October 27, 2022
by Jonathan Feldstein
This week, Jews around the world read the Torah portion about Noah (Genesis 6:9-10). Noah is fascinating. God doesn’t say he was a great guy. What happens after the ark comes to rest, after the flood waters subside, planting a vineyard and getting drunk, is a great example.
The Torah says he was righteous in his generation which means he was better than others, deserving of being saved along with his family, and reliable enough to gather every species of animal to repopulate the world.
Even though God made a covenant never to destroy the world again, at least with a flood like He did then, I always wonder whether I’d be considered righteous enough to be saved along with my family and be given the responsibility to restore and rebuild the world.
As I was thinking about the Torah reading this week, I thought of my Christian friends in Pakistan. How an Orthodox Israeli Jew has developed warm friendships with Christians in Pakistan, knowing that for the foreseeable future we will never have the opportunity to meet. As inhospitable as Pakistan is to Christians, it’d be outright life-threatening for me to ever go there, assuming Pakistan would even let me. And my friends can’t come to Israel because Pakistan actually prints that its passports are not valid for travel to Israel. But that is another story.
I was thinking about my Pakistani Christian friends because of the unprecedented flooding that devastated Pakistan three months ago. Unprecedented at least since the Biblical flood. Since Noah, there has never been a flood as devastating as that which devastated Pakistan, leaving a third of the country and tens of millions of people flooded out of their homes and livelihoods. While the entire world was not flooded again and God did keep His promise, for Christians in Pakistan, in many cases their entire world has been flooded.
For years I’ve understood that life for Christians in Pakistan is very hard. On a good day, they are second-class citizens. They are persecuted globally and individually. A friend once shared that he cannot find a stable job because he’s always fired for being a Christian, that’s when he can even find work. Another friend once asked if she could join a webinar I was hosting to be able to pray for Israel. I was touched but worried for her safety. Christians have been persecuted, including being lynched and burned alive, for much less. I’ve seen horrific videos and don’t want to do anything that would threaten my friends, even as they passionately affirm their faith and love for Israel and the Jewish people. I felt awkward, not encouraging them to deny their faith, but not encouraging them to affirm it because of the risk it might bring.
As much as Christians were persecuted before the recent flood, what I’ve heard since is heartbreaking. Moslems have preyed on Christians in horrific ways. Christians are being forced to deny their faith for promises of food which, after they do so, they are mocked, and the food never appears. Christian women and girls are suffering rape and other sexual abuse as if they are the property of Moslem men, and as if abusing other human beings in the wake of a national disaster is normal. Christian children are being kidnapped and their organs harvested, leaving corpses and grieving families with no recourse.
And if all that weren’t horrific enough, Christians are never first online to receive urgent aid from national relief efforts. Even if they are not persecuted as second-class citizens in an extremist Islamic country, that’s just how things are.
That’s what led me to establish an unprecedented relief effort as an Orthodox Israeli Jew, to be a blessing to Christians in Pakistan. We’ve done a lot, but there’s so much more to do. Three months after the flood waters have subsided – just like in biblical account – rebuilding is critical. Noah faced challenges for sure, but he didn’t face disease and persecution. It breaks my heart to tell my Christian friends that we have sent all the money we have, and that there’s nothing more I can do. It breaks my heart because I want to do more, much more.
And it breaks my heart because as much as they appreciate everything we have done, and the generosity of everyone who has donated, they also understand that thousands or more Christians have not stepped up to participate. They feel persecuted in the larger Islamic society in which they live, and forgotten by fellow Christians.
Last month I was discussing this all with a Christian friend here in Jerusalem. From a Jewish perspective I look at things tribally. As diverse and dispersed as we are, I always consider us as one people. That tribalism is not pervasive among Christians around the world. Despite sharing their faith and relationship with God and Jesus, I bemoaned to my friend here how I don’t understand why it seems that when one Christian community suffers, all Christians are not in pain. I shared that I don’t understand how 100,000 Christians have not run to donate at least $10 for this urgent relief effort, and to share it with just ten others.
Yes, Israel is called to be a blessing to the families of the world. The same way I think about all Jews being one entity, being a blessing to others is part of my, and our, orientation. It’s part of the reason that whenever there is a natural disaster in almost any part of the world, Israel leads the world in emergency rescue and humanitarian relief. With Pakistan that’s harder, so I launched my initiative virtually and under the radar enough so as not to put my friends in further risk. As much as Christian friends of Israel join us in celebrating Israel’s first-in-line response around the world, I wish more would internalize the tribalism and sense of mutual responsibility we have to one another, and to join efforts like that which I launched, to bring Jews and Christians together, and help Israel fulfill its role as a blessing to the families of the world.
My Christian Pakistani friends are inspiring. As they and their families suffer, they are using the money I have sent to bless and support others. Of course they are supporting other Christians, but they are also showing their Christian love of all people by helping Moslems too. If Noah was only righteous in his generation and merited being saved along with his family, I look at my Christian friends as doing something even more incredible. They have built a virtual ark through their ministries and, unlike Noah who left everyone else behind, they are sustaining many others as well.
I always say that Jews and Christians have lots to learn from one another. I’ve never been more proud of a project I’ve initiated than this, bringing Jews and Christians together to provide critical relief in Pakistan. I pray that more Christians would emulate our tribalism and step up to partner with us, as Jews and Christians together.
100,000 gifts of just $10 would go a long way, still just scratching the surface, but a great start. Just as Noah sent birds out to see if there was dry land with the first bird coming back exhausted from flying above the flooded earth, then a second bird bringing back a branch from a tree, and a third bird flying off and never returning, I pray that we will be privileged to see our Pakistani friends soar beyond their flood.