Israel is the “land of Milk and Honey” – and I am not speaking about biblical references! It is all about the single malt whisky. Known as “the water of life”, Israel is about to join a small, elite group of countries that is licensed to distill whisky. Not bad for a desert dwelling country!
Buying the cow?
Distilling whisky is quite a unique and specialised skill, and there are four main producing centres in the world. Scotland, Ireland, Japan and the USA have traditionally been responsible for sharing some of the finest scotches, whiskies and bourbons (yes, there major differences) but a tiny, powerhouse may be ready to challenge them.
Enter the Milk & Honey Distillery. Neatly nestled amongst the warehouses and buildings of Tel Aviv, this veritably hidden gem was borne out of the dream of six hi-tech entrepreneurs whose passion for whisky spurred them on to open their own distillery.
Speaking in an interview with a leading hi-tech publication, CEO Eitan Attir quipped “Founding the distillery was like buying a cow when you want milk.” The next logical step was to set up a company which they established in 2012. Construction of the distillery began in 2014 and the actual distillation started in 2015.
In order to comply with strict Scottish standards, the Milk & Honey Distillery must ensure that they are involved in the distilling process from start to finish and that their single malt spirit matures for a period of three years.
The Milk & Honey team spent two years studying the intricacies of producing top-notch whisky. Master Distiller, Dr. James Swan, who is also an expert on producing whisky in warm climates recognized the exciting possibilities that Israel has to offer and helped the team come up with a truly winning formula.
While in colder climates in can be claimed that a wee dram can warm the cockles of your heart in icy weather, Israel’s summer climate (and hair curling humidity!) presented a whole new challenge.
This dedicated distillery did the research and discovered that maturation happened much faster that their colder climate dwelling counterparts.
Israel also offers five geothermic regions, allowing for the opportunity to experiment with maturation in other areas, such as the mountains, the desert, and of course – The Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.
Couple this with opening a distillery in Tel Aviv – the city that never sleeps and is a vibrant hub of good food and booze appreciation – and the result is a winning formula.
While Milk & Honey may offer other products, it is the whisky that occupies a point of pride and in May 2017, they launched Israel’s first single-malt.
This marked quite a historical moment not just for Israel but for appreciators of fine single malts around the world.
Sadly, no whisky was imbibed while writing this article.
The noble rhinoceros once roamed the plains of Africa in great numbers. South Africa once prided itself on great numbers of these creatures who attracted many around the world who visited the southern African state to see them as part of their safari experience. Sadly today, these modern-day unicorns are targeted and hunted for their horns; their killers believing the horns have medicinal or aphrodisiacal properties!
Poachers are predominantly from the Far East and as a result of their killing these “Big 5” animals, populations are dwindling at alarming levels and if nothing is done to protect and save endangered rhino populations, they could become extinct.
I cannot imagine a world devoid of these magnificent beasts!
South Africa has the largest remaining population of rhino in the world and is at the forefront of rhino conservation. There are a lot of concerted efforts of the ground to protect rhino populations as well as capture and punish poachers but there is an unlikely hero in this story – Israel.
Rhinos are not indigenous to the Holy Land so how come they are finding a new lease on life and thriving?
The Ramat Gan Safari Park on the outskirts of Tel Aviv has successfully brought rhinos from South Africa.
These horny South Africans are thriving in their adopted country and are managing to breed successfully.
The Ramat Gan Safari Park started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”. The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations. The white rhinoceros, also known as the square-lipped rhinoceros, is in the greatest danger. Some 78 zoos are taking part in a European breeding project that so far numbers over 300 rhinos. The Ramat Gan Safari has a larger herd than any in Europe! In October 2018, it was noted that the crash of rhinos at the Ramat Gan Safari currently numbers fourteen.
World renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. As a commitment to breeding this highly endangered species, two young females were imported from Pretoria Zoo in 2012.
In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda. Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, one as recently as the 30th of December. The baby girl’s name is still unknown, but she made her entrance with a lot of energy and curiosity and decided to venture out of the maternity ward on her own. This was the second calf born to 31-year-old mother, Keren Peles, who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.
Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!
In fact, life for rhinos is so good in Israel that a few have tried to explore the sites for themselves. Rhinos have escaped their enclosures at the Safari Park and have sauntered out into the park or the street – much to the absolute astonishment of passers-by!
These horned South African “olim” (immigrants) do not have to worry about dealing with the challenges that others have to deal with like bureaucracy, language and navigating day-to-day life.
