Restoring Friendship – rebuilding the burnt Friendship Centre in Tabgha Church

Readers of PIEF POST will recall that on June 18, the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was set on fire. Anti-Christian graffiti in Hebrew was scrawled on the church wall in an attack that drew condemnation from across Israel’s political spectrum. A group of 16 youth were provisionally held in connection with the attack and questioned but hastily released.

 

Dr.  Alon Goshen-Gottstein, Executive Director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, agonized over what he describes as “a rise in religious extremism in the Holy Land”. He saw how the church in Tabgha was burned on “explicitly religious, rather than political grounds, as witnessed from the “prooftext” provided through graffiti, a text from the Jewish prayer book”.

Unwilling to be subdued by the atrocity, Dr.  Alon Goshen-Gottsteinhis called for a response that goes beyond mere condemnation. He launched a campaign for restoring the Tabgha Church, or more specifically the friendship center where inter-religious meetings take place. This, he believed,  is “a means of delivering a message to the world at large, and to our Christian friends, that we more than condemn these acts. We work to bring about positive, constructive response where others destroy in the name of religion”. He expressed fear and concern that Israeli Orthodoxy has lost its Jewish sensitivity to other faiths. Hence his intervention.
Dr. Goshen-Gottsteinhis is quoted as saying:
“Had they [the arsonists] not written ‘false idols will be eliminated’ [an excerpt from the Jewish prayer of Aleinu] I might have not acted.” He adds: “This is the first time that they did something based on a quote from the sources. That’s a qualitative change; something completely different, and therefore people have to speak in the voice of religion and say ‘no’.”

The campaign is not simply about restoring the church. It is about delivering an educational message. It is also a message to the world that the Judaism that leads to the burning of churches (and mosques) is not our own. It is a way of expressing concrete support for friendship between religions and of demonstrating what kind of Judaism we believe in.

The campaign is obviously pitched at Jews. But all those who wish to contribute are welcome. The Campaign website is Restoring Friendship – rebuilding burnt Friendship center in Tabgha Church.

 

Click here for more news about the initiative.

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