Faiths unite for torched church

Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin joined leaders from different faiths at the reopening of the vandalised church in the Galilee.

JEWS and Christians stood side by side in the Galilee this week, after working together to renovate a church torched by extremist vandals.

Three Jewish hardliners have been indicted for attacking the Church of the Multiplication, where Jesus is said to have fed 5000 people. But while the perpetrators may have hoped to drive a wedge between Jews and Christians, they ended up cementing ties.

At Sunday’s emotional reopening, a rabbi who crowdfunded towards the renovation and Israel’s President appeared alongside the Archbishop of Cologne Rainer Maria Woelki and the Druze religious leader Sheikh Muwaffak Tarif.

Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein told The AJN afterwards that the kind of attack seen at the church was able to happen because there isn’t enough familiarity between people of different faiths. “We need to cultivate friendships to make people real so these incidents don’t occur again,” he said.

Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein said his fundraising campaign wasn’t just about securing money. It raised $24,000 of the $1.3 million renovation costs – but its symbolic importance was large. He argued that it was about breaking down barriers by making Jewish people feel a sense of responsibility to donate to a church.

“Following the arson attack, I was able to convene the Speaker of the Knesset together with around 20 rabbis, and enlist thousands of supporters across the Jewish world to express their hope for friendship,” the rabbi said in his speech. “This is the legacy we have to take away from this event. If we don’t make friends we will have the next arson, and we must be dedicated to the mission of friendship, learning, and partnership.”

Rabbi Goshen-Gottstein’s campaign attracted attention in religious circles, because it has managed to galvanise support beyond the liberal Orthodox camp that tends to support interfaith initiatives. Nachum Rabinowitz, head of the main yeshivah in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and an icon of the Israeli settler right wing, threw his weight behind it – followed by many other rabbis.

Rivlin told the gathering, “We are bound together. We are all equal before God, and equal before the law. Friends, the State of Israel is committed – deeply committed – to the freedom of religion and of worship for all religions and believers.

“We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution. And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state – who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief.”

Rivlin ended his speech by saying: “To those who say that God wants us to kill, I say – we all say together – that God wants us to live. May we all live not just side by side, but together, in mutual respect, and understanding.”

NATHAN JEFFAY