In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park they are assured that the only place a horn belongs is on a rhino.
Israel welcomed an estimated 150,000 Christians for the festive 2018 Christmas season, according to the Tourism Ministry, with many joining the celebrations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and visiting the very locations where the Christmas story unfolded.
More than half the tourists – some 56% – who visited Israel in 2018 were Christian. By denomination these Christians were 41% Catholic, 27% Protestant, and 28% Orthodox.
One such recent visitor was award-winning author and novelist and third generation Oklahoman, Margy Pezdirtz, a leader in the Christian Zionist movement.
Below is her report from her recent visit to a Christian town, Gush Halav, on Mount Meron in northern Israel.
A Village Called ‘Jish’
In nearly every country in the Middle East, Christians are persecuted, frequently killed at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. The only country in which this does not happen is Israel, where Christians are welcome and free to worship. A classic example of this freedom of worship is the lovely village of Gush Halav, ‘Jish’ for short, sitting atop a steep hill in the foothills of Har Meron (Mountain of Meron), thirteen kilometres north of Safed, in Israel’s Upper Galilee. This small village of 3,078 citizens – according to the last census – proudly worships as Maronite Christians, a branch of the Catholic Church.
The village is a center for the Aramaic revival, an initiative by local Maronites. In Israel, we can speak of ‘revival”, elsewhere in the Middle East, only of Christian ‘suppression’.
We visited Jish just prior to Palm Sunday, the Christian feast falling on the Sunday before Easter commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We found teenagers happily preparing for the upcoming Easter parade, which they will lead with a full corps of drums escorting a large cross carried by leaders of the village. Almost every citizen will joyfully line the streets to pay silent tribute to their Savior as the cross weaves its way upward to the top of the hill where it will rest for the holiday. Looking down on this parade from the rooftop of St. George’s Church, will be the three permanent crosses that bear witness to the faith of the village. All of these crosses are lighted every night – not just Easter – to testify to all around that thisis a Christian community.
There is frequently confusion as to where these Christians came from. Are they Arabs? Christian Arabs? No, not really. They are quick to make it clear that they are Aramean Maronites, not Arabs. According to Wikipedia, Arameans are a Semitic people who originated in what is a combination of the western, southern and central parts of Syria generations ago.
As to where the Christian portion came to fit, generations ago a priest by the name of Maroun felt drawn to isolate himself in the mountains of Syria to meditate and draw closer to God, the Father, through his Savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, others were attracted to his dedication to God and began following him. Thus the name “Maronite” was attached to his followers who, today, remain dedicated in their worship of the Heavenly Father through the auspices of the Catholic Church. All Maronites are Catholics.
Originally, the Maronites spoke and prayed in Aramaic; however, over the years, the language was lost other than for prayer which only the very elderly could speak or understand. In recent years that has changed. Now students are offered the ability to learn the Aramaic language in public school through to the 8th grade, which is encouraged by the Israeli government.
While the United Nations lambasts Israel with resolutions accusing it of false human rights abuses and unfair treatment of her minorities, a hilltop in northern Israel tells another story – a beacon of truth. Here at ‘Jish’, a religion other than Judaism and a language other than Hebrew is encouraged and promoted by the Israeli government. The village youth are proud Israeli citizens. While Christians are not obligated to join the IDF, many chose to do so as volunteers upon graduating from high school. And, those who prefer not to serve in the military are quick to volunteer for Sherut Leumi an alternative national service where participants engage in programmes such as working in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics and disadvantaged communities. These are young Christians giving back to a society that has given to them – a phenomenon unheard of elsewhere in the Middle East other than in Israel.
Life is good in Gush Halav. Those interviewed expressed: “we have everything we want or need” and “are happy to live where we live and to be Israelis”.
Life is good indeed, in Gush Halav, Israel.
About the author
Margy Pezdirtz has been a leader in the Christian Zionist movement for over twenty-five years. Born a third generation Oklahoman, the granddaughter of pioneers who were the first to break the sod on their homestead in Grant County, she learned early on the significance of establishing a foundation toward building a future. Coming from a family of farmers she was taught self-reliance and the value of standing strong during the wildest of storms and hard times. She believes the lessons learned from her farm family taught her the values and determination that is necessary to establish her support for Israel. An award-winning author and novelist, Mrs. Pezdirtz is an avid student of the Bible.
