• ISRAEL \ Jul 05, 2001
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    Israeli Jews Seeking Donations from Christians
Israeli Jews Seeking Donations from Christians An American rabbi living in Israel is soliciting humanitarian aid from Christians especially from members of evangelical groups -- to help the poor and deprived of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of Chicago has been appointed by Jerusalem's mayor to head a commission aimed at "strengthening worldwide Christian ties" with the city, which is suffering financially from the recent conflict with the Palestinians.

Mr. Eckstein explained, "There's been a tremendous drop in tourism, and with funds going to security, there are fewer resources for the poor."

Although Christian-Jewish relations have improved in recent decades and there are many examples of rapprochement, "This is the first time in the history of Jerusalem that there has been a commission" to reach Christians around the globe, Mr. Eckstein said.

The rabbi, who 18 years ago founded the U.S.-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, said the new project will expand on the fellowship's efforts to stimulate moral support for Jerusalem and to attract donations.

In that connection, he met Monday in Israel with a religious broadcaster, the Rev. Pat Robertson, who is interested in discussing Jerusalem and its plight as part of the Christian Broadcasting Network's TV programming. Mr. Eckstein will contribute reports for Mr. Robertson's popular "700 Club" program, and he is producing a weekly, half-hour magazine-format television show for the Trinity Broadcasting Network's 70 million U.S. viewers. The show will air in November.

The appeals for Jerusalem and its people are expected to resonate with members of evangelical communities, who, unlike mainline Protestants, tend to sympathize with Israel and in the past have provided what Mr. Eckstein calls "humanitarian, moral and biblical" support. Mainline Protestant leaders have tended to side with the concerns of Arab Christians, most of them Palestinians.

A month ago, a large delegation of mainline church leaders, led by Presiding Bishop Frank P. Griswold, the top Episcopal bishop, visited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his Washington office to defend the Palestinian side.

In the name of Mideast "sister churches," the delegation gave Mr. Powell a statement urging "the United States to do what it must to bring Israel's settlement activity to an end" in the occupied territories.

"While we condemn the violent words and actions of Palestinians, we understand the rage that comes from decades of occupation," the statement said.

Mr. Eckstein, who began his work 25 years ago as head of Christian-Jewish relations for the Anti-Defamation League, said it has become difficult to work with mainline Protestants on Mideast issues because they refuse to criticize the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

"My work has focused more and more on evangelicals broadly, and specifically charismatic and Pentecostal Christians," he said. Those sectors of Christianity are the fastest growing in the world, according to scholars.

Mr. Eckstein's reports over the religious television networks will appeal to what he calls "a growing Christian interest in the Jewish roots of their faith."

The rabbi has had years of experience producing "infomercials," or long TV advertisements, seeking Christian humanitarian support. And he says his fellowship has raised $100,000 for 75 families who suffered losses in May when a banquet hall collapsed, killing two dozen persons and injuring more than 300 at a wedding reception.