A Jewish group, moved by the torching earlier this summer of a Galilee church by Jewish extremists, raised an impressive $17,000 towards its repairs, The Huffington Post reported. The “Restoring Friendship” campaign surpassed its $13,000 goal in an effort to respond positively to the destruction.
In June, two people were injured and the property badly damaged when arsonists set fire to the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, near the Sea of Galilee. Anti-Christian graffiti was painted on a wall by the entrance, linking the crime to extremist Jewish elements. Three people have been charged with arson.
“If in the name of Judaism one could destroy, in the name of Judaism one should also rebuild,” Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, who started the fundraising campaign, wrote in a blog post for The Huffington Post this month. Goshen-Gottstein is the founder of the Elijah Interfaith Institute. He told the paper he wanted to move beyond words of condemnation and take action to repair the damage done in the name of his religion.
Others responded to the call. The Elijah Interfaith Institute partnered with Mosaica, another interfaith group, on the campaign, garnering the support of several prominent Orthodox Rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and former MK Rabbi Michael Melchior. Although the campaign acknowledged its modest fundraising effort would not cover the costs of the repairs required, the intention was to provide the funds to repair the church’s friendship center, where monks meet with people from around the world.
“Burning any house of worship is a crime against human spirit,” one donor wrote. “I expect all people, regardless of their faith (or non-faith) to condemn it and to fight the fundamentalist waves that enable & encourage such despicable actions.”
“We affirm a vision of Judaism that sees all people as created in the divine image – and seeks not to diminish or demean anyone, but to honor and enhance our shared humanity,” another donor commented.
Donors represent Jewish communities from around the world and a wide range of religious observance. They include both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
The common theme that drew donors to the campaign was a desire to improve the name of Judaism in the world and the relationship between the Jewish community and the Church. As one contributor put it, “As a liberal rabbi in the United States deeply committed to interfaith dialogue and understanding, I want to contribute to this effort. The efforts of the Elijah Institute and others to turn a hillul hashem (desecration of the divine name) into a kiddush hashem (sanctification of the divine name) deserve special praise.”
Goshen-Gottstein is concerned about the state of Jewish-Christian relations in Israel. “The hate barometer in Israel is rising,” he told The Huffington Post. The Church of the Multiplication is one of 42 non-Jewish places of worship that have been targeted in the past four years. He believes interfaith dialogue is key to improving the situation.
He has some ideas for the arsonists’ punishment, too. “In addition to any other punishments, they should get two months of service [with the monks at Tabgha] to get to know the human face of the people they hurt,” he said. “The only reason they could do something like this is because they didn’t have that.”