The northern Israeli city of Haifa is a model of integration and tolerance. Every year, thousands of revelers descend on the city to celebrate the highly anticipated, Festival of Festivals. This 25-year old festivals takes place every December and is a celebration of the country’s three main religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Haifa is festooned with twinkling Christmas lights, chanukiot for Chanukah and Islamic symbols. It is a rare opportunity to be exposed to and enjoy the timeless traditions of these three religions. Rolene Marks filed this report for Channel News Asia:
If donkeys had a public relations spokesman, Jester would be it. A nuzzle of the nose is all the payment he requires. Gali is the beauty queen with her grey coat and elegant black markings. She is also a bit of a maternal figure. Sooty has the longest ears and wiggles them proudly and Chicco has a long memory for kindness. Yalon steals your heart with his large foal eyes and gangly legs and Hope is a movie star with a penchant for a little something sweet. She is also in for a surprise because on Christmas day she will turn one year old and there is a party planned in her honour.
These are just some of the 250 cast of characters that call Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land their home.
The gentle and noble donkey is an iconic image that had long been associated with the Holy Land. Since the time of the Bible, donkeys symbolise peace, conciliation and humility and are ingrained into the imagery of all three of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Kings David and Solomon revered donkeys; Kind David kept a royal she-mule and King Solomon chose to be anointed on one instead of a grander animal like a thoroughbred horse or elephant. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as a symbol of peace. In Islam it is believed that a donkey who had the power of speech, told Muhammad that it was the last in a line of donkeys ridden by prophets and was a descendant of the donkey ridden by Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was also called Ya`fūr.
Sadly today, in a region that is often volatile and mired in conflict and conflagration, these humble, gentle creatures are often a casualty.
Donkeys have often been referred to as a workhorse, not because of their shared equine features but because of their ability and patience to bear heavy loads. This ability is sometimes exploited by some who use these sweet creatures as construction workers, over-burdening them with weight and materials.
In this region that can sometimes be a tinderbox waiting to explode, donkeys have been brutally abused by terrorists who have exploited them to make a political point. During the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) it was not uncommon for terror entities to pack these sweet creatures with explosives and direct them towards soldiers at checkpoints. In the last few months, as Hamas encourages rioters along the border between Israel and Gaza, so too have donkeys been used as weapons. One of the first weeks of protest saw donkeys draped in Israeli flags and set on fire. This outrageous act of animal cruelty and depravity has barely registered in the media. Donkeys are just not “sexy” enough a story.
Thankfully, there is an organization that is dedicated to the well-being and upkeep of these humble and noble beasts.
The sanctuary provides life-long care to over 200 unwanted and abused donkeys of all ages, but the work does not stop at the sanctuary gates. Safe Haven for Donkeys operates a mobile clinic that treats around 500 working donkeys, mules and horses across the Palestinian Territories as well as a permanent clinic in the city of Nablus. The mobile vet treats injuries such as those from poor harnessing, overgrown hooves and bad teeth are easily treatable and this goes a long way in helping to improve the lives of the animals who work so hard for so little.
Safe Haven for Donkeys has realized that education is just as important and help teach children and adults how to treat these animals with humanity and kindness and through the work with the owners of these animals, the team has made many friends and is treated with trust and respect.
“Our vets circulate and go to a different village every day to ensure that as many are treated as possible” says Abed, a caregiver whose dedication and love for his charges is evident.
The work done by this organization is evident in the happy, braying donkeys who despite all that they have endured, are friendly to the visitors who come to either volunteer or check out the sanctuary. The donkeys just love a cuddle and a scratch – and maybe a good old roll in the sand. After enduring so much abuse, Safe Haven’s over 200 personalities who proudly carry their names on their harnesses, get to live out their lives in peace and serenity in the gorgeous heart of Israel.
For a donkey called Hope and all the cast of characters, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary, it is home. It is a veritable heaven for donkeys – and that is worth braying about.
For more information about the sanctuary and to contribute, visit their website:
SA Jewish community pays Tribute to Mangosuthu Buthelezi on his 90th birthday
On Monday 8th October 2018 at Yeshiva College in Johannesburg, the Jewish community gathered to pay tribute to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi in celebration of his 90th Birthday. The SA Jewish Board of Deputies, together with the SA Zionist Federation, SA Friends of Israel, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi – hosted the event of a man who has always been a warm friend of the Jewish community, not only in his home province of Kwazulu-Natal, but also at the national level.
