Last Wednesday night, approximately 350 Jews and Christians came together in an emotional ceremony organized by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC). In a uniquely Israeli experience, the ceremony took them from the depths of sadness over Israel’s losses in wars for survival, to the heights of joy on Israel’s 70th anniversary.
When the ceremony was complete, Yom Hazikaron (the day preceding Independence Day and set aside to remember fallen soldiers and terror victims) had ended and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 70th Independence Day, had begun. The multi-faith gathering joined together in Hallel, comprising Psalms 113 – 118, which is recited as an act of praise and thanksgiving.
“Imagine churches around the world saying Hallel, praying the same liturgy, on Yom Haatzmaut,” David Nekrutman, director of the CJCUC, told Breaking Israel News. “There is no reason this can’t be happening right now and so many reasons it should. So many people on both sides want it to happen.”
Under the direction of Nekrutman, the CJCUC held its bi-annual Day to Praise event at the John Hagee Center for Jewish Heritage at the Academic College in Netanya. The group recited Yizkor, lit a memorial candle and recited Psalms as Yom Hazikaron, had ended.
“The Christians came to be with us in our grief on Yom Hazikaron, reciting Psalms and the Yizkor (the memorial prayer for the deceased) service,” Nekrutman said. “They got to experience the Jewish tradition of going directly from the sadness of losing our soldiers into the joy of Hallel which is the expression of prophecy.”
The Portnoy Brothers, CJCUC’s Orthodox Jewish worship team led both the Memorial and Independence service in a manner that conformed entirely to halacha (Torah law).
Nekrutman was enthusiastic about the event’s impact, which has seen increased attendance over the four years since its inception.
“On our day of praise, Jews and Christians were saying the same words, for the same reasons, on the same day,” Nekrutman said. “Some people have been waiting 30 years for this.”
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, Associate Director of the CJCUC who spoke at the event, sees joint prayer as a Jewish imperative of the highest order, though one that he says may be difficult for both Christians and Jews, citing the Prophet Zephaniah as an explanation.
For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, So that they all invoke Hashem by name And serve Him with one accord. Zephaniah 9:3
“The Hebrew says we will serve God with ‘one shoulder,’literally ‘shoulder-to-shoulder,’” the rabbi explained. “This makes a lot of Jews and Christians uncomfortable, worshipping God together, so closely connected, physically and spiritually.”
Rabbi Wolicki understands that with two millennia of difficult relations between Christians and Jews, this type of gathering that brings people from the two religions into close contact may seem unlikely.
“My great grandparents in Poland would have thought it absurd that millions of Christians would thank God for the good he has done to Jews, but that is what happening today,” he said.
Despite the discomfort of two religions with such a difficult past coming together, Rabbi Wolicki sees this union as necessary to the Jews for the realization of Biblical prophecy as stated in Psalms.
“Our mouths shall be filled with laughter, our tongues, with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations, “Hashem has done great things for them!” Psalms 126:2
“Christians praying for Israel is not a convenient political agenda,”.Rabbi Wolicki explained. “It is an essential piece of the prophetic puzzle. If we had everything we needed for a Jewish geula (redemption), the Temple and the Messiah, even if we had everything we needed politically and economically, these prophecies about Israel’s future geula wouldn’t be complete with these Christians coming to praise Hashem (God, literally “the name”).”