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Thanking Our Friends

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In synagogue this morning, the day after Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), my husband was discussing with a neighbor how each of them had spent the festive day. My husband and I had flagrantly ignored the Israeli custom to grill and consume half a cow and went, instead, to visit the Friends of Zion museum in Jerusalem.

My husband explained to our neighbor that the museum is dedicated to telling the story of Christian support for the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The neighbor made a dismissive whistle-like noise, accompanied by an equally dismissive gesture.

I’d like to think he is simply uneducated in this area. If he spent an hour at the Friends of Zion museum, his eyes would have be opened and he would be more readily able to express hakarat hatov – gratitude – for the help the Jewish people received from Christian friends around the world, to come home.
On some level, I can’t blame our neighbor. Truth be told, before we went, I felt a little bit on the defensive, on guard for ways the museum might mention Jesus or subtly try to proselytize its Jewish visitors.

I needn’t have worried. There was nary a mention of Jesus and we noted zero evangelizing. What the museum does do, and does with high-tech excellence, is tell the stories of Christians, motivated by their belief in the words of the Bible, who have helped the Jewish people over the past two centuries.

There are seven multi-media exhibits in the museum. The first is a film that shows the breadth of modern-day Israel, mapped onto the Biblical boundaries of the Land. The second exhibit reviews the stories of Abraham, Moses and the prophet Ezekiel, demonstrating how the Bible supports the Zionist ideal of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

The third exhibit features four Christians who lived in the early 19th century and who worked to support the idea of a Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Surprisingly, one of them is a predecessor of two former US Presidents - George H. W. and George W. Bush.

In the fourth exhibit, the stories of late 19th and early 20th Christians who served in positions of influence and who supported the Zionist enterprise are told. In that room, there’s a huge mural, and visitors are encouraged to press the panels to learn the names and more about the stories of the personalities pictured there.

Perhaps the most powerful stories are told in the fifth exhibit, which makes known the feats of a number of primarily European Christians who risked their own lives to save countless Jews in the Holocaust.

The sixth exhibit features Christian military leaders who fought alongside the Jewish pioneers in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.  A companion part of the sixth exhibit features contemporary Israelis telling stories of how they or their families were saved or helped by Christians. One of the stories we screened was an interview with a young Israeli teen who received a kidney donated by a Christian from the US.

The official museum tour ends with a 3-D Grand Finale that summarizes the themes of the museum and encourages visitors to see themselves as part of the story of the modern State of Israel.  On top of all that, we were given a special surprise at the very end of our tour.
The museum excels in harnessing the latest museum technology to tell its story. All the interactive technology was designed in Israel and the staff we encountered, from the front desk clerk and our tour guide to the café and museum shop, were English-speaking Israeli Jews.

As their website states, “Supporting this dream for a homeland throughout history have stood Christian Zionists who, courageously stood with, nurtured, and, in many cases, sacrificed their lives protecting the Jewish people.”
It’s a story most Jewish people don’t know. The next time you’re in Jerusalem, I encourage you to visit the Friends of Zion museum.
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