At a time when standing up for Israel has become increasingly unfashionable, Prince Buthelezi’s staunch opposition to anti-Israel bias in the political arena, his advocacy of closer ties between Israel and South Africa, and his consistent support for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Middle East conflict has earned him the gratitude of the South African Jewish community.
“Brothers in suffering”
Following South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, Buthelezi led his Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to join the government of national unity, led by Nelson Mandela. Buthelezi would serve as Minister of Home Affairs until 2004 and continued to serve as both leader of the IFP and an MP, retaining his seat in the 2014 general election.
A less well-known fact is that Prince Buthelezi’s maternal great-grandfather was none other than King Cetshwayo kaMpande who was the king of the Zulu Kingdom from 1873 to 1879 and its leader during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. He famously led the Zulu nation to victory against the British in the Battle of Isandlwana. An even less well-known fact is that Prince Buthelezi played his illustrious ancestor in the 1964 blockbuster, “Zulu” which was Michael Cain’s first starring role in a major movie.
Prince Buthelezi has consistently refuted the baseless lie that Israel is an Apartheid state. As Chief Minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government, he visited Israel at the invitation of then Prime Minister Shimon Peres in August of 1985, where he met with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and former Foreign Minister Abba Eban, whose birthplace was Cape Town.
“I will never forget the words of Prime Minister Peres spoken to me in private, when he told me, “We are brothers in suffering”,” he later wrote.
“He (Peres) understood the shared pathos that linked our people. He understood that just as we suffered one another’s suffering, we should celebrate one another’s victories. It was a poignant moment, realising that he understood my struggle for South Africa.”
Prince Buthelezi wrote of KwaZulu’s appreciation to “the Israeli Government for providing agricultural aid, leadership training and assistance to women-led cooperatives in KwaZulu. We were deeply appreciative of the partnership that developed between the KwaZulu Government and the Government of Israel.”
In a later interview with the Israeli left wing Haaretz on the occasion of Shimon Peres’ 80th birthday, he emphatically refuted the lie of Israel being an Apartheid regime stating on the contrary, “It is a unique case of democracy.” He added that if he would be asked by the Palestinians for advice, “I would tell them to avoid violence and to prefer negotiations. Armed struggle and violence do not solve problems, only create them, and generate more violence.”
Honouring the Prince on his 90th, were stirring tributes by Avrom Krengel (President of SAZF), Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, who delivered a Dvar Torah, Shaun Zagnoev (Chairman of SAJBD) and Ben Swartz (Chairman of SAZF), who recounted inspiring moments “we shared on our trip to Israel in 2014.”
Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan, brought greetings from Israel, stating that “You have a place of honour not only in South Africa, but in Israel, too”
Presenting the Prince with a Menorah, Rabbi Avraham Tanzer (Glenhazel Shul and Rosh Yeshiva) noted that like the Menorah – “you bring light unto the nation.” Memory and melody meshed with the Grade 1 pupils, leading the entire gathering in the singing of “Happy Birthday”.
Poised at the Podium
Upright, defiant and proud, the ninety-year old prince, took more than a physical stand at the podium; he took a stand against the ANC – notably its skewered position on Israel.
“From the start, I disagree with the decision taken by the ANC to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel. It is short-sighted and regressive. Moreover, it stands in opposition to our country’s role as a mediator for peace.”
Following the loud applause, he then regaled his long and enriching friendships with such Jewish families, as Arnold and Rosemary Zulman and Dr Mosie and Helen Suzman (anti-apartheid activist and politician), who “opened their homes and hearts to my family during the Apartheid struggle.”
Closing his address, Prince Buthelezi unapologetically asserted:
“I have no shame in telling the truth about Israel or about my friendship with the Jewish community. Indeed, I am proud.”
Terri Levin, Media Liaison Officer of the South African Zionist Federation contributed to this article. Edited by David E. Kaplan
As Beth Protea Retirement Home Celebrates 26 years it’s a story not about bricks and mortar but about people.
“What are you guys planning to serve for lunch?”
“Can you believe it? That was the first question asked by a bunch of South Africans at our first fundraising campaign in Haifa in 1985. We had no land to build on; we hadn’t raised a dime, and people wanted to know what we would serve for lunch,” relates Walter Robinson the founding chairman of Beth Protea, a retirement home in Herzliya primarily for the Southern African community in Israel. Dublin-born Robinson was quick off the mark.
