In the context of a flourishing era for Jewish-Christian relations in the United States and abroad, Israel is witnessing a new level of passionate support from Evangelical Protestant Christians – a group that represents more than a quarter of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center.
Israeli professor and author Mel Alexenberg says that Israelis value the support of such Zionist Christians, who have largely been credited with strengthening the political and spiritual bonds between Washington and Jerusalem, especially under the Trump presidency. Their bond to Israel relies on the Biblical mandate to bless Israel and the belief that the modern rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 and re-gathering of millions of Jewish people to Israel represents fulfillments of Biblical prophecy.
However, in light of studies that raise concerns that the younger generation of Evangelical Christians “may not continue the enthusiasm for Israel of their parents and grandparents,” their support should not be taken for granted, says Alexenberg. The professor of art and education saw the great potential of Evangelical support for Israel, as well as the challenge of capturing the interest of the next generation, and set out to engage the younger generation towards a more Biblical and pro-Israel mindset.
“There are many fine books written by Christian Zionists that set out the case for Israel based upon the Biblical narrative,” he wrote in a blog post. “I have found, however, that none speak in the language of the ubiquitous digital culture shaped by smartphones and social media. It is the language that Evangelical millennials understand best.”
Alexenberg’s newest book, published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing and entitled Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media, fills this void in a new and creative way, urging the younger generation of Jews and Christians to translate the Bible from contemporary viewpoints. “It speaks to the millennial generation in the their language of digital culture, smartphones and social media,” he told Breaking Israel News, “creating dialogue between digital texts and images that teach how Biblical insights can transform smartphone photography and social media into imaginative ways for seeing spirituality in everyday life.”
AT&T as well as American Airlines have sponsored his innovative efforts about which he writes in the book, such as a visual commentary that conceptually linked wings to corners of a garment and to corners of the United States.
He writes, “While working on my continent-wide artwork, I began to see the four corners of America through a Bible lens. The Biblical Hebrew word kanfot used for the four “corners” of one’s garment and metaphorically as the four “corners” of the earth is the same word used for “wings.” The preeminent Biblical commentator Rashi points out the links between corners and wings, “The fringes are placed on the corners of their garments, alluding to God having freed the Israelites from Egypt, as it states, ‘and I carried you on the wings of eagles.’”
It brought to mind four Biblical passages:
“Speak to the Israelites and say to them that they shall make fringes on the corner wings of their garments for all generations. And they shall include in the fringes of each corner wing a thread of sky-blue wool.” (Numbers 15:37)
Before the Israelites received the Ten Commandments, God tells Moses to say to the Israelites:
“You saw what I did in Egypt, carrying you on wings of eagles and bringing you to me.” (Exodus 19:4).
Forty years later standing on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses reviews the laws of the Torah for the generation born in the desert before they enter the Promised Land. He again said:
“Make yourself fringes on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:12).
Before donning his prayer shawl each morning, a Jew says, “May the talit spread its wings like an eagle rousing his nest, fluttering over its eaglets.”
The Biblical prophecy in Isaiah 11:12 is being realized in our day:
“He will ingather the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
I created Four Wings of America as a visual commentary that conceptually links wings to corners of a garment and to corners of the land. I made white rope multi-strand fringes each with a sky-blue thread to attach to the four corners of America.”
Alexenberg’s book is informative and educational, not read as a traditional “how to,” but clearly sparking food for thought for the younger generation about how they can make their photographs spiritual. Chapters include content on the creative process, to linking personal and Biblical narratives, to photographing attributes such as compassion, strength, beauty, success and splendor. “This is especially useful for a young person who has planned a trip to Israel,” said Alexenberg. “So they will know how to experience Israel, not just photographing, but seeing everything from a Biblical perspective.”
As a professor of art and education at Columbia University, research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies and dean of visual arts at New World School of the Arts in Miami (in addition to his many teaching credentials in Israel), Alexenberg has previously written academic books on the intersection of art, digital culture, and Jewish thought: The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness and Educating Artists for the Future, both published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, and Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art published in Hebrew in Jerusalem.
After looking into who purchased and read his academic books, Alexenberg realized that they were being purchased and read by more Evangelicals than Jews. He thus sought to publish his next book with a Christian publishing company to “educate young Evangelicals for the future” where emerging art forms of the 21st century are “consistent with the Jewish view that spirituality is to be found in everyday life, embedded in everything we do.”
He explained that Judaism teaches us to strive to draw spirituality down into the world and into every part of our involvement with it, our work and our social life, until not only do they not distract from our pursuit of God, but they become a full part of it. As the younger generation is constantly looking at the world through their smartphones, he said, this tool is the natural answer to the question of how to engage the younger generation in the goal of embedding Godliness into the world.
In his new book, Alexenberg shows creative ways to use a smartphone as a magic lens that lets you see your place of work and your fellow workers in a new light. It invites taking selfies with your spouse, parents, siblings and children so that you see them in ways you never saw them before. You can transform your old friends into new friends by focusing through a Bible lens.
His book is a practical guide for photographing the splendor of God by opening your eyes in wonder wherever you find yourself. As the author relates, “Seeing with eyes of wonder is seeing for the first time, every time.”
Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media is available for purchase on Amazon.
Written in collaboration with Mel Alexenberg