Last Wednesday, Israel365’s Rabbi Tuly Weisz met with a group of American college students visiting Israel with the Christian organization Eagles’ Wings on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
Eagles’ Wings is a pro-Israel Christian ministry which runs an educational program called the Israel Experience for Christian students interested in learning more about Israel advocacy. The program brings groups of students on trips to Israel every year, where they travel the land and learn more about Israel’s Biblical origins as well as its present realities.
The students toured all over Israel to various significant sites including the Sea of Galilee, Mt. Bental, the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi. They came to Jerusalem to explore the wonders of the ancient holy city, visiting Jewish as well as Christian religious sites.
Rabbi Weisz spoke to the group at the historical building of the Diaspora Yeshiva, established on Mt. Zion in 1966 by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, who came to Jerusalem from America with 200 of his students. His son, Rabbi Yitzchak Goldstein, who is deeply involved in running the yeshiva, also addressed the group.
“Mt. Zion is the only place in the world that accepts all three religions – Jews, Muslims and Christians,” said Rabbi Goldstein. “On this one hill, there’s a synagogue, a church and a mosque. Everyone is welcome.”
Rabbi Goldstein told a parable about the founding of Jerusalem involving two brothers, one rich and one poor. The unmarried and childless rich brother, concerned about his brother’s large family and poverty, decided to give his brother a gift. At the same time, the poor brother, feeling enriched by his loving family, decided to give his wealthy but lonely brother a gift as well. The place where the paths of the two brothers crossed, Rabbi Goldstein taught, was the place where God decided to build his holy city of Jerusalem.
“He wants to build his house in a place where people share, which is built on a foundation of people giving,” he said.
Joining the group was prominent Christian Zionist Donna Jollay, who shared a teaching from Isaiah Chapter 2:
“The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established and the top of the mountain shall be exalted above the hills. And all nations shall flow to it.”
She related it to the present time. “This scripture just crystallizes this moment that is happening right now,” she said.
In a traditional close reading of Psalm 126, Weisz explained to the students, “The Jews have been preserving and safeguarding the Torah for thousands of years in Hebrew. When you’re reading the Bible in English, you’re reading a translation. They say that reading the Bible in Hebrew is like getting it directly from God.”
He distributed copies of the Israel Bible’s book of Psalms to each of the participants. This version of the Bible includes side-by-side Hebrew and English translations of each verse, plus transliteration of key verses, enabling people unfamiliar with Hebrew to partake in the singular experience of reading the Bible in its original language.
The group read out the first verse of Psalm 126 together in Hebrew, using the transliteration provided in the Israel Bible, which in English reads: “A Song of Ascents. When the Lord brought back those that returned to Tzion, we were like unto them that dream.”
Rabbi Weisz explained that traditionally when Jews learn a Biblical text, they deeply analyze each word for multiple meanings, and he gave an example using the word meaning dreamers, “cholmim”.
When the Hebrew letters of the word “cholem”, dreamer, are rearranged, they spell “lochem”, meaning warrior. The word dreamer, therefore, also means fighter. “That meaning is woven into the DNA of the Hebrew word,” explained Rabbi Weisz. “A dreamer is somebody who is in conflict.”
Rabbi Weisz expanded on this idea when discussing with the students the intricate connection between the ideological roots of the Israeli state and the need for conflict which arose after its establishment.
The group then discussed the meaning of verses two and three of Psalm 126, which relate directly to the relationship between the Jews and the Nations (non-Jews).
(2) “Then was our mouth full with laughter, and our tongue with singing.
Then said they among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things with these.’ ”
(3) ‘The Lord hath done great things with us. We are rejoiced.’ ”
Rabbi Weisz clarified: “Who are the first to recognize great things happening in Israel? The Nations. And who are the ones who are sleeping? The Jews.”
The verse has clear ties to contemporary events. “What’s happening today is exactly this,” said Rabbi Weisz. “The non-Jews are saying, and have been saying, that God is going to bring back the Jewish people to the land of Israel. And when he does that, it will be amazing, and also difficult and conflict-ridden at the same time. And then the Gentiles are going to say to each other, the Lord is doing great things for them in Israel, and then Israel will recognize that the Lord is doing great things for us.”
He related the psalm to the current moment, saying, “Sometimes it takes outside validation for us to wake up, and that’s what’s happening today. Eagles’ Wings is a Christian ministry teaching Christians about Israel, but it’s having a big impact on how Jewish people see ourselves. If Christians throughout the United States and the world are saying that what’s happening in Israel is a miracle, then the Jews will start saying, maybe it is a miracle.”
One of the greatest conflicts Israel faces today is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). Rabbi Weisz called on the student to make a difference when they return to their universities and, like warriors, confront anti-Israel movements.
“You actually are on the ground,” he pointed out. “I would imagine that the BDS movement is pretty vocal in your universities, and you guys are those campus warriors who need to keep your eye on the dream, and remember if you turn the word lochem, warrior, around, then you have the word dreamer.”
This trip to Israel was the first time most of the group participants visited the Land. For Shannon, a University of Michigan student, coming to Israel was an opportunity to see how the national and religious issues affecting Israel, often discussed in the foreign press, played out in reality. She described being particularly moved by seeing the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
“I’ve heard that there is a mosque right in the middle of the Temple Mount, but I’ve never seen it in person,” she told Breaking Israel News. “So when I came to see it and actually heard the Muslim call for prayer, it just hit my spirit really hard for that place, for the Temple Mount, and I started crying. That’s His area, His land, and it’s being oppressed. And it was right in front of my eyes, literally good against evil. It became very real.”
The seminar was the first session of a program which Rabbi Weisz is working to establish called “Yeshiva of the Nations.” Working with Christian activists and organizations like Eagles’ Wings, the Yeshiva of the Nations will offer opportunities in Israel for Christians who want to learn more about their religion and how it connects to the Holy Land.