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People of Faith in the Promised Land

By: Sondra Baras

Tuesday April 3, 2018

The CFOIC Heartland Annual Israel Tour has just gone home after spending at least a week and for some, 11 days, touring Israel.  (We structured our tour differently this year — a basic 7 day tour and a 4 day add-on which enabled many more people to join us this  time.)  It was a great experience for everyone who participated and that included many first-timers.  I never tire of meeting people who are experiencing Israel for the first time — the joy on their faces, the shine in their eyes as they realize they are walking in that special land of the Bible, the land that G-d gave to the People of Israel.  I love seeing the Bible come alive for them!

I spent time with the group although it was my colleague Kim Troup, Director of our US office that was with them the entire time.  I loved taking them to my favorite viewing point in Israel — the 3 Seas Outlook.  And I know I have taken many of you there over the years.  From that mountain, you have a spectacular view of the Oak of Moreh, of Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, of the Mountains of Gilead in modern-day Jordan, of the Jordan Valley and the Plains of Moab.  There spread out before you, the relationship between the G-d of Israel, the people of Israel and the Land of Israel comes alive.  There we can see and feel the eternity of G-d’s word and the truth of His promises.

As we celebrate the holiday of Passover, this message rings truer than ever.  Enslaved in Egypt, the Children of Israel did not necessarily have hope that they would be redeemed.  Albeit, G-d had revealed His plan to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16), but it is not clear that the Children of Israel, hundreds of years later, remembered that plan.

But ever since the Exodus from Egypt, we have known that G-d will keep his word and we have worked hard to ensure that every generation remembers the promise.  The crowning theme of the Seder is “You shall tell your children on that day” (Exodus 13:8), a message repeated often in the Bible with respect to the Exodus from Egypt.  And remember and tell we did.  That is what the Seder is all about.  At the beginning of the Seder the children ask the four questions, beginning at an age when they don’t even understand the meaning of the words.  But the message is clear — it is the duty of our children to ask and it is the duty of the parents to tell, to teach and to remember.  The entire Seder is an educational experience, not only geared to the children.  The adults read the texts and discuss them, divining new meanings each year, based on our recent experiences.

There is a paragraph in the seder that reads as follows: “In each generation there are enemies who try to destroy us and G-d saves us from their hands.” This line brings with it so many associations.  It was composed centuries after the Exodus and related to the experiences of those who wrote it — probably Jews in Israel suffering from the persecutions of the Roman Empire. But throughout the ages, Jews found comfort in that line, regardless of the oppressor of the age.

In my lifetime, it was the memory of the Holocaust that stood out strongest.  I remember my grandfather pausing at that line, remembering his entire family who had been butchered by the Nazis, thanking G-d for saving him, the lone survivor of a magnificent family.  And for years, we did our seder together with dear friends in the community.  Our friend would always remember the Nazis at that point as well, remembering the suffering and good fortune of his parents as they escaped the Holocaust, while so many others were not so fortunate.

Whether it was the Romans, the Byzantines, the Muslims, the Poles, the Germans, the British, the Spanish, the Yemenites — whichever nation was persecuting us that year, we held strong to our belief that G-d would save us.   And that is the message that begins at the 3 Seas Outlook, continues through to the Passover Seder and accompanies the Jewish people throughout our history.  It is the message that preserved us as a nation, and kept us from assimilating.  We knew that we had a future as a nation and we held on to that belief.  We knew that one day G-d would gather us up from the nations and bring us back to our land.  “If your outcasts will be at the ends of the earth, from there the lord your G-d will gather you and from there He will take you.  And the Lord your G-d will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you will prosper and multiply even more than your fathers” (Deuteronomy 30:4-5).

As Christians, you share the Bible with us, but you have not shared our experiences as a nation. But it is so moving to me to meet Christians who want to understand those experiences better, who are eager to meet Jews, face to face, and hear the telling of the Exodus directly from us.  For the modern –day Exodus from Exile to the Land of Israel is truly the story of Modern-Day Israel. It is the story that can be told by Jews of faith, on the basis of faith and it is this story that never fails to grab Christians, for you too are people of faith.

I am grateful for all the opportunities you have given me to meet you and teach you about our Jewish experiences, whether in your own community or in Israel.  I want to invite you to come to Israel and give me the opportunity to meet you and teach you, at the Three-Seas Outlook or anywhere else in Israel.  And if you can’t make it here, perhaps your church or community would like to experience this teaching.  It is a teaching that every person of faith  needs to hear.

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