“Well, if you don’t start donating, there will be no dining room in which to serve lunch!” replied the masterful fundraiser.
Nearly three decades later, and today himself a resident at Beth Protea, it is now Walter who asks:
“What’s for lunch?”
In October 2018, Beth Protea celebrates its 26th year.
South Africans in Israel have every reason to be proud. For a community that was the first to establish an immigrant organization (Telfed); pioneered the concepts of Absorption Centers and acquiring property to rent to their new Southern African immigrants at below market rentals, as well as initiating and promoting housing projects from the city of Ashkelon in the 1950s to the town of Kochav Yair and the community village (Moshav) of Manof in the 1980s, it was only natural, that at the dawn of the 1980s, serious thought was given to leaders in the community for the wellbeing of their seniors.
At that time there was a group who were “toying with the idea” – mainly to cater for parents who were left behind in South Africa. The concept found little traction until Robinson made Aliyah (immigrated) from Cape Town in 1981. Well known and respected for his communal work back in his adopted South Africa, the ad hoc group roped him in and within a few months of his arrival in Israel, he was chairman of a steering committee. “They allowed me to unpack my suitcases first,” he bellows with a boisterous Dublin guffaw.
Right Man For The Job
Walter once nearly ended up in jail and was rightly proud of it!
The year was 1944 and Walter and his Zionist chums at the university in Dublin started a newspaper called the Dublin Jewish Youth Magazine. One day, Walter opens the evening paper, and “I see this MP, Oliver Flanagan, questioning whether the directors of the DJYM have a license to publish and whether our articles had been submitted for censorship as required by wartime regulations. Both were serious offences, carrying prison sentences. Of course the answer to both was – NO,” says Walter, delighting in his mischievous past. Flanagan was a notorious anti-Semite who in his maiden speech in the Irish Lower House the previous year, had urged the government “to rout the Jews out of the country.”
Well Flanagan was not about to “rout” Robinson. “The owner of the paper’s printers was a great friend of Prime Minister Eamon de Valera and so if the printer could not go to prison, neither could we.” Walter’s Zionism continued to soar, culminating nearly fifty years later in his finest communal achievement – the opening of Beth Protea in 1992.
“We quickly changed the focus – not a retirement home for prospective immigrants but for the community in Israel. People, who had quite literally rolled up their sleeves and helped build this country.”
Now it was time to build a home for them. However not just a home, “but one that’s DNA was South African,’ said Robinson, “a home that felt like home.”
Benchmark of Excellence
Robinson quickly roped in a younger feller “who had a knack of asking the most intelligent questions.” And so began the partnership between Walter Robinson and Joel Katz that would steer the Beth Protea project in its formative years.
Bricks and motor ‘sprouted’, and like the ‘protea’, started to grow. The architect was another South African, Gert Gutman and while still under construction, South Africa’s State President, F.W. de Klerk visited where he was wined and dined in a ‘dining room’ on a floor of cardboard over sand and mud and between mounds of rubble.
While in the throws himself in transforming South Africa, de Klerk predicted amongst the rubble “this South African community is transforming the landscape of Israel.”
How right he was.
Beth Protea in Herzliya became the benchmark of excellence in caring for seniors, and in a few years the name ‘protea’ resonated across the land as its ‘seeds’ sprouted with other retirement complexes carrying the brand name – such as Protea Village further north and Protea Hills near Jerusalem.
The Magnificent Many
Joel Katz would become the first chairman of the Management Board and at the official opening in 1992, the guest of honor was the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog who expressed:
“One is never surprised at the admirable level of volunteering and performance on the part of South Africans in Israel. You have done it again by establishing Beth Protea, a golden retirement home for those in their golden years.” Paying tribute to the volunteers over the years, Katz spoke of the “lonely few” that grew to become “the magnificent many.” This 1992 observation holds even more so today as “volunteers from all walks of life continue to give freely of their time, energy, expertise and of course, their generosity, to upholding Beth Protea as a glowing example of retirement living and private initiative,” says current chairman Michael Silver.
Sensitive to the initial apprehension that the project would become elitist and only available to the wealthy – a feature of most new retirements homes in Israel today – the founders were determined that Beth Protea would be a non-profit association and established a fund, Keren Beth Protea to assist those in financial need. This is what distinguishes a community project such as Beth Protea from commercial, profit-motivated senior citizen facilities. The total financial assistance given by Keren Beth Protea over the last 26 years, is in itself a revelation of beauty.
