Once again the American Jewish Committee and The Shalom Hartman Institute convened scholars of the Christian Leadership Initiative for a symposium. Alums of this program who have spent about 10 days as cohorts studying in Jerusalem comprised the gathering. It is a lively academic colloquy, and I was grateful for the presence of Central colleagues Wallace Hartsfield II and Sally Holt.
The Christian Leadership Initiative introduces prominent Christian leaders and change agents from North America to the central ideas of Jewish ethics and faith, the diverse ideologies and practices of contemporary Jewry, the meaning of Israel for world Jewry, foundations of religious pluralism, and interreligious study.
Along with stimulating resource people, we explored the meaning of the land for Jews in Israel and Jews scattered around the world, those of the Diaspora. The land holds a significant grip on the psyche of Jewish persons; all feel the tug of home when celebrating the Seder, which ends with “next year in Jerusalem.”
Without question, the land of Israel is contested. Jews, Christians, and Muslims stake claims to sacred space there, especially in Jerusalem. How to share this space in peace remains an intensely conflicted challenge.
Christians experience the land of Israel as a place of pilgrimage and historical significance, but it does not beckon our deepest longings as it does for Jews. Yet, it can and should become more focal for the Christian narrative. How could we begin to interpret the Old Testament or the life of Jesus without the material reality of the land? How could we understand the origins of Christianity without the outward spiral of the Gospel from the land of Israel?
The exilic experience has been normative for Israel, both in its biblical iteration and its many generations hence. Thus, having a homeland that is founded and governed by Jews holds profound meaning. More than a response to the Holocaust, it is the expression of the yearning for identity as a people over the millennia.
One of the interesting topics of discussion was the portability of both Jewish and Christian expressions of faith. At a distance from the land, Jews have constructed synagogues, Torah observance, and coherent culture. Likewise, Christians have adapted their understanding of faith to many varied contexts, replete with distinctive cultural forms. Yet, there is a distinct difference; Christians have not felt the same connection to the land of covenant to be necessary.
Exile and longing for home are twinned themes for all humanity. These suggest that while this good earth is truly home, we do not find ultimate fulfillment until God’s Reign is realized.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.