hashem has taken parts of the very belief system that persecuted us for close to two millennia, and turned it into a protective agent.
And if none of this analysis were true, we should still have seen ISIS’ mass beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya as a turning point. The banner read, “A note in blood to the nation of the cross.” Millions of American Christians (plus many Copts and Assyrians whose relatives were being crucified in Iraq) understood the link between that event and the terrorist attack on the Paris kosher supermarket. This could be an additional turning point for many Jews and Christians, who now understand just how closely they are paired in a war against Jihadist Islam.
There are not too many Torah figures who are familiar with these realities, but I have sat with a few who get it. One, with whom I spoke in the last year, volunteered without prodding that those who distance our Christian friends “have no Ahavas Yisroel.” He was that certain about the need, bederech hateva, to stimulate and maintain the friendships. R. Yoel Schwartz, shlit”a, of ITRI, has stated that keeping Christians in Israel’s corner is a matter of sakonas nehashos.
Purim is coming, and not a day too soon. We need the reminder that HKBH is with us in galus. We should also remember a character in the Purim story who hated Mordechai almost to the very end, but then had cause to switch allegiance, and acted decently at a crucial moment. We end Shoshanas Yaakov with a rousing zachur latov for Charvona, regardless of his motivation. Even if you reject my finding of genuine Christian respect for Jews, should we treat tens of millions of Charvonas differently?
 It is not true that the most right-wing are not responsive to the problem. They may be ineffective, and deep-seated attitudes to non-Jews in general certainly contribute to the problem, but they have responded. Here is a translation of a letter issued on Badatz stationery some six years ago, provided by Rabbi David Rosen, one of the most experienced intermediaries Jews have in dealing with Christians at high levels:
Recently repeat complaints have been heard on the part of non-Jews from other religions regarding assaults and insults with which irresponsible youth have harassed them in the city and in particular in the vicinity of Shivtei Yisrael St.
Aside from the Desecration of the Divine Name involved in this which is a very serious sin indeed, such provocation of gentiles is forbidden by our rabbis and may also heaven forbid lead to tragic consequences for the Jewish community at large, May the Ineffable One have mercy.
We thus call on all who are in a position to act to end this shameful phenomenon through means of persuasion, to rally forward as soon as possible to eliminate this blight, so that our camp may be one of peace.
And may the Holy One Blessed be He spread His tabernacle of mercy, life and peace over us and all Israel and all Jerusalem; and we wait for and look forward to the coming of our righteous messiah speedily in our days, amen.
Signed this day by the ecclesiastical court of justice, here in the holy city of Jerusalem.
 See Netziv, Bereishis 33:4