Out of Africa
Wanting to learn firsthand about Israel’s specialized health care of its seniors, Dr. Harriet Chapasuka, a doctor from a clinic in South Africa’s northernmost province Limpopo, visited Beth Protea. Her husband Pastor Reuben Chapasuka, is President of the Cape to Cairo Israel Mission with churches across Africa that welcomes the Blue & White flag of Israeli innovation and ingenuity flying in the African breeze. “When I visit Israel,” says Pastor Reuben, “I always return to South Africa not with Israel’s ‘holy water’ but Israel’s ‘holy ingenuity’.”
Harriet, who shares her husband’s desire of tapping into Israel’s expertise “for our people”, visited Israel to explore its best practices of health care that could be replicated in rural South Africa.
With so many of the residents and staff at Beth Protea being former South Africans, Dr. Chapasuka felt, “quite at home.” Taken on a tour by the Director Lynn Lochoff, she visited the three sections: independent, the assisted living, and frail care unit. She met doctors and nurses and learnt about Israel’s unique health system where everyone is covered.
She visited the art studio and was amazed to see many of the paintings and sculpture reflecting the memories of the artist’s South Africa. “We remain so connected,’ she remarked and hoped the connection will be strengthened, particularly in the field of medical health.”
And the best answer to the first question asked way back in 1985, Dr. Harriette Chapasuka answered it after a desert, “the lunch – WOW! I loved it.”
For this writer, it’s the residents that makes Beth Protea special. Having interviewed many of them over the years, they all represent a microcosm of the history of modern Israel. There was the late Julie Slonim ( née Levinson) who arrived in 1946 from Johannesburg and recalls the day Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, declared Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv. Newly married to a lawyer, “we joined in the festive mood that had gripped the city and on Allenby Street’s Moghrabi Square, masses of people were dancing and shouting. Later we went to the fashionable Café Pilz overlooking the sea where we danced on the tables and our partners lifted us into the air.”
Reality set in on the drive back home to Haifa “where we were shot at by Arab snipers. Luckily we escaped harm. The coastal road between Tel Aviv and Haifa was no longer safe, and motorists were suddenly running the gauntlet. There we were earlier dancing with joy and now we were now officially at war.”
When Beth Protea opened its doors in 1992, one of its first residents was Rona Baram ( née Moss-Morris), a law student and trained nurse, who arrived in Palestine from South Africa in the mid-forties. A member of the Habonim youth movement, she joined Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the northern Galilee. During 1948, settlements in “our area were like fortresses, surrounded by trenches and barbed wire,” says Baram. “The Arabs ran a water canal across the only approach road to our kibbutz cutting us off entirely from the outside world. Post, food and medicine were dropped from a single engine plane that flew in low. Aside from having to deliver babies and care for the sick and wounded, it was a cold winter and we didn’t have enough food or fuel.” Baram recalls the letter from her parents in Durban, with the memorable line “We hope you’ve dug yourself in Rona and have enough ammo to last out the siege.” Baram would go on to establish Tipat Chalav, the first child-care clinic in Kiryat Shmona.
On the 6th June 1948, the late Maurice Ostroff, and fellow ‘Machalniks’ from South Africa, all volunteers responding to the call to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, were flying into Israel in a P.A.A.C. Dakota. Not sure of his position, the pilot radioed in that he was coming in on an emergency landing. Of all the places to land, he brought the plane down at the last remaining British-controlled enclave of Haifa. “The British officer on duty was baffled by the arrival of these “tourists” and asked Ostroff:
“Whatever makes you want to come to Palestine at this time. Are you crazy!”
“Just passing through,” replied Ostroff.
“We are pulling out of here,” the officer shouted, “but it won’t be more than two weeks before the bloody Jews will be yelling at us to come back.” While the British officer soon left never to return, Ostroff would serve out the war as a signaler, commanding a radio station near the Weizmann Institute. Nearly six decades later, Ostroff still had his antennae out and still locking horns with Israel’s enemies. From his fifth floor apartment in Beth Protea he daily monitored the world media on its coverage on Israel, responding to unfair bias by writing to newspapers, TV networks and political leaders around the world.
