There was no quiet before the storm. There is no quiet after the storm. There is just storm. Those who think otherwise have not experienced the situation in northern Israel, near the Lebanese border.
While the recent ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon mostly has been greeted with relief in both countries, there is much suffering still taking place in shelters that were closest to the air attacks.
Reprieve from that agony has been coming from what some may consider to be an unlikely source: evangelical Christians in the United States.
“Christians are stepping to the plate to provide food and supplies to the northern (Israel) border areas,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
When the war broke out last month, Eckstein turned to America to aid the cause of Israeli Jews trapped near the heaviest fighting.
“We went to the northern borders and asked the mayors what they needed. At that point, they told us they needed flack jackets and food for people who had suddenly needed to run into shelters,” who ministry in the U.S. operates out of Jerusalem and Chicago. “There was also need for fans, air conditioners, diapers. Within 24 hours we were there, and another 24 hours after that the money was there helping them.”
IFCJ made an initial commitment of $2 million, but much more is needed, specifically to purchase fire trucks and equipment, Eckstein said.
“The next stage is about to kick in. With the cease-fire Israel will need to go into phase two, which means coming back (to the northern cities),” he said. “We want to help with trauma, provide psychological and emotional help to children and those who have been terrorized.
“I had someone just ask me the question, `What about the kids we met who need dialysis?’ Or what if they need a new prescription? All these things we sometimes take for granted. That’s why I’m proud that through the Fellowship people are standing up.”
In the initial weeks of fighting, many Israelis left the northern cities for the homes of relatives to the south. Left behind were immigrants, single mothers and the elderly.
“It’s an incredible feeling to feel vulnerable like that,” Eckstein said.
Just as incredible, on the positive side, has been the working relationship between Jews and Christians to serve those in need. In fact, improving connections between Jews and Christians is the essence of the IFCJ ministry.
“We exist not just to help Israel, but to reverse the history of Jewish-Christian relations over the past 2000 years,” Eckstein said. “Every time we give a gift, it says on the package it is from Christians in America who aim to bless Israel with unconditional love.”
That message mostly has been well received, although several weeks ago some backlash broke out when an Israeli newspaper article criticized the Israeli government for choosing to turn to American Christians for help rather than solve the problems itself.
“It’s been a left-wing attack against the government, like with what happened with Hurricane Katrina, where people are suffering and there’s this thought that the government can’t get its act together,” Eckstein said. “So I have been concerned, because while there is appreciation ... Israelis are proud people.’’
Despite some negative reports, however, Eckstein sees Jewish attitudes changing for the better.
“The whole element of trust is changing on the Jewish side,’’ he said, adding that results are measured in steps, not strides. “For thousands of years ... Jewish people don’t trust Christians.”
At the heart of the change is a sense that Christians are praying for Israel, Eckstein said, explaining that the command and promise of Psalm 122:6 – "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure" – has blanketed the region.
“We have raised (the Psalm) in our prayers, so that while dozens have been killed by these rockets, many more could have been killed and were not,” he said. “So we believe in the prayers of Jews and Christians all over the world.’’
Prayers of protection and peace are essential if Israel is to end the Hezbollah threat, “which is a threat to the U.S. as well as to Israel,” Eckstein said.
The rabbi continues to be amazed by not only the outpouring of support, but also the in pouring of emigrant Jews who keep coming to Israel.
“It’s staggering that despite (the war), there are still Jews coming from the four corners of the world, from Russia, India, Ethiopia,” he said “They come every day to the Tel Aviv airport, trying to get a place to live.”
And Christians from the U.S. and beyond are trying to make that place feel a little more like home.
(More information about IFCJ and online updates on relief efforts in Israel are provided on the organization’s Web site: www.ifcj.org).