Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Community Center by Any Other Name

If miracles are commonplace anywhere in the world, it’s no surprise to experience them in Jerusalem. Because one can see and experience miracles here at every turn, it’s important to have the presence of mind and appreciation to pause and recognize and give thanks for these occurrences which can take place daily. A miracle de jour. Such was my experience this week at the dedication of a community center for elderly Holocaust survivors in central Jerusalem. Many resources are already provided throughout Israel for people who suffered the most unspeakable anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity but, one can never do too much for these people living out what should be their golden years in the Jewish homeland. My miracle de jour involved the privilege I had to participate in the dedication of a new community center, complete with internet, heat and air conditioning, rest rooms, cable TV, bright modern lighting, a full kitchenette, freshly painted walls, and tastefully selected new tile floors. The furnishings are not anything special in the sense that one would expect no less in any new community center. What is remarkable is that the community center was created in a renovated neighborhood bomb shelter. A place I have passed dozens if not hundreds of times and never realized was there. Living in Israel since 2004, it still gives me pause that bomb shelters are not only so commonplace, but necessary. My house has two. I have spent more than my share of time in bomb shelters. Sadly, it’s part of life here. Nevertheless, the need for and existence of bomb shelters in homes, schools, public buildings, neighborhoods, etc. is a reality which I wish didn’t have to be. It’s traumatic to have to prepare and outfit a bomb shelter, just in case you need it. It’s more traumatic to hear a siren and have to race to such a shelter, whether as an exercise, or as part of a real threat. It’s a trauma that, for so many Israelis, we exist with this threat in our life without a second thought. How much more so this threat must be a trauma for elderly Holocaust survivors, regardless of whether they spent their early years in a concentration camp, labor camp, in hiding, or constantly on the run from Nazis or rabidly anti-Semitic neighbors who hunted them as sport. Hearing a siren, and having between 15 seconds to two minutes warning in advance of a pending attack, must create a stress that I will never be able to comprehend, complete with flashbacks to their suffering as children or young adults. It must be an added stress being a bit older, unable to move as quickly or easily as they used to, to have to walk a distance or navigate stairs and enter a nearby bomb shelter, wondering if they’ll make it in time. Or to get into the shower worrying that a siren will go off then. These are the realities of life in Israel that impact the young and old alike. It’s not a way to live, but we do just that – we live, and live life to the fullest. Just by living we overcome the enemies who strive to kill us. That in and of itself is a miracle. Then, along comes someone like Dr. Michael Evans and the Jerusalem Prayer Team. When he heard about the needs of one particular group of elderly Holocaust survivors and partnered with the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, more miracles happened. The community center configured out of a renovated Jerusalem neighborhood bomb shelter provides respite and comfort so that, if there were to be a threat in the area, the elderly Holocaust survivors won’t have to move from what they’re already doing. Their days will be filled by the fellowship of their friends, with activities to occupy their hands, their minds, and their time. And the center in the shelter will give them peace of mind. If a siren goes off, they can continue with their lives in a safe place without missing a beat, minimizing the stress that’s an inevitable outcome. Even more miraculous and historic, is that both Dr. Evans and the thousands of supporters of the Jerusalem Prayer Team and the Jerusalem Institute for Justice are Christians who seek to bless Israel, to repair thousands of years of animosity and persecution directed at Jews in the name of Christianity. These Christians seek to make life a bit easier, a bit more comfortable for people who have had to overcome some of the most severe challenges in the world. Jews call this Tikun Olam. I look at these people and see God’s love smiling at us as Jews from the faces of righteous gentiles in our day. Prior to this generation, there’s really no historical precedent for Christians to reach out to and embrace Jews as is happening today in growing numbers, across the world. The unconditional love displayed is about far more than the financial blessings involved to renovate a bomb shelter, feed the hungry, or donate an ambulance to Magen David Adom to save lives of Israelis. Unconditional love is just that, the love of a parent to a child, a sibling to another sibling. And that’s the relationship that’s being built and solidifying among Christian and Jews today. It’s a far greater outcome than building a community center in a bomb shelter, or providing an ambulance to save Israeli lives. The shelters, centers, and ambulances and all the other forms of material blessings that come from Christian Zionists are symbolic of a great love, an unbreakable bond, and an awareness that Jews and Christians offer one another an invaluable relationship as we create fellowship and build relationships that, are miracles we must take pause to recognize, celebrate, and enhance.

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