The birth of the State of Israel brought with it practical and spiritual implications for the relations between Jews and Christians in ways that were unimaginable to previous generations. The Jewish State rose up from the ashes of the Holocaust and brought with it something entirely new and unexpected; a movement of Christian funded organizations that see it is as their God-given mission to help the Jews return to Israel as part of their messianic calling.
Operation Exodus is a stellar example of this new relationship. Started in the United Kingdom in 1991 by Gustav Scheller, the organization now has representatives in over 50 countries around the world who have assisted over 150,000 Jewish people in returning to Israel, including 1,750 from the US, as part of the aliyah (immigration to Israel) movement. Operation Exodus is a partner organization of the Jewish Agency for Israel and other Jewish aliyah organizations.
The motivation behind Operation Exodus is rooted in the Bible and a sense of spiritual debt to the Jewish people. According to the group’s mission statement, the State of Israel is a historic opportunity to right the historic wrongs made by Christians against Jews and a way to rebuild the relationship with the Jewish nation.
“Now is the time to bless them and assist them with their return to Israel, the land God promised to give them as an everlasting and unconditional possession (Genesis 17:8),” the Operation Exodus mission statement reads.
The group’s connection with Jews and Israel takes a practical form, supported by generous donations from 200 churches and 97 ministries in the US alone, and thousands more around the world. No less significant is the change in their spiritual connection to the Jewish people, with tens of thousands of Christians worldwide praying for the State of Israel each day.
Operation Exodus also brings Christians to Israel in a program called “Engage” which allows Christians to see and experience first hand life in Israel.
Debra Minotti is the inspired director of Operation Exodus. Her personal connection with Israel began when, as a child, she saw the televised news of the Six Day War. She knew something deeply significant was happening and her heart drew her to identify with the Jews. Minotti’s life’s work, guided by her Christian belief, has been to help the Jews practically and pray for them spiritually.
“For those of us who are called to this work, it is something very deep and gratifying,” she told Breaking Israel News. “There’s just nothing that gives us more purpose.”
Minotti is not alone. She explained to Breaking Israel News that there are a multitude of Christians like her who care for the Jewish people.
“There’s over 6,000 Christians on our database in the United States who just want to hear what is happening with the Jews and Israel. There’s over 1,000 who are praying specifically just for Jews to make aliyah, and that is just one nation. There are over 50 nations involved in this. What the Jews do with it is up to them. But we are here for them.”
While this type of partnership between Jews and Christians have inspired many, the path has been fraught with difficulties.
The largest evangelical Christian group supporting Israel financially, with an annual budget of over $100 million, is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), founded by Israeli-American rabbi, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in 1983. The organization worked closely with the Jewish Agency for Israel, donating millions of dollars annually towards aliyah and other causes while carrying out its own projects. It is estimated that the IFCJ has provided $150 million to bring Jews to Israel over the last 15 years.
Ten years ago, then Jewish Agency Chairman, Avram Burg, refused to be photographed accepting a $3 million check from Rabbi Eckstein. Relations improved somewhat, leading to the Jewish Agency offering Rabbi Eckstein a seat on the board in 2007. This was considered a major milestone in Judeo-Christian relations, when a representative of an Evangelical charity, albeit a rabbi, sat on the board of the Jewish Agency.
This is not the first time the IFCJ’s generosity and good-will was snubbed by an agency it supported and has learned to downplay their involvement to placate the recipients. The Israeli branch of IFCJ is named Keren LaYedidut (Friendship Fund) with no reference in its name to its Christian roots, though its website clearly connects it to the IFCJ. Philanthropy thrives on public recognition of the donor’s generosity, but the Jewish recipients are reluctant to acknowledge this generosity in a public manner.
Rabbi Eckstein, speaking with Breaking Israel News, reflected on the groundbreaking work the IFCJ and the sometimes difficult path his organization has encountered.
“For almost 40 years, I have strived to build bridges of understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews. During those years, Christians have contributed some $1.3 billion to The Fellowship to help Israel and the Jewish people, including by supporting our ‘Wings of Eagles’ aliyah program,” he explained.
“While most Jews today have come to grasp that we are living in a new day when Christians – historically our greatest enemy – are now our best friends, there are, of course, those who still don’t ‘get it,’ but we dare not even hiccup let alone veer from our path working together to better the world and fulfill our mandate of tikkun olam,” Rabbi Eckstein told Breaking Israel News. “Thank God for these Christian friends – I don’t know where we would be today without their help and unconditional love.”