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Evangelical churches are turning to a Jewish nonprofit to help them have hard conversations

(JTA) – Jeff Nitz, a social worker and lay leader at his church, sees himself as a trained listener.

But beginning in 2020, his congregation — Mosaic Church in the evangelical Christian hub of Lynchburg, Virginia — started becoming riven by fierce COVID-era fights over masking, distancing and vaccinations.

Used to bridging divides among his fellow parishioners, Nitz was at a loss. “I’m used to doing active listening, but there were times where it felt like I would much rather just avoid this person than having the deeper conversation,” he said.

For help, Nitz turned to a Jewish nonprofit, Resetting the Table, which has spent nearly a decade teaching Jewish groups to have more productive and meaningful conversations about Israel. The group offers a modified version of its program to churches and other groups grappling with polarization, so last year, Nitz’s church held two sessions facilitated by Resetting the Table staffers, focused on how to talk about COVID.

Congregants on opposite ends of each issue presented their cases — and then the other side would repeat back the arguments they heard. By the end, Nitz said, he had come to understand his congregants better — and, he believed, they had come to understand him better, too. “He absolutely heard my heart,” he recalled about an anti-vaxxer congregant who had articulated his own ideas back to him.

It’s a breakthrough that Resetting the Table believes it can help happen more often in churches. Founded in 2014 out of the worry that American Jews’ arguments over Israel were tearing apart their communities, the group expanded its work beyond Jewish communities several years ago, expanding its reach even wider during the pandemic era.

“We saw the U.S. descending into its own intractable conflict,” said Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Resetting the Table’s co-founder.

Last year, Resetting the Table worked with more than a dozen Christian umbrella groups representing tens of thousands of churches and several million church members affiliated with Mainline Protestant, Catholic, evangelical, African-American, Pentecostal and Orthodox traditions. And in the coming year, just half of the organization’s work will be with Jewish groups. The other half is with non-Jewish houses of worship, companies in the entertainment industry and other organizations — work that Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw’s Hearthland Foundation started funding last year.

According to surveys, the expansion is responding to a significant concern: A study last year found that 28% of U.S. adults named political polarization or extremism as a top issue facing the country.

“There is perhaps more trepidation and anxiety about this work at this stage in Christian communities,” Weintraub said. “But there is also comparable relief and fulfillment once people have done so successfully and seen it makes their communities feel closer to each other.”

Topics more likely to come up in non-Jewish settings include the status of LGBTQ people and women in the church, COVID restrictions and the 2020 election. A series of sessions last spring that were geared toward evangelical leaders, including professors from Liberty University in Lynchburg, covered a laundry list of hot-button political topics, including the role of government, guns, free speech, voting, the death penalty, police, race and abortion.

The group’s sessions in real life, and virtually, begin in large groups. The lead facilitator spells out that the point of the exercise is not to change minds, but to allow conversations to take place, whether or not they shift people’s opinions.

“Some people might want to be having this conversation for the sake of a relationship, right?” Michele Freed, a facilitator, said last year at a session for Or Hadash, an Atlanta-area congregation. “You really care about a person and you just cannot talk about the elephant in the room anymore.”

Those attending split into smaller groups and undergo the exchange Nitz experienced: Listening to someone with a different or opposing opinion, summarizing it, then listening to feedback about that summary. Once the speaker feels the listener has fully summarized their outlook, Freed said, that’s “hitting the bullseye.”

Another smaller-session activity the group offers is called “Life Maps”: Participants compile a list of moments in their lives that shaped their outlook, and then take questions from others. A workshop packet asks participants to “Consider some of the experiences, the interactions, conversations, moments of epiphany – the things you saw or heard that had an impact on your morality or your politics.”

Weintraub said that the Jewish world, “polarized as it is,” is more willing to have those difficult conversations — a readiness she attributes to “the deep tradition of arguments … built into every page of Jewish text.”

A screen capture of a Zoom session of a Multi-Faith Convener Cohort for Faith Leaders in the South. Michele Freed is at the upper left, and Rabbi Melissa Weintraub is second from the upper left, Nov. 5, 2021. (Resetting the Table.)

While recruiting for one of the group’s multifaith cohorts last year, she said, “The rabbis were lining up out the door,” while “Southern Baptists and evangelical leaders were like, ‘How do you know this isn’t going to tear my community apart?’ I think in the Jewish world at this point there’s a recognition that this work is possible and desirable and leads to good outcomes  in a different way.”

Some evangelical leaders say they’re coming around to the value of tough conversations. Chelsea Andrews, who participated in the spring sessions for evangelical leaders, said it was the first setting in years where she felt she could engage in dialogue outside her milieu of evangelical Christians without being judged for her conservative values.

“I think that the feeling of belonging is very difficult for evangelical Republicans, like myself, who also are deeply committed to peace-building and reconciliation work,” Andrews said in a testimonial Weintraub shared with JTA. The Resetting the Table sessions, she said, were “the first time in many years that I have felt like what I have to bring to the table is welcome. I don’t feel judged and I don’t feel like an error someone needs to correct.”

Christian groups also approach the dialogue differently once they’ve entered the sessions, said Eyal Rabinovitch, Weintraub’s husband and co-founder, who was the lead facilitator for the 2022 sessions at Mosaic Church, which took place via Zoom. He cited the adage of “two Jews, three opinions,” and said Jews walked into sessions with their views at the ready.

Evangelical Christians, by contrast, he has found, have a “cultural norm of ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’ niceness.” But he feels that that culture is inhibiting the airing of divisions, and that as a result “churches like Mosaic are falling apart.”

“We’re mindful of the norms at play. So oftentimes, at Mosaic, for example, people just go slowly towards differences,” he said. “They don’t want to upset each other. They don’t want to overstep, people don’t really want to get into escalated dynamics and they don’t want to feel like they’re intruding on other people’s spaces.”

Jews’ eagerness to engage and argue was evident in a series of video sessions Resetting the Table allowed JTA to attend last summer at Jewish institutions, on the condition that the participants not be named unless they gave their permission.

A typical Jewish participant was Howard Lalli, a marketing specialist who, in a session last May with Or Hadash, wondered aloud whether being Jewish made him too excited to speak out.

“I know you gave us the option of not weighing in on a question, but I confess that I found myself in the questions about Israel scrambling mentally to come up with a position,” he told the moderator, Freed. “And I wonder if that’s a problem/challenge in our culture: that to appear to be engaged you have to have an opinion — versus asking questions, being curious.”

The group’s work with Jewish institutions has also stretched beyond Israel. In addition to that topic, Or Hadash members discussed funding the police and whether to privatize social services.

The work with churches has also ended up bridging religious divides. Nitz said Resetting the Table made him feel secure enough to ask questions that might otherwise be awkward. At one of the group’s training sessions, he asked a rabbi he met a question that had long intrigued him: why do Jews vote for Democrats, given that, in his opinion, “Republicans tend to be stronger on preserving religious rights, and very pro-Israel.”

The rabbi said they should set up a one-on-one so he could explain at length but offered as a first insight that as descendants of immigrants or immigrants themselves, Jews have traditionally sympathized with poor and disadvantaged people, an approach that has historically been associated with Democrats.

Nitz said the exchange was “delightful.”

“I just felt it was just so instructive and open, transparent,” he said. “I would have had a two-dimensional viewpoint when it came to understanding a Jewish voting bloc, and he added so much more nuance as a result of that conversation.”


The post Evangelical churches are turning to a Jewish nonprofit to help them have hard conversations appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

The post Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

The post Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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