On September 1st, most Israeli schoolchildren returned to their studies, while parents breathed a sigh of relief that they no longer had to figure out how to entertain or find alternative childcare. One segment, though, did not return as normal, leading to an incredible mobilization of followers of Jesus from across the denominational spectrum, minus one glaring exception-the Messianic Jewish community.
While Messianic Jews by and large busied themselves with preparations for the approaching Jewish holidays, Israel’s Christian schools began an immediate strike lasting a month, fighting for the highest achieving education system in Israel, which has allowed them to instruct their children according to Jesus’ teachings, Christian principles, and their community’s cultural values .
The strike occurred following severe budget cuts by the government and new policies restricting the amount of tuition that schools could collect from parents. These changes were the indirect result of overtures made by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties during his election. Consequently, the Orthodox Jewish schools received unprecedented funding, though they are also not officially a part of the Israeli system (meaning they do not teach state-approved curriculum and receive certain exemptions). With the increase in funding to religious Jewish groups, there was the need for cuts elsewhere. Hence, the Christian schools became the collateral damage of the Orthodox Jewish schools’ gains.
It was truly amazing, though, to see how Christians from all over Israel mobilized to achieve a fair solution and keep their schools, which serve over 33,000 students from both Muslim and Christian backgrounds, from closing down .
One sector not only refrained from participating in protests or other activities, but also remained strangely silent on the issue. The normally vocal Messianic leaders did not write or speak at all on the topic, leaving it to others. In conversations with individuals in the Messianic community, people seemed to be mostly ignorant of the issue or justified it by the limited budget and need for security (this year’s education budget was actually uncharacteristically large).
As a member of the Messianic Jewish community, I think we missed a golden opportunity to act in accordance with the principles of reconciliation and justice. I have heard people say that it is useless to sit around and speak about reconciliation and we just need to show with our actions that we stand with our brothers and sisters in Messiah. Where were these same critics when the opportunity arose? We could have stepped up and stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow followers of Jesus outside the Prime Minister’s office, safeguarding the only school system based on New Testament principles. We could have petitioned the Israeli government for justice. We could have even offered to relieve parents by providing activities or childcare for their restless kids. Instead, our silence was deafening.
I challenge myself, and the Messianic community to consider how we can act differently next time. How can we actually act in a Messiah-like manner and in a way that shows we care to see unity come to all those who share our faith in the land? Why didn’t we do so in this situation? Were we worried about our reputations with Israel? Were we concerned that the local Christians don’t have the exact same theology we do? If so, should this really be an obstacle to acting on their behalf?
~~In the end, a resolution was agreed upon and some progress achieved, though still with far less funding than other schools in their category and only for one year. However, I am confident that this fight will not be the last. I hope we can respond when other opportunities arise for us to show that we are serious about unity and reconciling.