The late Sam Solomon was another first resident to Beth Protea. He had little interest in Zionism, but “I did have an interest in girls.” In the late 1930’s he was a young man living in Bloemfontein in South Africa. “I asked a pretty girl out on a date, but she told me she would only go out with me if I picked her up after a meeting at the Zionist Hall where an important leader from Palestine was talking. I was not keen to attend thinking it would be boring, but I arrived early and so with nothing to do, I sat in and was so taken up with what I heard about the Halutzchik (pioneering) way of life that three weeks later I was on a plane to Palestine.”
“Whatever happened to the girl?” I asked.
“Who knows”” replied Solomon. “After that night, I never saw her again and my first job in arriving in Palestine was building the road from Tel Aviv to Haifa.”
At a special Beth Protea event some years ago, the late Herman Musikanth, a “financial whiz” who worked very closely with Walter to get Beth Protea literally “off the ground”, quoted the words of Albert Price written in the early 1800s:
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and this world is – and remains – immortal.”
He concluded with, “I believe that Beth Protea is probably as immortal as one can get.”
Evangelical Christians make up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the US; and support for Israel is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among American Jews.
Nevertheless, maמy Jews, following millennia of persecution, inevitably view the present through the lens of the traumatic past.
Evangelism refers to “the preaching of the Gospel. It comes from the same Greek word for gospel (euangelion) and means, literally, ‘gospeling’ or spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It is also referred to as “a spiritual journey of formation and transformation”; “telling the good news, being the good news, and doing the good news”; and “sharing Christian hope and hospitality.”
Today the global evangelical population numbers somewhere around 300 million people scattered across every continent. While many live in developing countries, the United States remains the movement’s traditional centre where it is particularly strong and powerful and has been responsible over the years for policy changes and new directions implemented and taken by the various governments. Numerous polls conducted, including one by the very influential Pew Research Centre, confirm that 82% of white evangelicals, as opposed to the less than half as many Jewish or Catholic Americans holding the same view, think God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Evangelical Christians make up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the US; and support for Israel is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among American Jews.
Professor David Gushee, lecturer in Christian ethics at Atlanta’s Mercer University, has commented frequently on how remarkably pro-Israel evangelicals have been, both theologically and in terms of the modern State of Israel. He has also pointed out the commitment to Israel among evangelicals, which he said is evident in the growing number of evangelical leaders who lead trips to Israel, as well as by the attention being given to Jewish history in evangelical circles.
Pastor John Hagee, founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, heads the massive Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and founded Christians United for Israel a decade ago. It steadily became one of the strongest pro-Israel evangelical groups in the country, and the most recent census showed that it had more than three million members and 14 regional directors to help steer its operations across the USA.
Much of the basis of the evangelical perspective is theological, rooted in the belief that “God makes good on His promises … It looks back to the idea that God has made certain commitments to His people — to the people through whom the gospel originally came — and He’s not abandoning them, ultimately. And so there’s a hope that drives this belief that Israel deserves to be supported.”
A Pew study carried out in 2013 found that 29% of Christians, 46% of white evangelicals, and 19% of black Protestants thought that America was not supportive enough of Israel; while 41% of Christians, 31% of white evangelicals, and 48% of black Protestants felt the level of support was just right. Two years later, in 2015, another Pew poll was carried out with quite different results. They showed that while 6 percent of white American evangelicals thought the US was too supportive of Israel, 55 percent decried what they called the inadequate level of support given to Israel by their country as against the 36 percent who felt it was sufficient. At the same time, more than 80 percent of evangelical pastors overwhelmingly agree that Christians should support Israel.
“Jesus Was Jewish”
The World Council of Independent Christian Churches, one of the larger evangelical movements in the USA, with 15 direct and 8 indirect ministries situated around the world, has produced a series of television programs called Focus on Israel, dedicated to “educating Christians about their Biblical responsibility to the Jewish people.” Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a deacon in the WCICC, emphasises how important a special bond with Jews is for theological and even scriptural reasons. “God had a plan for mankind, and Israel was to be that example of how to live,” she says. “And that’s why the Torah was given to them. And unfortunately, Christianity has moved away from that Hebraic understanding, that Hebraic teaching …The Jewish people are our brethren in the faith. And Jesus, of course, was Jewish.”
Ron Csillag, writing on the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) website, asked in his article if evangelical support for Israel had a dark side. He wrote, “Christians who love Israel: is it good for the Jews? While many Jews whole-heartedly embrace Christian Zionism – after all, Israel needs friends – others suspect that behind it lurks a theology that loves Jews but hates Judaism. Millions of evangelical Christians – often referred to as “born again” and who believe the Bible is inerrant – have reasons for supporting Israel, whether because it’s biblically mandated or because they, like Israel’s current leadership, are conservative and feel a political kinship. Or, because they see it as a way of atoning for past mistreatment of Jews. Perhaps it’s for all of those reasons.”
While Christian Zionism, he added, has helped to shape the strong support for Israel emanating from the USA, he ascribed to other Christian Zionists what might be called a darker agenda: their belief that universal redemption and the return of the Christian messiah can happen only when all the Jews have been gathered in their homeland, “where they will finally give up their obsolete and erroneous beliefs and accept Jesus Christ as their saviour.”
This apart, there is a whole host of reasons, far too many to detail here, for why Christians support Israel. Politics is one of them. Evangelicals “tend to be conservative politically,” says Rabbi Michael Skobac, director of education and counselling for Jews for Judaism Canada, observed. “They see Israel as [being] at the front lines of fighting terrorism.” For other Christians, support for Israel “is an expression of remorse for past anti-Semitism and what they see as the failure of churches to stand up for Jews during the Holocaust.” And for almost 73% of world evangelical leaders, the real basis for most Christian Zionism, put simply, is the belief in the truth of God’s eternal covenant with the nation of Israel.
The Grand Plan?
But not all evangelicals do, in fact, support Israel. Robert Nicholson, himself a staunch Christian but with strong ties to various Jewish communities, writes, “A growing minority inside the evangelical world views the Jewish state as at best tolerable and at worst positively immoral, a country that, instead of being supported on biblical grounds, should be opposed on those same grounds.”
Discussing the many different evangelical ‘sects’ and their pro- or anti-Israel stances, Nicholson notes that evangelicals believe God chose the biblical people of Israel “as His vehicle for world redemption, an earthly agent through whom He would accomplish his grand plan for history. Why did God choose Israel? Not because of any innate virtue or genius they may have possessed, but because He had made a covenant with their patriarch, Abraham, based on the latter’s demonstrated faith and devotion.”
Most evangelicals, he continued, “also believe that the ingathering of the Jews is the first stage in the second coming: the moment when Jesus will return to earth not as a humble servant but as a conquering king to establish his righteous rule in Jerusalem and restore the nation of Israel to its favoured place for a millennium.”
The growth and spread of evangelism, even considering their donation of millions of much-appreciated dollars to worthy causes in Israel, has given rise to numerous questions about its authenticity vis-à-vis the Jewish people. Questions asked include, “Can evangelicals be trusted? Are they not on a mission to convert Jews to Christianity? Is their professed love for and dedication to Israel not merely a cover for their ultimate goal, that of turning Jews into disciples of Jesus Christ?”
The suspicion about evangelical motives for loving Israel has many of its roots in the fact that people bearing the name of Christ had spent centuries demonizing the Jewish people and shedding Jewish blood. Memories of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the innumerable pogroms and persecutions have not dimmed in the Jewish world; and thousands still view the present through the lens of the traumatic past. Jewish concerns also focus on evangelical proselytizing or adherence to the belief that the Christian faith should replace Judaism; and there are those who see evangelicals as fundamentalist and right-wing. According to Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the group Jews for Judaism, the ‘hidden agenda’ of the Christian Zionists is proselytising. In one of his articles, he wrote, “There is irrefutable evidence that many evangelicals who support Israel have implemented and new ‘soft-sell’ approach to proselytising Jews for conversion.”
Yet Rabbi Pini Dunner, senior rabbi at Yeshiva High School for Boys in Beverly Hills, California, sees it differently. Accompanying a delegation of 30 young pastors to Israel on their first visit, he said, “The overwhelming miracle of Christian-Jewish brotherhood in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel is something that is under-recognized and under-appreciated, particularly of evangelicals, whose love for Israel is breath-taking and illuminating.”
So, there we have it – a conundrum, a dilemma on whose horns sit the various Jewish groups, those in and outside of Israel, the orthodox and the secular, the young and the older, who see the evangelicals from different perspectives. Their remarkable generosity to Israel is well documented, and those I am privileged to know personally here in South Africa are wonderful and genuine people who love Israel unconditionally. Perhaps that’s the attitude everyone should adopt – after all, Israel needs all the friends she can get, and who else gives so much with no expectation of reward?
Bev worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies. Currently she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is the National Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Women South Africa; she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.